Food Over Family?

I was driving early the other morning, around 5:00am when the cold air felt like the atmospheric version of my alarm clock–unforgiving, annoying, and if it were wireless I’d probably have thrown it across the room. I was listening to some talk radio show on whatever station I had on. One caller had phoned in to ask for some advice: his parents had just recently gone vegan (due to health concerns), and when they invited him over for dinner he didn’t want to go–because the food didn’t taste good.

Caller after caller phoned in to give their opinion. Unanimously people agreed that not visiting their parents for dinner, because the food wasn’t good, was a completely good reason to decline the invitation. Some people suggested, instead, that he invite them to his house where he could cook whatever he wanted (albeit likely not something conducive to the health of his parents). Others simply agreed that bad food was grounds for not going, or that he should stop at a fast-food restaurant on the way.

OK, I get it. A lot of people have some dysfunctional family relationships that make visiting family a chore in and of itself. Jokes on the subject are most popular around the holiday season when one-time annual family visits are a must. Let’s put that aside for a moment.

The pleasure we derive from the taste of food was an important evolutionary mechanism to help positively reinforce the act of eating, but also to help warn us of potential dangers. Bitterness, for example, was likely an indication that what we were about to eat was either poisonous or not in our best interests. Feeling pleasure upon consuming food meant we were that much more motivated to get our a** up and put the energy into hunting for our next meal.

Food is part of our culture, and an important part at that. We celebrate with food, we show love through food, and we entertain with food. Food has become a significant part of many family traditions and holidays, and is the favorite pastime of many. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for people to put this reverence and enjoyment of food to the side in order to achieve fundamentally opposing goals–namely weight loss.

The real problem here is how much we’ve come to put food on a pedestal. Yes, food can be a delicious and enjoyable experience. It can conjure powerful emotions and nostalgia that extends far beyond our palate. However, in order to successfully reach weight loss goals, we have to bring food down a notch.

Many people who come to me struggling to see noticeable changes oftentimes admit that giving up their favorite foods is the biggest thing holding them back (and sometimes others may not think it’s their problem when it really is). Let me be clear, achieving your fitness goals and living your best life can absolutely include amazing culinary experiences–up to and including your favorite foods. However, freely indulging in these things will certainly not allow you to see the changes you want to see.

It isn’t the pleasurable flavor of the food that’s the problem, it’s the emotions we attach to it that keeps us imprisoned. Many of us derive our most consistent source of happiness from food. So, we eat when we feel sad, when we’re stressed, or when we’re bored and looking for something to occupy us. In fact, I wrote an article discussing how to combat this exact issue of using food to help achieve happiness–you can read that article by clicking here.

No, not liking the taste of the healthy food your family cooks isn’t a good reason to not visit them. Instead, you could a) be supportive and open-minded to new culinary experiences and try the food they make, or b) bring your own dish to eat while still being supportive of the fact that these people in your family are trying to take care of themselves.

One of the hardest scenarios for anyone trying to improve their health is being in a non-supportive environment. No, I lied. It is the BIGGEST obstacle that most people face. It could be snarky comments when ordering something healthy at a restaurant or politely declining food when it’s offered, or the varying levels of judgment because of the healthy (and to many, foreign) choices that we make daily by those not on the bandwagon. There are many reasons why our family and friends may not support our fitness endeavors, and yet, that support is vital to the attainment and maintenance of our fitness goals over the long-haul.

To sum up my thoughts on the state of our society’s relationship with food:

  • We need to bring food down a notch. Yes, food can be pleasurable, but not all of our pleasurable experiences should include food.
  • Give support to friends and family who are trying to make an effort to be healthier–even if you aren’t. Try their vegan food, join them for a workout every now and again, and, dear lord, avoid judging them for trying to be better.

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