Not every meal has to be a gourmet experience: A conversation on (sometimes) eating boring and unexciting food.
I love when I sit down for a meal that is filled with everything my tastebuds, mind and body want at that moment. I would say at least once a day I eat something that I find pleasure and joy in. A word Hummusapien mentioned to me a while back is “hygge”, which means the act of creating coziness for yourself in every day moments. I love when food feels like just that…coziness that is oh-so satisfying. I 100% believe eating is one way to find joy and pleasure.
However, this post is about being okay when meals don’t feel like hygge.
Midway-ish through eating disorder recovery, something I reminded myself of a lot was that every meal does NOT have to be a gourmet experience. There were times I’d end up overly hungry because the snack options didn’t live up to my eating disorder’s pretentious food standards. Now I realize that everything you eat doesn’t have to be perfectly pleasing to your tastebuds. Sometimes you eat a bland sandwich for lunch, a stale muffin midway through a work meeting, an uninspiring freezer lasagna that my Italian brother-in-law would make fun of, a dinner at a chain restaurant that you think is totally lame, a 4pm cold glazed donut because dinner is in 2 hours and you need something NOW, a hotdog on a boring bun at a favorite friend’s cookout, or a clif bar flavor that isn’t your favorite because that is what is available come meal / snack time.
For instance, last Friday morning I popped into a cafe for a morning snack. The chocolate croissant I ordered in the photo below was totally lame. It had like 6 (TINY) chocolate chips max and was a really sub-par chocolate croissant. For me, for a chocolate croissant to be excellent it should have chocolate in every bite. This wasn’t the case.
But I ate it. Drank my latte. Moved on with more important things I was doing that day. Rewind 7 years and that whole experience would’ve been overwhelming for me. I would’ve felt that eating that chocolate croissant was a waste because it wasn’t perfect, but now I know that sometimes we eat food that isn’t all rainbows and unicorns because you’re hungry or will be hungry soon and “x” food is the option.
Back then I was living in such a deprivation / diet-y mindset. A peek inside my brain would’ve revealed thoughts of: this is the only chocolate croissant I can enjoy for awhile so it HAS to be perfect. That puts a lot of pressure on a person to choose the most perfect food at every meal or snack (pressure that can turn into indecision when it comes time to choose a meal / snack). But now I know if my body is craving a chocolate croissant tomorrow and the next day and the next, I can have chocolate croissants as desired. Pressure released :)
At least once a week a client will tell me that they have found themselves recently (or in the past) in front of the pantry / fridge / restaurant menu crying because they don’t know what they want to eat. A combination of years of food rules dictating what they are allowed to eat, extreme hunger (that makes even ‘normal’ eaters feel hopeless / irritable), and deprivation leads to indecisiveness when it comes time to choose a meal or a snack.
I so remember that feeling of standing in front of the pantry feeling that this was the only morning snack I was eating that day so it had to be perfect because at the time me controlling my food choices gave me a sense of stability that I mislabeled as happiness.
As my recovery has progressed, I’ve experienced food become less and less interesting. At first, quite honestly, I felt like it sucked. What once brought me so much joy* didn’t anymore because eating satisfying food was no longer a novelty. I ate satisfying foods every time I wanted them and that brought a lot of positives: a less turbulent relationship with food, ease with eating out, and more brain space to focus on living a more whole life. All these things were good (actually they were fan-freaking-tastic), but the sensational, exuberant, flooded-with-relief feeling I once got when eating was gone. I missed that for a while because for several years eating gave me such a high** that I wasn’t getting anymore.
The intense allure and primal pull towards food was gone because I was finally nourishing my body regularly. This is one reason I don’t buy into the term “food addiction” because, in my experience, the more I ate all foods the less obsessed I became with foods. (I talked more about food addiction in this post.)
The biggest thing I’ve realized is that the “control” (I would have once called it “joy”) food brings is fleeting. It can bring a sense of happiness, pleasure and control over your life for the 10-30 minutes you spend eating, but food or disordered food behaviors can’t bring lasting fulfillment. Transforming my relationship with food allowed me to discover things that allow me to live a fulfilling life filled with things that aren’t fleeting. Things like: investing in relationships with others, understanding me and what I need, nurturing a healthy spiritual life, etc. Things that bring a deep rooted sensation of relief and happiness that I get to carry with me everyday no matter what my mood is.
All this to say…it’s nice for food to be one tool I can use to take care of myself, but not the only tool. And if I find a new food that does bring my tastebuds, mind and body a lot of happiness, I eat it until satisfied as often as I want it.***
*it wasn’t truly “joy” I was feeling though. It was really a sense of control that gave me a short term sense of stability over my mood.
**same as above but replace “joy” with “a high.”
***thanks for reading :) Would love to hear any thoughts you have on this.