I'm Done Being Afraid of My Food

Blogger, cookbook writer, and mom Alana Chernila on why enjoyment might be the most important nutrient of all.

This essay is an excerpt from The Homemade Kitchen, by Alana Chernila. Alana, a mom of two in western Massachusetts, blogs at Eating From the Ground Up and is also the author of The Homemade Pantry.

I have spent a fair amount of time living and eating alongside the fantasy of a future body.

In those moments, I eat dinner, and I am me, sitting alongside future me, skinnier or fatter depending on what's on the menu.

I do this less than I used to. I'm more comfortable in my own skin and more confident in the goodness of my own body as I get older. Still, the future me shows up every so often. And when I do eat with the thought of some differently shaped me, the food tastes different than it does when I rest in the deliciousness of the meal, when my focus is on enjoying my food. In fact, I don't really taste it at all. Instead, I feel afraid of my food.

That future me sits down at the table and pushes the moment aside. The sheer enjoyment of baked macaroni and cheese, the reward for having made it myself, is interrupted by second-guessing. All that cheese, so much butter! So many empty carbohydrates! Next time, you should use whole-grain noodles. You should carve noodles out of parsnips!

By the time the future me is done scolding, I've finished my dinner and I don't even remember what it tasted like. Of course, the future body isn't just heavier or lighter. Sometimes it's glowy, it's less achy, or it looks younger. The future body will never get cancer or heart disease. All these are fine aspirations in themselves, and what we eat certainly has an impact on how we feel. But I think enjoyment might just be a nutrient in itself—in fact, it might be the most important one of all.

I can't keep up with the news of what I should or shouldn't eat. The list of "good" foods and "bad"

foods varies by the day, and although there are plenty of books claiming to have the one true way to the perfect future body, I have yet to find a diet that beats the one I already follow: the eat-what-I-love diet.

The truth is that when I eat what I really want, it tastes good, it feels good, and I know I'm eating the right thing. That holds as true for a well-timed bowl of steamed greens or miso soup as it does an ice cream cone or a slice of warm gingerbread. And when it's time for dessert, I want to be right there at the table; the present me, spoon in hand. Enjoyment might just be a nutrient in itself—in fact, it might be the most important one of all.

Reprinted from The Homemade Kitchen. Copyright © 2015 by Alana Chernila. Photographs by Jennifer May. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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