I created Cupcakes and Cashmere, and named it such, based on a passion for food (and of course, in mutual part, fashion). I love cupcakes, pasta, french fries, and pretty much all baked goods, and my blog has always reflected this. That said, it wasn't until I met with a nutritionist that I began to understand how being the girl who isn't afraid of bread and doesn't shun desserts has shaped my overall relationship with eating.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Shira Lenchewski, a warm and judgement-free nutritionist, who opened my eyes to some patterns and behaviors I hadn't been aware of prior. Lenchewski is a registered dietitian and respected expert in her field, and we're going to be doing a monthly column sharing some of her fantastic insights here on the blog. First up, the three points we discussed regarding my personal attitude towards food, with some initial thoughts from Shira.
It’s simultaneously a very exciting and a very strange time for nutrition. We have so many people interested in wellness. And yet, I believe the wellness-lifestyle identity can actually deter people from incorporating healthier habits into their lives. Meaning that the “wellness lifestyle” is so distinct in modern culture (think smoothie bowls and daily yoga poses), it can be off-putting to people who don’t exactly feel invited to the party, or have no interest being there in the first place. I’m talking about people that crave more balance in their lives, but don’t have a yoga mat in the backseat of their cars and would never be caught dead in a “kale yeah” sweatshirt (same here, btw). I thought about this a lot before I first met Emily, who I suspected was also in the latter category.
When we started chatting, I got to see Emily in all her multi-dimensional splendor: a forever food-lover, mom, wife, friend, boss and business owner. And it was clear that being an LA girl who wasn’t afraid to embrace sugar and carbs — in a juice-cleanse and teatox world — was an important part of her identity. Luckily for all of us, she and her identity are here to stay. For many, it can feel like adopting healthier habits somehow fundamentally changes you - that you’re not yourself. Maybe you fear that you’ll be perceived as less fun, or more rigid, or that people will now expect a steady flow of #cleaneats social media posts from you. I understand where the fear comes from, but I assure you that you can change the way you eat, without changing who you are. All it means is that you’ve thought about your big-picture wants - whether it’s to have more energy, feel more confident when naked, or be more in control of your food choices - and you consider those long-term goals when making decisions. It doesn’t mean you never indulge, but that you indulge more selectively on things that are worth it to you.
A good place to start is assessing what factors into your food choices. Here are some considerations I discussed with Emily, that may apply to you too.
Fear of Not Being Perceived as Fun by Friends
Research has found that many of us look to our friends when deciding what and how much to eat. It’s great when this mirroring-behavior inspires us to make healthier choices. But I’ve found that many of my clients have these “food-friendships”, where going all out—on drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desert—is part of the unspoken expectation. For Emily, girls dinners are especially sacred, as is the dining dynamic. But simply being aware of how other people’s opinions influence us is a huge step. It can be challenging to feel like you’re letting someone down by switching up the script, but ultimately, any good friend should support you doing you.
Emily’s Take: I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I love to eat and going out with girlfriends is one of my favorite things to do. But part of what makes it so fun is that we really indulge - we attack the breadbasket, get multiple drinks, order every fried option on the menu and finish with several desserts. And the thought of somehow disrupting that makes me sad. But this past week, I went out with girlfriends and we ordered glasses of champagne and fries for the table. I drank the champagne and didn’t have any of the fries. And guess what? Neither of them even noticed. It was nice to realize that I was able to pick and choose how I wanted to indulge without feeling like I was being a Debbie Downer.
Using Food as Reward
We’re primed at a young age to use food as a reward for good behavior, or a way to soothe emotional or physical pain (a skinned knee, a breakup, etc.). As a result, many adults lean on food during stressful times. Ultimately, they wind up gaining weight and then feeling even more stressed. Because food-as-identity is such an important part of Emily’s life, food-as-comfort (on both special days and tense ones) is too. And because of that, we didn’t expect this habit to dissipate overnight. Instead, we talked about alternative ways to give kudos and self-soothe. A great way to break the cycle is to adopt non-food rewards as a way to treat yourself. My personal favorites are Epsom salt baths, acupuncture, and infrared saunas. But this could also mean a long, leisurely hike with a partner or friend.
Emily’s Take: This will always be my biggest struggle with food. I use it as a crutch for everything. If I’m celebrating, then bring on the cupcakes! If I’ve had a really rough day, nothing makes me feel better than a big bowl of mac ’n cheese. I’m slowly trying to shift my focus to other things, but it’s hard. Right now, it’s still way more appealing to indulge in food than to get out in nature or talk on the phone with a girlfriend. My current goal is to simply become aware of when I’m viewing food in an emotional way versus actually craving something.
Not Understanding That You Don’t Have to Give Up What You Love
I’ve always asked clients this in our first meeting, but took it a step further after reading Marie Kondo’s 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.' I was particularly inspired by the Kon-Mari practice of questioning joy, which has major application in the food-world as well.
I’m a firm believer that at the most basic level, food is nourishment and pleasure. And you can’t live a happy, healthy life without both. It doesn’t mean every day is a free-for-all, but it does mean letting yourself (sensibly) enjoy the foods you love, and enjoying every morsel of them. And when you put real time and thought into what those foods are, I believe it helps you indulge in the things that are worth it, and pass on the things that aren’t. Emily and I discussed her top picks, and how to work towards more balance without cutting them out altogether.
Emily’s Take: To be fair, I have a lot of favorite foods. Like, perhaps way more than most people. But if I were to really pick three things I wouldn’t want to live without, they would include: candy (is that too broad?), champagne and cheese. Oh, and ice cream. I don’t have these things every single day, but they're what I reach for most often when I am indulging.
These are important things to consider, because they help us bring our attention to the way we eat. I’d never in a million years ask you to give up a food that brings you sincere joy (except for maybe fake sugar, hydrogenated oils and high-fructose-corn-syrup). But the truth is, a lot of us don’t really think about what we really want. And we wind up indulging on things that aren't worth it and being mad at ourselves afterwards. If that sounds like your relationship with food, don’t worry. You’re you’re not locked into it, and you’re definitely not alone.
I hope bringing an awareness to some of the factors that can affect one's relationship with food helped, and if you have a topic you want me to cover in next month's column, or any nutrition-related challenges or questions, leave them for me in the comments below!
P.S. You can keep up with Shira here: