A road trip through self-care

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one." M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

It's mid-morning in Toronto and the sun's glaring directly into my eyes, forcing me to squint, as I head north. Kensington Market is slow moving; at Jimmy's, one of the counter guys from Sanagan's Meat Market is slapping lids on top of a couple frothy cappuccinos, discussing a mango salsa he wants to make, and someone from Lo's Sole Survivor has stopped by to update the barista on the status of his favourite pair of shoes. "Is Lo in today? I'll come by later," he asks, and after taking a quick sip on her tea, she replies, "Uh-huh. See ya later." A group of fishmongers open up shop, tying their white aprons behind them as they juggle their standard black coffees. Fresh brewed coffee, seafood, bright lemon, steamed milk co-mingle. And then it just smells like springtime and promise and arrival, which I credit entirely to the lemon juice and the caffeine hit.

Five dollar breakfasts are served up to several businessmen at greasy spoon Our Spot; hands fold and newspaper sections crinkle in response. Produce shops are set up with a sense of urgency I rarely muster: baskets of discounted fruit and vegetables are propped up, followed by still-green bananas, misshapen Yukon potatoes, heads of broccoli that glow greener than the Emerald City. I buy my coffee, quiet and near-imperceptible, and head out on a walk in my riding boots to clear my head and renew my focus. It helps me to beat the blocks and walls that pop up spontaneously, like out-of-town visitors who've stopped by without sending notice.

Thoughts of mindful eating run rampant through my brain. When I hear Like so many others, I'm here to lose weight I automatically register it as I want a healthy relationship with food; I don't have it and I don't know how to cultivate it. I feel powerless to do anything to change my situation. I don't know what to do. Seldom is our relationship to food free of fear, restriction, deprivation; so frequently the prospect of eating something delicious and delectable is followed by phrases such as I shouldn't eat this, if I could just stop eating x/y/z, I just need more self-control and willpower. My work involves unraveling all of that limiting jargon we've been spoon-fed, and to start the difficult but arguably rewarding process of using cooking and meals as a foundation for self-discovery and real growth, the kind that facilitates peace and a positive body image and wholesome eating habits. The kind of things we deserve. The sort of inheritance I'm invested in passing down.

Naturally, developing a sane and celebratory relationship with food is easier said than done. Words like cleanse and detox get thrown around with ease, yet we rarely consider going on a mental detox to clear our heads and evaluate our ongoing complexes. First off, scales, measurements, tracking devices -- they have their place and can play a reasonable supportive role. I'm willing to give them that. But I've also witnessed how handing over our power to these tools can undermine the very sacred connection we have with ourselves and our immediate environment. How do you eat -- in front of the screen, while working, or are you present during mealtime? How do certain foods make you feel? Do you generally feel energized or depleted? Do you struggle with indigestion? How's your sleep? Some might have an easier time listing their dress size or weight. If we want a good relationship with food -- as well as our best health and a body we love -- it starts by examining that very relationship. It doesn't originate with a set of arbitrary values.

When I started adding more fats to my diet, it felt like nothing I'd ever experienced. The easiest way to explain it is to say that it felt like a homecoming. It fed something soul-deep. I started conceiving of all the things I could make. My cravings expressed themselves clearly: sweet potatoes, meat sauce, apple cider vinegar (still not sure about that one, but I'm riding that wave.) I stopped being hungry all of the time. I stopped thinking about my next meal. I fell back in love with food in the best way possible. Instead of fighting my body and its signals, I stepped into them; I eat more when I'm ravenous, and I don't force food down my throat when I'm not hungry. I rarely eat junk food, because I legitimately almost never feel like it (I did eat French fries dipped in mayonnaise this weekend, so in the interest of transparency, there's that. And they were delicious.) I want roasted vegetables tossed with melted tallow, vinegar, and herbs. I love mussels in butter over spaghetti squash with parsley and chili flakes; I can appreciate a low-sugar acai bowl eaten with homemade grain-free granola. A bowl of berries with coconut whipped cream, served for dessert, is the sweetest end. This didn't occur by accident, and it didn't happen overnight. It's the result of a seriously long, but totally worthwhile process, of learning to heal and play for my own damn team.

I walked away from the scale, from the numbers, and began to self-determine. I weigh heavy for my size and probably always will, and torturing myself over my bones will never serve to do anything but deplete the power I've worked so hard to channel. Changing our habits and manifesting results has more to do with growing in self-awareness and really loving ourselves as opposed to counting. Counting still permits the use of food as a crutch. If I don't eat, I can stockpile my calories for later. I can have this chocolate bar, I'll just have to skip dinner. Relationship implies participation. You can't hand it all over and follow the instructions. You must collaborate. You must crush through limiting self-beliefs. You must unravel the power targets of your life. Cultivating a beautiful relationship with food is only available to us when we cultivate a good relationship with ourselves, learn to trust ourselves, make decisions for ourselves that show self-respect, and reclaim the value we've placed on external sources so that we have the opportunity to grow into our own power. What would someone who loves themselves do? And sometimes the answer is a green juice or a bunch of vegetables. And sometimes it's French fries with mayonnaise, enjoyed with friends over Sunday dinner.

If community is the cure, as functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman has said, perhaps self-love is the best form of prevention.

Sarah Berneche

Sarah Berneche, 14 Denison Square, Toronto, ON, M5T 1K8