Eat the motherfucking Pecan Pie
My grandfather died in 2015. He and my grandmother had been married for 65 years and had known each other since they were 13. After he passed, my grandmother had to get her hip replaced (and then it popped out 4 separate times), her doctors found breast cancer in both breasts, and had to remove part of her colon due to colon cancer.
Not to worry about her now though, my sweet 94-year-old grandmother is thriving in Charlotte, NC.
A few years ago, while she was struggling with all of that, I was visiting her at the house in VA where she and grandaddy lived my whole life, and she told me that her doctors were asking her to gain some weight. She was quite literally withering away.
She said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to lose weight. I don’t even know how to eat to gain weight.” That was one of the most impactful things my grandmother has ever said to me.
Other than – as a southern woman, I need to know how to make ham biscuits, fried chicken, and tomato aspic because those are the things you’re supposed to take to funerals. Also, Gram says that nail polish is either supposed to be red or pink.
When she said the thing about making food for funerals, I was probably 18 and knew that tomato aspic is disgusting and that (hopefully) due to my invincibility at the time, I would not be going to a funeral anytime soon. Seemingly useless skills that feel antiquated (that I will likely recall when I do go to a funeral). And about the fingernail polish… my nails, my color Gram. #notsorry.
But when she said the thing about trying to lose weight for her 89 years of life… it was like a lightbulb went off for me. I didn’t want that to be my life – and so far, it had been.
I don’t want to spend my time here trying to shape my body into a way that it isn’t.
I want my (seemingly limited) brain space to have more knowledge in it other than the calorie and macro content of foods. I want to have more space in my brain to care about things that are happening in the world instead of just a fluctuating number on a scale and the subjective desirability of my own physical body.
I want to be able to appreciate and adore everything that comes along with food: the deliciousness of it, the social aspect of it, the nature and seasons of it, the celebratory experience that food can be, the satisfaction I can feel when I eat what I want and what I need, that feeling of being completely stuffed after eating pecan pie when I visit (hoping that my aunt doesn’t RUIN it with chocolate chips – circa Thanksgiving 2015, my grandmother made a “derby day” pie at the request of my aunt.
I tried to ban my aunt from future visits if she was going to ruin everything with chocolate chips. I mean, like what you like but… don’t mess with my favorite pie) and then the inevitable walk with my dad and dog, and nap time that happens after pie.
Be Polite. Eat. But ALSO, don’t be fat.
Growing up in the south with very traditionally southern grandparents, there’s an odd duality of showing care by feeding folks you love AND as a woman, making sure you stay small and petite (which I have never been) and polite.
There was always praise if you looked smaller than you looked the last time they saw you and also concern if you weren’t eating large portions or getting seconds. Eating a lot of what was served to you was a way of being polite and showing that you were grateful for the time and care that the person cooking had put into preparing the meal. As a child, that was very confusing. I never felt in control of how much I would eat.
Now I know that I have a choice when it comes to food – especially when it comes to holidays, family gatherings, meals with friends, or generally anytime I’m not eating alone:
- Yes, I eat at meal times when everyone else is eating because I want to experience sitting down with my family or friends for a meal that we have collectively worked hard to create.
- If I’m not very hungry by the time mealtime comes around, I eat anyway because I want the social experience. I only eat as much as I choose to. I can go back for seconds if I want to. AND how much or how little I eat has nothing to do with anybody else’s feelings (even if they are offended if I don’t eat as much as they’d like me to – or if they become “concerned about my health” if they perceive that I’ve eaten “too much”)
- If I’m really hungry before everyone else, I’ll wait until we all sit down together because I’m in a relationship with my body in a way that it’s ok for me to say, “Hey bod. I hear that you’re hungry right now and, if it’s ok with you, I’d like to wait until dinnertime so that we can eat and celebrate with the rest of the family. Is that ok?” If the answer is “yes,” great, we wait. If it’s not ok for my bod, I eat a snack.
Food isn’t just fuel. And it can be.
Food isn’t just social hour. But it can be.
Food can be a challenging relationship to navigate because societally, there are a lot of moving parts. And, it can be simple if we allow it.
Some of us don’t always have a choice if, when, and what we eat. And, depending on access, some can. Those of us who do have a lot of choice and access, need to understand the privilege of this – for me, understanding many of my privileges has really helped me put into perspective a lot of things that used to hold a ton of weight and rigid rules for me. Consider yourself formally invited to explore that.
Food around holiday times can be challenging. And it doesn’t have to be.
I often ask friends, my therapist, books, Instagram accounts, whatever, for advice.
I’ve noticed this as a pattern when I’m feeling ungrounded, insecure, or like a fraud. I’m looking for someone to tell me I’m doing everything all wrong and how to do it right, step by step. Because if I can get someone else to tell me what the answer is, that means that I don’t have to look inward and figure out what’s right for ME… that feels vulnerable, like I might get it wrong (it’s often an issue of me not trusting myself), like what I choose might push people away, fear of failure, fear of being out of control.
I find that we do the same thing when it comes to food. We outsource and look for rules, meal plans, time blocks, macros, calories, shakes, pills, more water… we are hoping that someone else can tell us what’s right for us. But the truth is, we have bodies.
And, if we can continue to do the work to tune into our body’s needs, the rules don’t seem to matter because we have our own set of needs that are dictated by our body, if we listen. And just as we do as humans, we’re going to mess up understanding those needs. We’ll try a food and our body really might not feel good about that for some reason. The reason might matter – it could be a health thing like Crohn’s or IBS – if you think that might be it, go see a non-diet dietitian (if you’re in Nashville: go to Nashville Nutrition Partners) who can help you understand that and the cues of your body.
It could also be another reason like you didn’t get enough sleep, you argued with a friend, you need a hug, you’re doing too much, you’re not feeling enough purpose, or today just wasn’t the day for hummus and that’s ok.
If a food doesn’t land well in your body, use that information for next time. You’re human. You’re going to misunderstand a cue now and again. That’s ok. It’s a practice of understanding your body and the needs that ebb and flow.
There is no meal-plan that can tell you what you need.
So eat the pecan pie.
Eat it until you’ve had enough. Eat pecan pie whenever you want it throughout the year. And next time your aunt ruins it at Thanksgiving (for the first time in your lifetime), you might not throw a fit because you know that you don’t have to eat that chocolate pie and that she didn’t do it to ruin your life because that was the one time a year you were allowing yourself to have pecan pie (aka, I was restricting pecan pie the remainder of the year*) and maybe you and your grandmother can make a pecan pie in the kitchen together. Exhale.
Here’s my permission slip** to you today (and I invite you to make your own before you attend any event where there’s some sort of challenge around food – write it down on a small sheet of paper and stick it in your pocket.
When you’re feeling some kind of way, go to the bathroom, read the little slip of paper, take five deep breaths, stay in the bathroom till everyone else goes home – I’m kidding. But also if you need to leave, do what’s best for you.):
I give you permission to enjoy food.
I give you permission to both notice your body feeling hungry and notice your body experience fullness.
I give you permission to eat as much or as little as you’d like.
I give you permission to not feel guilty about that.
I give you permission to know that your parents and family and friends all probably have a challenging relationship with food and to not allow their stuff to influence your needs and choices.
I give you permission to proceed with caution.
I give you permission to feel at ease.
*Note: my Mom makes these nuts that are named after her around Christmas: Shufie Nuts. She used to put them in these sweet little jars all around the house growing up. They are special to that season for me – so it’s not that I intentionally restrict them throughout the year, I just only make them at Christmas because they are seasonally special. It’s part of why they’re so delicious. They bring up memories for me as a kid.
So some foods are like that too – they’re just seasonally special foods and that’s ok. When I used to restrict sugar throughout the year, I would eat a LOT of Shufie Nuts during December. Now I get to enjoy making them and eating them as much or as little as I want to because I know I can have sugar whenever I want it, I can make Shufie Nuts whenever I want to, and I can share that experience with my friends and family.
**Note: you don’t need my permission or anyone else’s. You need YOUR permission.