Real Food Matters: The Story Behind the Name
I find that each time I make an effort at telling my story, it changes in the slightest sense. Little details arise from the past that I had forgotten before, and I continue to learn more and more about myself as I open up. This story that you’re about to read is the real, raw truth to the best of my memory and I promise that.
This is a story I’ve told a bit reluctantly and one that has manifested as something quite fragmented in the past; when I initially wrote this post last month, it was still one that justified food restriction and negative body-image, but all of that changes now. This is real, this is me, and this is my blog, gosh darn it, so I’m going to tell it all for what it is whether ya like it or not…. Here we go!
Growing up, I was surrounded by people who had a healthy relationship with food, meaning they saw it for what it was (hint hint: fuel). My family never really hopped on the diet train, saw food as a means of bringing people together and providing sustenance, and never obsessed over calories or quantifying a food as good or bad. For this, I am very grateful.
Regardless of all of that, though, there was no denying that I didn’t look the same as every other kid. I was fat, as society would put it (though I’d argue there was just more of me to love). For the first ten or so years of my life, this never bothered me and I actually used it to my advantage; I was spunky, loud, and in-your-face with no apologies for who I was or how much space I took up in the world. I was a self-proclaimed vegetarian for six years thanks to my brother being the coolest kid out there paired with my aching desire to be unique in some way, and though this experience gave me a lot of positives, I see now that it may have unintentionally led to the start of giving myself permission to restrict foods.
As a dancer, I received a lot, and I mean a lot, of pressure from society and myself to look a certain way; I thought that if I didn’t have the perfect body or that if I was larger than everyone else I could never make it in the dance world, let alone claim a part in my own studio’s performances. Beginning in sixth grade, I began to restrict my intake; it began slowly but quickly rose to an extreme level. I used MyFitnessPal to count calories and would cringe if the number neared 1,000 for the day. Living off of Diet Cokes, apples, and fat-free yogurt, my existence became pretty miserable between trying to balance school, my cripplingly low levels of self-esteem, and dancing 4 hours a day.
I began reading articles online and in magazines about weight loss, exercise, and eating habits. The media taught me that to be considered beautiful, I had to look a certain way and in order to do that, I had to restrict myself and over-exercise. Whenever my habits fell short or I “messed up” on my diet, I had to overexercise to compensate. At one point, I kept a journal of the thinnest girls I could find, hoping one day I could see my clavicle or ribs like I could theirs. This, my friends, is diet culture and whether we realize it or not, it consumes us as a society.
Inevitably, I began to lose some weight. Whether it was baby fat I was shedding or actual woman weight (which is doubtful as at this point I was literally in the sixth or seventh grade), I began to cultivate a false sense of self-confidence. I began to associate my worth with my appearance and my size and, in short, it consumed me. Food and I began to nurture this love-hate relationship: I was always thinking about it but never allowing myself to have it and, when I did, I felt ashamed for giving in to my desires.
My desires?! What a concept. Food is not a desire, it is a basic human need. I began to see the most natural source of energy as the enemy, as something I could want but not have. And, like I mentioned before, this belief was never ingrained in me by my parents or my family, it came directly from what I had been exposed to externally. The worst part? This issue is way more widespread than we can even see because it has become so freaking normalized in today’s society.
This cycle of restriction continued on until I couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired, I was hungry, and I was so over hating myself. I mean, it was freaking exhausting! In high school, I entered a relationship that taught me worlds about myself and I was able to begin to heal my relationship with food. I stopped restricting so much and gained some weight but justified it because, ya know, now I had someone who liked me for who I actually was regardless of my body size. In some way, I guess that was a good thing.
What happened next? I found food blogs similar to this one I am in the process of creating! I read hours of recipes, workouts, and tips on “eating clean.” Slowly but surely, restriction creeped back into my life. I started cooking for myself and my family and refused to eat something if it wasn’t considered “clean,” fearing it would make me “fat” again. I began to do hours of cardio and introduced strength training into my regimen, loving the newbie gains I saw in such a short period of time. I thought I was eating plenty, but every moment of free time I had would be spent staring at food on the computer screen. Without realizing it I had fallen victim to my old ways again; they had just taken on a new form.
Fast forward a few years to college, when I experienced not only the Freshman Fifteen, but the Freshman Twenty. Yikes. I struggled with my weight and overexercised to compensate for all of the campus fast food I was eating; it was a dark time in my life, but now I realize that it contributed to so much growth in my life. With an on-campus dining plan and a whole new way of life to accustom myself to, I fought to keep a positive mindset and accept myself for not only who I was, but who I was becoming. I made an effort to love and respect my body as it changed and take it for what it was. Believe me, it was not pretty and by no means did I handle it with grace, but it brought me to where I am today and because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I realized within the last few months that despite my efforts and best intentions, I never truly let go of my restrictive habits or diet mentality. As a fitness enthusiast, I was all about bulking and cutting and macro counting until I realized that all of these mechanisms are simply ways to keep myself from enjoying what I truly want. It stops me from eating the things my body needs, from exercising in a way that feels good to me, and, ultimately, reaching my goal of being completely in my body and comfortable in it.
I’ve decided to let go of my impulse to meticulously control my diet and exercise and start living my damn life, on my own terms. This means healing my relationship with food, moving in a way that feels right to me, and focusing on how I feel rather than how I look because in the end I am who I am and I love that person, regardless of how much space she takes up in the world. I’ve always had a problem with it and unknowingly transferred it to food and exercise, the two easiest (arguably) things to control. By talking about it, reading about it, surrounding myself with like-minded people, and living my damn life, I am taking back control of my life and healing my relationship with food and with my body. Every day, I am releasing a bit more of the diet mentality and trying to find freedom in who I am, not who I wish I could be, and I urge you all to do the same. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I mean, life is too short not to have your cake and eat it too.
I continue to work on my relationship with food and realize the crippling effects that allowing food to rule your life can have in every other aspect of living. My goal is to foster a positive relationship with food; that means intuitive eating, accepting my body as it grows and changes, and accepting my cravings for what they are and not judging them. I seek to live a life free of food rules, where nothing is off limits and everything feels right. I no longer distinguish “good” vs. “bad” foods because, at face value, food is simply energy.
I exercise from a place of health and rather than laboring over calories in vs. calories out, I focus on how it feels to move my body and how grateful I am to be able to do so. Yoga, rest, and meditation have been so critical in understanding myself and the ability to be in my body wherever I am; these practices are stronger than they appear and can have positive effects on all people. Whatever makes you feel alive is what you should do, and by no means do I want to sway you to start doing something you’re not in accordance with.
And, yes, my name is Real Food Matters; I admit, I created it in a state where I believed that I could only eat certain types of foods to be healthy. While I still love and respect all aspects of “real food,” that is, whole, fresh ingredients, by no means do I allow them to dictate my life anymore. Rather than talking about why real food does or does not matter, I’ll get real about food, movement, and life in general. You know, the things that really do matter.
I seek to live a real, authentic life filled with love and gratitude and to share my passion for food, movement, and the world in general with all of you. I seek to inspire those struggling with disordered eating in hopes of changing even one person’s perspective on what it means to live a whole, healthy life because what may work for me may not work for you (or maybe it will)! This blog is a guide, a place for my personal thoughts, and by no means do you have to live according to my standards; in fact, I don’t want you to. Welcome, friends.
Learning to love and listen to my body has been the most amazing thing I have learned on my journey. Intuitive eating has been the most useful tool that I will hold near and dear until death do us part, and I urge you all to find it within yourselves as well. Before, I would shame myself for feeding my body what it was craving but now, I know that cravings are a result of what my body needs at that moment and have learned that it knows what it wants better than my mind does. Sure, I eat healthy 80% of the time, but that other 20% is where the magic happens; when you stop restricting yourself, you open up to a world of possibilities. You won’t be reaching for that candy bar at 12pm because the food you ate for breakfast was so filling and nourishing that your body begins to crave that same kind of food: REAL freaking food. Of course I crave a maple-bacon donut or a hugh-jass slice of pizza with ravioli on top from time to time, and you know what? I LET MYSELF HAVE IT. Because I deserve it. Because there should be no question as to whether or not I “should” eat it. If I want it, I have it. And you should too. Real food matters, but more than that, your mental health matters.
Regardless of where you lie on the health spectrum, there is hope for you and there is always room for improvement; the most important thing is to never stop learning and growing. Whether you resonate with middle-school me, high-school me, now-me, or none of this at all, I promise you’ll find your path and experience happiness somewhere along the way. I share my story in hopes of striking a nerve within even one person so that they are able to wake up to the possibilities out there for them, and if that happens, I have accomplished my entire goal here. Love yourself, nourish yourself, and live your authentic self because YOU matter.