A few weeks ago I felt the rush of memories. Summer days when I felt really independent because i was allowed to ride my bike into town. On top of it, I had my own money, so I could go to my favorite ice cream place and order what I wanted all by myself. it was a soft serve place so it actually wasn’t real ice cream. Usually I’d get the chocolate dipped cone with a twist of vanilla and chocolate. Then there were those 7 Eleven slurpees, the ones that were far too big and typically left me with brain freeze.
We are taught from a very early age that sweet is a treat, something to aim for, aspire to. Like, “if you’re really good…we’ll go for ice cream.” “If you eat everything on your plate, you can have dessert.” A birthday celebration without cake would feel sacrilegious. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without, not one, but several types of pies. Santa used to fill my Christmas stocking with all of my favorite candy. And the Easter Bunny filled my basket with animals made of marshmallow and chocolate. So, coming to the realization later in life that those “treats” are actually pretty toxic for some of us can lead to a lot of emotions.
Growing up as the oldest of 5 kids, I learned to hide away some of those sweets. If I acquired them in secret, I would stash them far from the grubby hands of my siblings. Something for just me. And I could never eat just one. Bless any of you who didn’t get on the hook, and stayed skinny and healthy and could take it or leave it when it comes to sweets. That was never me. And it still isn’t me. And so I did mourn. It pissed me off. Coming to the truth about it was tough, and it took me much longer than I wished it had. But here I am. And I only have the power to change things going forward.
So… is it weird to mourn those foods I now know aren’t good for me, the ones that led me to a lifetime of ups and downs on the scale and wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and led to my belief that I was undisciplined, and unable to control those impulses? My answer is NO. In fact, I went through the same thing when I quit smoking over a year ago. Cigarettes were my friend since college. I used them in moments alone where I could think, and ponder the day. The sugar or flour-laden foods were no different. I used them to comfort me at the end of tough day. Or when I was sad about something or feeling lonely, or unloved. Sometimes it felt a bit like mourning a boyfriend after a break up. I began to embellish the traits that used to drive me crazy. I began to look back and see only the good things, not all the times when we argued or I felt miserable. Suddenly that boyfriend seemed absolutely perfect and all of the bad times flew out of my mind, leaving a bad romance comedy playing in my head.
When I broke up with sugar and flour, I had to refocus my thoughts on what the reality was in the situations where I mourned the food. For instance, let’s take the ice cream memory: Getting on my bike and riding into town I felt free. The ice cream lasted about 5 minutes, but that whole trip lasted over an hour. Or take Christmas morning. The anticipation of Santa’s arrival carried me for weeks prior to Christmas Eve. I imagined all of the fabulous things he might bring, how I would play with them and love them. I agonized over whether I had been “good enough” to warrant the really big, top of my list gift. The stocking was my appetizer to what lay under the tree, the signal that in a matter of hours, I’d be ripping into the real goodies.
No one ever likes to hear that they can never have something again. We naturally crave that which we can’t have. Heck, our entire capitalist society is built around that very human trait. Creating scarcity drives the price up. The laws of supply and demand drive designer goods, fancy cars, and high priced labels. I’m craving a new Apple watch as we speak, more so because it’s going to take 4 weeks to get it. And it’s harder when brain chemistry enters into the picture. Knowing that I just can’t have a little of those things pisses me off sometimes. It’s like shouting “WHY?!?!” across mountaintops. When I read your emails telling me your story, I can hear you shouting it too. It sucks. So is it weird to mourn that bag of Doritos or the chocolate lava cake? Hell no. But what you can do is recognize that those memories are intertwined with the things that in the end are probably what REALLY brought you joy. The food only lasted for a few minutes, and some of us did actually experience a high for a few moments after eating it. But that birthday party, or Easter Sunday, or Thanksgiving all had so many other memories and if we begin sifting through those memories and really peel away the layers, we get to the truth, that it wasn’t just about the food itself, it was the family members gathered around, or games we played, it was the time spent with your mom baking, or that bike ride you took.
And like the old boyfriend, loving that stuff wasn’t all bad. Some of that food really was delicious, and you may need to find other ways to make new recipes without the things that sent you into a downward spiral. And that sucks too sometimes, because it means being more mindful and learning to do things differently, rather than going with the time-honored traditions you learned growing up. Change is hard. But what’s on the other side? It is a different kind of high. One that will lead us to being more present, feeling healthy with a clear mind and heart. We work hard for that. You fight for that some days. And some days this new way of doing things can kick your ass and you might fall down. But get back up. Fast forward to how you feel when you wake up without achy joints, without a foggy head, feeling strong and ready to take on the day. You have it in you. That little kid who believed anything is possible? She’s still there, ready to play. Don’t give up on her. That boyfriend was never perfect. And the same goes for those treats we fondly remember. You now know the truth. And it really will set you free.