How each pound tells a story

This summer I am taking some graduate courses. I am working towards my Master’s in Nutrition and Food Science specializing in a certificate to become a Registered Dietician. It’s a career I would like to possibly pursue many years down the road and it helps me in my current job. And I love the information, nerd alert! As you can imagine, most class are about food. The class I am currently in is specifically about food in our society. This morning I had to turn in a paper about my “personal relationship with food.” I’m a 31 year old, in a freshman class and I know I’m the old loser because I loved the home work assignment. I’d love to share the essay I wrote (1500 words, Times New Roman, MLA Format) yup had to google all that crap I forgot!

When I was given the assignment I assumed I would write about the terrible personal relationship with food I had. But looking at my relationship through a microscope, bringing in my first memories of food and my food culture showed me that there still is joy in food despite weight struggles. Hope you enjoy and maybe even write your own essay!! (i’ll post it for you!)

My personal relationship with foods begins on Sunday. It involves the distinct smell of a pot of sauce permeating the kitchen. If you trace the smell you’ll see a loaf of white bread soaking in a bowl of water in the kitchen sink preparing to be made into meatballs. Around 3 pm, or at halftime of the New York Giants Game, it’s time to fill my belly with a traditional Italian meal. In short, I grew up a happy Italian girl, with a big amazing family. There was always enough food and there was always room at the table for one more person. And what I liked most about Sunday dinner, no one left the table after dinner. Dishes of food were replaced by nuts and fruit followed by cookies, cake and coffee. Conversation and laughs lasted well into the night. Christmas Eve was the ultimate food holiday for me. I can still feel the excitement of walking in from the cold into my grandparents’ small house after Christmas Eve mass to a fresh batch of Zeppoli’s coming out of a loud pan of sizzling oil. Christmas Eve dinner was served at the same home my father grew up in. My father’s family of 6 lived upstairs in a 1-bathroom house and his aunt, my grandmother’s sister, lived downstairs. I admit I ate nothing but Zeppoli’s and bread on Christmas Eve because I hate fish and that’s all that was served. It wasn’t until recently that we convinced the older generation to replace Baklava with Fried Calamari. I was “so Italian” that going to Olive Garden felt like a sin. It was something my family just didn’t do. I was ignorant to the fact that spaghetti sauce was even available pre-made in a jar until I met people in college who weren’t Italian. At age 29, exactly two years ago, I had the chance to visit Italy for the first time. It was where my husband and I chose to go on our honeymoon. I remember feeling nervous that when I got to Italy I’d learn people in Italy didn’t even act like my family did. I didn’t want that to be the case. My only sense of reassurance was that my grandfather came over from Italy at the age of 14 so I had those bragging rights. Italy was everything I had hoped for and more. One man, in particular, proved this to me. His name was Mauro and he owned a small restaurant in a small town. My husband and I showed up at his restaurant, it was closed. Instead of sending us away, he said, in the little English he knew, “the restaurant is closed but my wife will cook for you.” We took him up on his offer and we had the most amazing, authentic, Italian meal that I can still taste. This small act reassured me that everything I had ever been raised to believe about being Italian was true. Italians showed their love with food. Italians used food as a form of care giving. For us Italians, carbohydrates are the cores of every meal ever served. As a result, I grew up a chubby little girl. Inside the home I was loved, beautiful and well fed. Outside the home, I was made fun of and embarrassed by my size. My first diet started at the age of 9. That’s when my relationship with food turned negative and stayed turbulent despite the joys of my upbringing. I put myself on this first diet. Since then, like most women, food stopped being about taste, authenticity and enjoyment. It became about calories and the direct impact the food I ate would have on the scale. This is why beyond my food culture; I personally have always viewed my relationship with food as a burden. As I got older, and my battle with body image and the number on the scale intensified, this chubby girl resented her Italian heritage. My weight was constantly fluctuating and I was bitter about the temptation I had to fight week after week as breadbaskets and dishes of macaroni were passed around the table Sunday after Sunday. I feared holidays and the path of diet destruction the Zeppoli’s would take me down. Food was never energy to me. Though my strongest and fondest memories involve pasta and bread I have never felt comfortable eating these foods because deep down I believe that these foods will make me fat. I have never fully enjoyed a slice of pizza without thinking about what it will do to my waistline. Food was never fuel. Food was never survival. Food became comfort. Food was safe.

3 years ago I decided to seek out therapy for my chaotic relationship with food. I learned that I am an emotional eater and a binge eater. I’m in a growing class of people who suffer from disordered eating. It’s a battle I am still fighting and will continue to fight. Luckily, I feel more in recovery with each passing day. As you can see, growing up, no part of me ever questioned the food supply, our food system or frankly, what our food was made of. In fact, I was someone who viewed diet, packaged foods as healthy.  I was someone completely unaware to how food affected the body beyond the scale.

A few years ago, after reading many diet books, for the first time ever I adopted a low carbohydrate lifestyle. The appeal of to this way of eating for me was no calorie counting. An emotional eater welcomed the fact that Lean Cuisines could be replaced with endless salad and protein. It’s hard to fathom how I could live like this being Italian and knowing nothing but carbohydrate filled meals. However, that method of eating, coupled with therapy for emotional eating has helped me maintain a steady and healthy weight for the past couple years and shed the burden of the eating disorder. Oddly enough I did learn that I don’t like pasta and bread as much as I thought.

In conclusion I am fortunate to come from a rich food tradition. The memories I have around the table define me. They have built my beliefs about family and strengthened my need to be compassionate. Food keeps me connected to the people I love that have passed. Food brings family together in a way nothing else can and for that, I am grateful. However, food will always be my drug of choice and my unhealthy addiction. It will always be my way of expressing myself emotionally. And although my relationship with food transcends the functional; the delivery of nutrition, I am working to change that. Everyday I continue to educate myself on nutrition and the affect food has on our body. But, I wouldn’t trade a single pound for any memory I’ve ever made with my family & food. These pounds tell a story, a story that I want to read over and over again. 

IMG_4749The Original 6.

One thought on “How each pound tells a story

  1. Sarah Varbel says:

    I love your essay. It is so true, growing up Italian and loving the pasta and bread. I could eat it every day and be happy and fulfilled. I too, try and watch my weight, but keep on going back to the carbs… day I will get the strength that you have to eat just a little better. Love you and your family. Sarah Varbel

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