When Life No Longer Revolves Around Food

Thoughts From a Recovering Food Addict

I can recall, in the not-too-distant past, when I would encourage monthly potlucks at work. There was always something to celebrate. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, babies, retirements … a random Thursday! I could truly turn any day into a reason to host a potluck. Why? Because I loved food. And ultimately, that’s really what I celebrated with every passing potluck.

Food also comforted me when I was worried, became my confidant when I was angry, and helped me pass the time when I was bored. Food had control of my life. I lived for food. And it was killing me.

Last year, I learned about my food allergies after suffering from many health problems including: belly issues, muscle pain, migraines, and chronic fatigue. I had no idea that these symptoms were subtle signs of my body’s rejection of dairy proteins. The moment I was diagnosed, my life changed. Suddenly, I had to analyze every morsel that went into my mouth. I had to read every single ingredient on the packaging. I had to search the websites of restaurants in advance to learn if they would have allergen-free menus when I arrived. It was a painstaking processes. It didn’t take long before I realized that buying pre-made cookie dough in the grocery store, or grabbing a quick meal from a drive-thru just wasn’t worth the effort that I had to put into it. I started reaching for simpler foods with less ingredients to decipher. When I wanted something sweet, I grabbed whole foods… dates, apples, strawberries, or grapes instead of contemplating whether that dark chocolate candy bar was really made of dark chocolate or some kind of blend containing milk fat. My perspective changed, and slowly… I stopped celebrating food.

Despite now knowing many dairy- and gluten-free products at a glance, I’m still in awe of the transition that I have made. Not physically, but mentally. I have entered a phase in which I could easily begin celebrating food again. I know where to find allergen free cheesecakes and pizza, and which fast food restaurants are safe. But I don’t live for food anymore, because I’ve learned the joy in celebrating the moment instead.

A great example of this is how I chose to celebrate my birthday. In the past, I celebrated with about four slices of a large, stuffed crust pizza and an oversized slice (or so) of a 9″ layered cake from my favorite bakery. That was typically preceded by a sweet, carb-heavy breakfast and followed by dinner out on the town. This year, however, food played a very small part in my day. Instead, I started my morning with an hour-long massage, followed by time with family, and ending with a concert and dancing with friends. I barely remember what I ate that day. Throughout the day I had a bottle of my favorite juice, likely a protein bar or some other healthy snack(s), and I did stop by Zoe’s Kitchen for a delicious Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and Gigi’s for a gluten free, vegan cupcake! (I still eat sweets… I just eat a cupcake instead of 1/2 the layer cake now.) My point is, I enjoyed life. I relaxed, I laughed, and I celebrated the moment. Memories far exceeded the calories this year.

I no longer plan office potlucks. We rarely have them now, and no one seems to mind. I have had the opportunity over the last few months, however, to help plan celebrations with others; things like baby showers and baptisms where food generally seems to take precedence over the actual event. It’s eye opening to me to see the amount of, and variety of, food that folks feel should be available at these special occasions. I didn’t realize the effort that I used to put into planning and preparing an event around food until I removed myself from that. I can now see how much effort others put into it. Food first, then all of the other details later. Those kind of events generally end in tummy aches and leftover casseroles for days.

I still enjoy food. I love trying new recipes and occasionally meeting friends at restaurants. I think it’s great to serve food at events. I don’t want this post to come across as my being anti-food. But I do ask you to stop and consider the intent of food at your next event. Make sure you’re not like the old me… celebrating mac & cheese and red velvet cake, making memories with pasta salad and chocolate chip cookies, and overlooking the real reason you’ve gathered together. I promise that you will be more likely to remember little things like the way the bride smiled at her new husband when they thought no one noticed, than the way the chicken salad sandwiches tasted. At the end of the day, your hearts will be more full than your bellies.

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