15 May 2018Reclaiming the Joy of Food

I grew up in a rural, Midwestern farming community, populated generations ago by German immigrants, who came to the U.S. looking for a better life. This area reminded these early settlers of southern Germany, with its green, rolling hills and fertile soil. They put down family roots, raised livestock, produced crops, and have remained for generations, living off the land as their ancestors had done.

My parents continued this old-world, farming tradition of producing food for their family. I grew up surrounded by vegetable gardens, fruit trees, cattle and free-range chickens. One of my fond memories is helping my parents harvest the potato garden. My dad drove the tractor, and we walked behind, throwing the fresh potatoes onto the wagon. The smell of the rich soil and the feel of the cool ground between my toes still brings a smile to my face. We stored the potatoes in a potato cellar, where we would then get them, as needed, to make delicious meals for family and friends. I feel sad for people who have eliminated potatoes from their diet because they've been told they're not healthy. Potatoes are delicious and rich in nutrients! Perhaps fill 1/4 rather than 3/4 of the plate with them, right?

I have a lot of other memories of growing up on a self-sustaining farm. Every spring, my dad would bring home 100 baby chicks from the local co-op. They would grow into chickens and produce eggs for our family. But the fondest memories of all are of my mom's summer kitchen. This was a small, detached building that had been used for generations before the luxury of air conditioning to cook food without heating up the main house. This is where I helped my mom preserve foods by canning or freezing apples, cherries, grapes, jams, jellies, green beans, corn, tomatoes, juices, cabbage, sauerkraut, etc. All of which came from our gardens and orchards. As you read this, you might be thinking that I'm describing a life from another era. Actually, it wasn't that long ago - 50 years to be exact.

Fast forward to 2018. My husband and I recently returned from England, where we participated in a wonderful London East End Food Tour (www.eatinglondontours.co.uk). Our lovely and enthusiastic guide charmed us with the history and other stories about London's legendary East End. This is where countless immigrants initially settled in the city after disembarking from boats that had arrived at the city's busy docks. The walking tour included eight restaurants, pubs and food shops that were proud of their heritage, from the 17th Century English restaurant serving bread and butter pudding, to the Jewish bagel shop that served salt beef with yummy, chewy bagels to the Bangladeshi restaurant that specializes in amazing curries. Sadly, at times like these when the focus is on food, I never intentionally tell the group that I'm an RD nutritionist. It's awkward trying to explain that dietitians really like food and even harder trying to convince people that we're not the food police. Most people on the food tour were from the U.S., and I heard many comments that made me reflect on our society's perception of food. Some were clearly worried about overeating, and others felt guilty about eating bacon, real cream, rich cheese and sweets. Fortunately, the tour featured smaller portions of food that were perfectly sized to allow us to graze through and fully enjoy the tour.

It's not uncommon for people to have guilt and conflicting thoughts about enjoying food. We have become flooded with conflicting health messages, bombarded with advertisements for "healthy" processed foods, and overexposed to the latest food crazes or diets. If the thought of a food tour gives you feelings of anxiety or conflict, and prevents you from enjoying the experience, then step back and think about it. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do you feel guilty when you eat foods from your past that you used to enjoy?
    • Examples might be beef, cheese, eggs, potatoes, carrots, melon, bread, rice, or pasta. Actually, I could go on and on due to the many fad diets that have made so many foods taboo.
  • Do you label foods as good or bad?
  • Do you get anxious when you read a food label of something you used to enjoy because you are fearful of the calories, carbs, or saturated fat?
  • Do you jump on the latest diet craze or food trend bandwagon?
  • Do you have an all-or-nothing view of foods?

If you answered "NO" to these questions, then congratulations to you! You have somehow managed to escape the endless bombardment of conflicting health messages, and food and health advertisements in our society! If you answered "YES" to some of the questions, then step back and pause. Work on enjoying foods in a balanced way, savor every bite and get rid of all-or-nothing thoughts when it comes to nutrition. Yes, all foods can fit into a healthy diet. So, regardless if you grew up like me, living off the land, or were city folk, going to the supermarket for your food, figure out what makes you both happy and healthy. Allow yourself to enjoy food and use a calorie and exercise tracker as a tool, not a weapon.

A website you may want to explore for bringing back the joy of eating is The Center for Mindful Eating.

Brenda L Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN,CDE

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Indialantic, Florida

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Healthy Eating Weight Loss/Emotional & Mindful Eating

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