My Relationship with Food

For some reason, this topic has been bouncing around in my head recently. Maybe it has something to do with training for my first triathlon, simply trying to eat better, or the explosion of people praising the benefits of “clean eating”. Regardless of the inspiration, I’ve been feeling the need to discuss my relationship with food and how it seems to drive so many of gastronomic decisions.

CCFA - Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of AmericaWhile I’ve posted before about where I first started my passion for cooking, one’s relationship with food is a different beast. Cooking is about creation and sharing with others; a relationship with food is what happens when you’re plowing into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a long week or pushing mashed potatoes around to make it look like you ate more than you did. The first is social, the latter is deeply personal.

Now, I could talk about how I was overweight in my early teen years, but it really started when I was 14. That’s when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. For those not familiar with this wonderful illness, it’s an inflammatory illness of the intestines. A simple analogy would be that it’s the asthma of the gut… but instead of not being able to breathe, you can’t digest food.

Not digesting food leads to a world of issues: weight loss, loss of appetite, or chronic diarrhea for the food that you don’t vomit. I hope you can see that I’m painting a pretty picture. When someone with Crohn’s is having a flare-up, it usually means that they either vomit anything they eat, or it goes through them faster than a bullet train. The body’s natural reaction is to not want food, as it causes discomfort on a good day or crippling pain on a bad one.

So it was at the age of 14 that I was told that I had Crohn’s and would need to change how I live my life. Oh, did I forget to mention that this in an incurable illness with no known causes? My bad.

Back in the 1990’s, the typical treatment plan for patient in flare-up would be heavy dose of steroids like Prednisone. This was more of a band-aid, as it was simply an anti-inflammatory drug, but it worked in the short-term.

Now, think about twisting your ankle or breaking a bone. Aside from the acute care, you need to rest the injury to give your body a chance to heal. How do you do this with your digestive track? In the hospital, it means nutrients & fluids via IV. After discharge, it means a heavily restricted diet.

One of the side-effects of Prednisone is the desire to eat EVERYTHING. So, here I am sitting in a hospital bed, suddenly feeling better because of the medication and having a huge surge in appetite. But, I’m not allowed to eat, so I would sit there dreaming of food that my healing body wanted. I would often leave the hospital with a list of foods that I missed.

Now I’m in my formative teen years with a relationship with food that looks something like this: I’m healthy and eating what I want, then I start to get sick and food is what sends me into a downward spiral, then I’m not eating, then medicated and hungry for food… Rinse and repeat.

You can see how I became a little conflicted with food. It truly is a love/hate thing, and it took me until my 30’s to realize that I didn’t need to go to the extremes with food, i.e. avoiding it all together then eating every guilty pleasure under the sun until my body raised the white flag.

While I still in enjoy fried, fatty goodness, I’ve been concentrating on how to take the food experiences I love and make them healthier. I’ve used my years of Crohn’s diets as inspiration. I mean, I have 17-years of culinary exposure that includes being vegetarian, carb-free, gluten-free, no-fiber, and more… there are ways to take the beneficial aspects of these diets and make them work in every day life and make good food.

So, this is why you’ll see some posts that are all about things covered with cheese and then others that involve wrapping a hamburger in lettuce. Healthy food can be good, and bad food can be enjoyed. The public just needs to be more conscience about all of this and make better choices. A weekend of fatty fried food should mean that you should have a week of salad. Your choices have consequences, and they need to be acknowledged.

Note: The image in this post is a logo from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. If you’re interested in learning more about this disease, please check them out.