The Challenges of Eating “Right”– Knowing Your History

I read this “incredible” study in Ladies Home Journal while at my mom’s house for the 4th of July. It was all about how they finally proved that eating a Mediterranean diet is a great way to eat like a human being and be healthy at the same time. My (Italian) mom scoffed when I showed her and said she could’ve told anyone that years ago.

Growing up having a mother who grew up in an authentic Italian pizza restaurant in New York is a wonderful, miraculous thing. My mom can turn just about anything into an amazing pasta dish that you would probably have to pay $15 bucks for in a restaurant. Case in point: My darling niece just turned 17 in June. Her wish for her birthday was to have Nana (my mom) make an authentic Italian feast- 5 whole courses! And my mom, being the fantastic woman she is, did it for her! Lucky for us, we all reaped the benefits of the delicious meal.

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The thing is, I grew up a very, very picky eater. Partially, it was just being a kid, and partially it was having a list of health problems that were not discovered until I was older. Finally, as I figured out what I could eat without writhing in pain or having heart issues (a long list), I started to expand my diet to include many of the delicious things my mother made. This is awesome, but there are challenges to growing up with a mother that makes restaurant quality food every day.

First, portion sizes. Huge-normous is probably the best way to describe it.

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(Yes, this is from the “feast,” but really is not THAT unusual!)

Second, it might just be my family, it might be Italians in general, but dinner is a social experience that lasts for HOURS, and not just in the case of the five-course feast. My husband had to learn to endure the long-lasting dinners that I considered normal. Let me tell you, having dinner with his family for the first time was a shock! Everybody ate in 15 minutes and then left the table. Dinner, for us, was talking and eating, and more talking, and more eating. The social piece is wonderful, but I’ve learned the challenge is not going back for seconds, sometimes thirds, and then picking out of the bowl for hours. I’m still saying, “You mean, I DON’T need three helpings of this delicious pasta to feel satisfied and happy? Whaaaat?!”

This is one of my biggest challenges. Knowing when to stop and then actually doing it. It is easier at home to stop, but when I go to my mom’s for dinner (which has been twice this week), I lose all self-control. When I’m there, it tastes SO good, and I really have a problem stopping.

Third, food is love. Mom feeds us so well because she loves us, and we eat it because it is delicious, but also because we want to show her we love her food and her right back. You might be thinking, “Awwwww,” but this is very real. Therefore, from a young age I learned to eat ALL my food, not just because it was good, or because I was hungry, but because, subconsciously, I wanted to show mom that I loved her right back. Also, with that logic, not eating all the food subconsciously felt like saying I just liked her. This brings me back to that challenge of portion control.

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Of course, I didn’t realize this until recently, after trying to get to the bottom of why I feel the need to eat so much in one sitting. It almost seems sacrilege to not show love for the food by devouring it all, and then some. I watched my dad eat and eat and eat and so I ate too, which worked out fine when my metabolism wasn’t crap and I was super active.

Fourth, both mom and dad had weird relationships with food. Dad ate like a horse almost constantly, even after being overweight, having Type 2 Diabetes, having a heart attack, and having quadruple bypass surgery. The only thing that stopped him was when he had chemo for colon cancer. Mom, for the longest time, only ate one meal a day- a whole other issue. Needless to say, I didn’t think any of this was strange until I was an adult.

My point here is that it is important to know your food history. We all come from somewhere and there is a reason we eat the way we do. Many of the reasons above are both amazing blessings, but they have had a flip side for me that I only recently realized. I don’t like “depriving” myself of food because food is love, social, and it is delicious. So, being on a “diet” is really hard for me. This is good information because it shows me that I need to focus on portion control and moderation, as opposed to cutting out foods entirely, which I have tried and failed miserably at.

Food is sustenance, but for most of us it carries many other connotations. It is a way of life. It can make or break you. It can serve emotional and physical needs. My goal now is to focus on cooking my own food, eating it in moderation, eating whole foods, and not completely depriving myself from my vices, like sugary desserts, or cheeses, or fried foods. I think if I focus on these things, rather than on dieting, I will be more successful in my goals to be fit and healthy.

What have you discovered about your food history? How does it shape how you eat today?