Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Emotional Connection of "My Foods"

Like I said earlier in case you missed it, I am struggling and this week will be filled with introspection and thinking out loud, including tearing apart any thoughts that crop up when I feel like eating off plan. If you really detest that kind of blog post, you may want to come back in a week.

And also, this post is going to have a lot of specific foods mentioned, so if that's going to trigger you, be forewarned. You can read all the way down to the row of asterisks, and after that, a lot of food will be mentioned.

It seems whenever I am majorly stressed and/or upset about things, I turn to the same particular foods. They're not especially tasty foods, or great foods. They're common things, and, in fact, tonight I realized that I do not even really like the flavor of some of these foods I turn to for comfort. How crazy is that? I sit and eat something I am not especially fond of. In fact I may even seek it out, go to the store on a special run for those foods. Why? What is going on with me? I sat with this thought for awhile and here is what I have come up with.

I have a set of foods that are "My Foods." When I say "mine" I mean they seem to somehow be a part of me. A part of who I am... my heritage, my past, my emotions. I remember in grade school we were given a project to write about our favorite food. It was easy. I will mention it below, but we had to make a poster about that food. I drew it and wrote a poem about it with ease. It was a part of me and has been ever since. It's almost like certain foods have been part of my life and my early childhood memories for *so long* that they are part of my psyche. I dunno, it seems crazy. But it is true.


My foods are all, ALL connected back to my childhood.

When I was a very small child, about 2 years old, my mother used to sometimes feed me chocolate ice cream for breakfast. One of my very early memories is of seeing someone eat chocolate ice cream on Sesame Street on TV, and wanting it SO BAD I could hardly stand it. I have extremely (maybe unnaturally) vivid memories of the chocolate ice cream she used to give me. It was not this fluffy, soft, airy, barely-chocolate stuff. It was that thick rich chocolate ice cream that was so dark brown it seemed endless, and it didn't have any fluffy air holes in it. It was almost hard when you scooped it, and when I'd eat a bite on my spoon it was so thick and rich and hard that I had to chew it, almost like frozen fudge. I dream about this ice cream. I have only ever found ONE brand of ice cream now that is like it, and when I eat it I actually have flashbacks of being 3 or 4 and eating it and watching Sesame Street.

Now why would a grown woman have that kind of intense reaction to an ice cream? Why was that ice cream so important to me as a child that I remember every detail of eating it and feel *connected* to that particular type of ice cream, but no other type?

I think it is because I got the ice cream when my mom didn't want to bother with me.

She used to go out drinking a lot, and leave me home as a toddler with my grandpa. Oh how I loved my grandpa! I remember HIM as vividly as the ice cream: he always held me on his lap, read stories to me, sang me songs about little teapots, and played with me. He showed me how to work a top.. the kind that you used to push down on a rod in the center to make it spin. He loved me more than anything in the world. When my mom was out drinking I'd be home with him, and my dad would come home from work and have to go out to all the bars looking for my mother half the night. I had Grandpa, but he got sick a lot. When he wasn't around I got ice cream instead. He died when I was 4. I didn't understand.

Isn't it strange I have such vivid memories of my Grandpa, my father, and my ice cream, but almost no memory whatsoever of my mother during those years? Memory #1: my mom rocking me in my bedroom, after she pulled down the blinds. I was wearing red, footed pajamas. Memory #2: Going with my dad to visit my mom in the mental hospital. I was so excited/upset that I vomited on the porch.

Food #2:
When I wrote that poem and made that poster about my favorite food, it was bagels and cream cheese. I grew up back east, where the bagels are GOOD. And we always used Philadelphia cream cheese. When I was a kid I'd eat a bagel with cream cheese almost every day. We never toasted them; just split them and layered that cream cheese on extra-thick. It was one of my father's favorite foods, too. He ate them often, but he always had little green olives with the red pimento centers all sliced up and placed on top of his bagel halves. I thought that was so disgusting. I sometimes liked to sprinkle bacon bits on my bagel with cream cheese.

Now, do you know what I like to eat as soon as I start going off plan? Yes, bagels and cream cheese. I am always annoyed that the bagels aren't as good as they were back east, but I eat them anyway, slathered with lots of Philly cream cheese. And sliced green olives. Yes, I do, I slice those olives over my bagel and seeing the little green circles with red centers makes me feel like ME. And connected with my dad. Which brings me to a side point that when I was a child, my father drank martinis, and he always gave me the olive from his drink. So is it any wonder that I cannot keep a jar of olives in the house? I will eat the ENTIRE JAR. They are incredibly salty and I lose the enjoyment after just 3 or 4, but I swear something takes over and I find myself eating 50 olives in one sitting. Insane. But it is not the olives I am after. It is my father, long gone from a heart attack 21 years ago. I even dated a man who I *knew* wasn't right for me, mainly because he drank martinis and smoked and smelled just like my father. I cannot tolerate smoke, it hurts my eyes and makes me feel sick, but I dated him anyway. That was years ago, but I still will sit and eat a bowl of olives and a hunk of Philly cream cheese from a bowl if I am out of bagels.

Before I was born, my father lived in Japan for over a decade. He spoke fluent Japanese and was a really great cook as well. If I had access to tempura, I am sure it would be a problem for me. But I don't cook it myself, nor do I own a deep fryer so tempura has faded into the background for the most part. What has not, is soba. My dad used to fix me a bowl of soba noodles on the stove and serve it to me with chopsticks. From a very, very early age I ate these noodles, which are now commonly known as Ramen. I have vivid memories of sitting at the kitchen table slurping my soba, or winding thick layers of noodles around my chopsticks and eating them like a chicken drumstick. I ate Ramen ALL THE TIME. Guess what I eat when I go off plan? Ramen! That horribly salty, greasy, unappetizing bowl of cheap psuedo-food seems somehow like it is part of me, like it belongs in my life. When I eat it I *always* think, "eww, this is not very good" but I manage to eat the whole bowl, awakening recollections of my childhood and eating soba my dad made for me.

Oh, there are a lot of other foods. My mom didn't know how to cook, so a lot of the time my lunch was "cheese in the oven," a slice of bread topped with cheese and broiled, buttered, and salted. Whenever we went out to a diner my father would get a Reuben sandwich, which I thought was the most revolting smelling sandwich ever. When I came home after school I'd eat Lays chips, drink Coke, and eat Port Wine cheese. And yeah, my mom made hot dogs, too.

Some of those foods don't even appeal to me anymore but I find myself mindlessly eating them anyway. I guess on some level I still feel like an orphan. Sometimes I have dreams of being abandoned, and I wake up with the most vivid sense of being a little child whose parents have disappeared. It aches in the deepest part of my gut. I hate it. Of course after I wake up and go about my day I am fine. I rarely really think about my parents and miss them... they've been gone for so long. But obviously part of me is trying to bring them back. Trying to bring back that screwed-up childhood for a do-over.

Well, now that I am aware, I can plan something different. Something I have never done is stop myself before indulging in these foods and let myself "go there" with the sense of loss and disconnect. I think I am going to have to do this. The chocolate ice cream is not going to give me the loving mother I always wanted, and the jar of olives does nothing to bring my father back to life. I think it's time to dissect these foods from my sense of *self* and let them rest in my past while I move on to the future.


Anonymous said...

That is a good post. I quess all the food memories from the childhood matters to many of us. I can still remember my dad cocking oatmeal to me and to himself in the mornigs. That was a special time for me and I still love oatmeal.

Ann K. said...

Really great post. While I was reading it, I thought about the foods that I just can't not eat and, yes, immediately, I can see images from my past, my childhood and adolescence. Some seem inconsequential but I may just have forgotten the emotion or event because they are all significant in one way or another. And, for other foods, deep anxieties are definitely present behind the mask of mindless eating. Thanks for this, you have really got me thinking.

MargieAnne said...

All the best Lynn. Your conclusion has the ring of truth.

I will read with interest as you learn to overcome.

Anne H said...

You are a great writer, and a thoughtful one!
And those sidebar pics - Awesome - as usual!

Dinnerland said...

It is not unusual to associate food with memories-- there is a part of our brain the does this-- particularly with the smell of foods.
One thing you could do is to try using essential oils to change your focus onto a completely different smell (peppermint when you want bagels, patchouli or spearmint when you want ice cream.)

Great post!

Jane Cartelli said...

I have the weird ability to remember what people were eating in any book I have ever read or that was read to me as a child. Those were often the foods I went to for comfort before I realized the association and before I eventually found a way out of turning to that behavior. It took time and a lot of work but today I do not go to the foods for comfort, connection, contentment or coping. You can do this. Keep writing and sharing and reaching out.

lynna said...

Besides now having an insane craving for green olives (grin), loved this post and think you are really onto something very important. Seems the next question would be: How to heal that wounded inner child and to find other,healthier ways of obtaining the same comfort.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I think a lot of us have these same food connections. It's so easy to let eating be connected to emotions, and so hard to break that connection. You are on to something, keep it up!

gaelowyn said...

lyn, I so totally get the feeling of abandonment. You pretty much were! And I hate to compare my feelings/fears of being abandoned to yours.. since I had two very loving parents. So i'm not sure where my fears/feelings come from. Do they stem from finding out that the woman who I thought was my "real mom" in fact wasn't? That my biological mother died when i was only 8 months old? I love my mom, she's as much my "real mom" as any mother is to her child.
Do these feelings come from the fact that my parents never ever once caught on to the fact that I was being abused by another family member.. sometimes right under their noses? Maybe
What it comes down to is this.. I too look at food as being a part of me, for somewhat similar reasons. And I too, am beginning to look at my feelings.. and right now it feels like i'm looking down the barrel of a shotgun. I've never told my parents about anything that happened when I was a child. And I never will. That is a grief and an anger they will never have to burden.
Anyways.. my rambling aside.. you have the courage to put out there, to this whole world, what it is you're feeling, the demons you're fighting. So.. know this.. you therefore have the courage to KEEP FIGHTING them.. and you will win. I know this. I feel this for you as much as I want to feel it for myself!

Anonymous said...

You have definitely got to read "Women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth! I know I keep harping on her, but this is exactly the kind of stuff she talks about. How we related certain emotions to food and, more importatly, *how* we overcome this bond. How if we want to be scared, then we just let it happen. We don't try to *fight* the emotion by eating something that relates to it. Fascinating book.

LN said...

You are not alone in those strong associations with foods that you don't love - and eating them for comfort. Sometimes just the smell of certain foods can make me cry. Allowing the feelings without eating the foods - especially to much of them and when you don't really like them anymore - now that sounds like real love for yourself. And although they could not love you then and they are gone, you can choose to love you now. Although they could not love me then and they are gone, I can choose to love me now.
Sending you a cyber hug!

Diandra said...

I guess realizing the connections is the most important step.

There's food stuff I couldn't have in the house, because if I did, I would eat it all in one session - mostly the boring stuff: Chocolate, crisps and pizza. Nuts. Certain kinds of cheese. It took me years, and I am finally able to get this food, eat some of it if I want to (not too often) and stop once I am not hungry anymore. I don't have to finish the bag of crisps. I can leave the rest for another day - or throw them away.

(Actually, yesterday I allowed myself a bad food day, and I couldn't finish that bag of crisps. It would have made me sick.)

Sometimes it is necessary to find different ways of consolation. Me-time, with a good book and a nice cup of tea. A chat on the phone with a friend. Time simply to BE.

Nmmumaw said...

I totally empathize with having vivid memories of certain foods, though with me it's the smell that triggers it, more often than the taste. I hear that scent is most closely connected with memory in the brain, though, so I guess it makes sense.

One thing, though. Soba noodles and Ramen aren't the same thing. Soba noodles are grey/brown buckwheat noodles. Ramen is made with noodles called "somen", which is called somen when it is served cold, and ramen when it is served hot. Somen noodles are regular wheat noodles, whitish-colored. I know that's totally missing the point of the story, but as I live in Japan currently, it was sort of a jarring point in the post.