I recently reached out to Emily Noble after seeing comments she made about kids and eating in the Star Tribune. We had a wonderful chat! Her photos of food are gorgeous. Check out her new project on Leafy Reader for 28 dinners in 28 days. Set your DVR now and watch TV with your kids as she does cool science experiments on PBS Scigirls April 2. (Teaser: kids taste peaches with different things to see which tastes the “peachiest.” Was it salt, sugar, vinegar? Tune in!)
Emily is a PhD candidate in nutrition (studying a compound related to appetite and reward,) a chef and blogger who describes her journey to a good relationship with food as a no-regrets “winding candyland path.” As my goal is to help people find that “good relationship” with food, I thought I’d ask Emily to share some of her experiences.
You mentioned you eat now without restriction but that was not always the case.
Emily:I’ve done low-fat, low-carb, no high fructose corn syrup, dairy, and wheat. I have been a strict vegan, vegetarian, and avoided anything “processed”. Then I fell in love, which cured me, briefly, of my dietary restrictions. It’s funny how dining with new love can turn ice cream into a totally reasonable breakfast item. Shortly after, my partner was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease (ended up being a wrong diagnosis). I worked at a co-op at the time, and heard that raw foods might help.
We lined our cabinets with nut butters, imported young coconuts, and dates. I bought a dehydrator, which sat in the center of our kitchen whining a dull whir, and our countertops disappeared under sprouted nuts and beans. At the coffee shop, we isolated ourselves with decaf teas and raw honey, while our friends enjoyed the animation that comes from a few cups of delicious coffee. They felt like strangers – part of a different world.
After about two months of raw foods, I made a simple salad. I took one bite and tears welled in my eyes. I called a friend and said, ‘This salad it the most beautiful and delicious thing that I have ever eaten.
‘”Um” she said, “you sound insane. Maybe we should stop raw foods.”
In nutrition class, I had learned that the brain up-regulates certain reward pathways when the body is starving to try and encourage feeding. Thus, in a starving state, plain oatmeal (or…salad?) can be as rewarding as chocolate or ice cream. That was my experience with raw foods. We stopped the diet that day, and for the first time in my life I ate unrestricted. I am a lot less obsessed with food when I don’t follow rules around it.
How do you think you got started restricting foods in the first place?
Emily: I grew up with an awareness of food as being a really important thing that caused my mother a lot of pain. She would say things like “I wish I didn’t love food so much” and I would say “I love food too” “I am afraid that you inherited that from me” she would laugh. I think that I have felt ashamed about how much I loved food in the past.
The messages I received at home about how food is something powerful that needs to be controlled are the same messages from the world at large. As an adult I have come to feel that my love of food is an asset. I have even made a career out of it. My mother has been instrumental in encouraging me about my cooking and writing, which has empowered me to experience food in a whole new way.
Are you happy with how you eat now, and how did you get to that point?
Emily: My relationship with food is a good one these days. I am not mad at my dinner for making me too full or too fat, potentially encouraging some future disease, or isolating me from an exclusive subculture of high-minded eaters. I have no regrets. The different eating styles I have experimented with have strengthened my skills as a chef. I say this because I find it is easy for me to judge my past behavior, but I find it is more useful to acknowledge the gifts that have grown out of it. There really is no right or wrong way to eat, and what is right for me now might not be right for me in the future.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and cooking with kids…