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If Your Food Could Speak, What Would it Say?

An important, and potentially transformative, question to ask yourself every time you choose to eat is: Why am I eating this? It may seem pretty simple—like, “Duh, Dr. Joy, because I’m hungry!” I promise you, however, it is not as simple as that, particularly if you have ever dieted, disliked your body, or struggled with an eating disorder. All of the sudden, seemingly simple choices can become incredibly complex, wrought with fear, self-doubt, guilt, and shame.

I am here to tell you, food is your friend, not your enemy. Only the thoughts you have about food and eating can create a contentious relationship with it. Our food only wants to nourish and restore us. It is our minds that create an enemy where there is none.

…every time you sit down to eat ask yourself, (1) why am I choosing this food and (2) what do I hope it will do for me?-Dr. Joy Jacobs

As part of the path to becoming a more conscious eater, I encourage you to do a little experiment. Even if for just one day, every time you sit down to eat (and please, do take the time to sit down) ask yourself, (1) why am I choosing this food and (2) what do I hope it will do for me? Particularly if you have the habit of being pulled toward foods that leave you wallowing in regret later, you will find this a useful activity to help identify the factors that are driving you to the types or amounts of food that leave you wallowing in misery even before you’ve taken that last bite. Awareness is the essential first step to any change, big or small.

Let me provide you with an illustration of how this works.

Recently in session with a client (we’ll call her Jane), we were having a discussion about cookies—and, I kid you not, whether or not cookies can have feelings. And, if cookies could have feelings and could talk, what they would say? It might sound like a crazy conversation, but it led Jane to a crucial new understanding about what is driving her food choices, choices that in the moment feel out of control—leaving her feeling powerless and helpless.

It turns out that Jane had a whole “story” around cookies that led her to plow through an entire plate of them—seemingly on autopilot—at a recent party, when she was not even hungry. In a nutshell, Jane’s story was the following: she grew up in household where part of being a “good girl” was eating everything she was served, no matter how much she disliked it or how hungry or not hungry she was. The worst crime in Jane’s house was to throw out or “waste” food. As Jane sat at the party recently, surrounded by people who all seemed to be having a great time, Jane was preoccupied by the plate of cookies sitting in the middle of the table. To Jane’s distress, no one was eating the cookies. She felt compelled to eat the cookies, otherwise they would go to waste. And so, replaying the old family story—from forty years ago—Jane made it her job to eat the cookies, no matter how sick and uncomfortable eating them made her feel.

To Jane’s distress, no one was eating the cookies. She felt compelled to eat the cookies, otherwise they would go to waste.-Dr. Joy Jacobs

As we discussed the scenario, I asked Jane, “Do you think those cookies had feelings? If they could talk to you, what would they have said?” The absurdity of the question illustrated for Jane the influence of old thoughts and beliefs—beliefs she thought no longer controlled her—and allowed her room to think about the cookie predicament in a new way. Clearly the cookies have no feelings and would not be disappointed if they were left uneaten. Surely someone would enjoy them later. The critical point was Jane’s feeling of responsibility toward them, as if it were her job to eat them.

Jane’s family story ties the pieces together. Understanding the role of the story she was telling herself about the cookies created an “aha moment” for Jane and has empowered her to choose differently in the future. Instead of feeling like a servant to the food sitting in front of her, Jane can now decide to take charge of her choices and nourish her body in a way that will best nurture her body and her spirit. In essence, now that Jane is aware of her pattern, she can choose differently.

Jane left the session feeling liberated. She was ready to go to the local farmers market and choose luscious seasonal fruits and vegetables that she would prepare with attention and care. She knew she deserved better than the table scraps she grew up with and is determined to demonstrate her growing self love by attending to herself as an adult in a new and revolutionary way, a way that she never experienced as a child.

So, the next time you sit down to eat, ask yourself: Does this choice truly reflect loving and taking care of myself? If this food could talk to me, what would it say? If the message you hear does not reflect your best self care, take the time to explore what old story may be in play and see if it makes sense to continue living out a story that is long past its “use by” date. If the answer is “yes,” if the choice truly reflects loving and respecting yourself, dig in and enjoy!

Until next time,
Dr. Joy