A Little Soul Searching

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photo © Natalie Zhou of Nana Floral

You may have noticed that there have been six months of silence around these parts.

I took a vacation.

I needed a break from self-imposed deadlines, from taking more pictures of plates than of gap-toothed smiles, from the chore of writing about everything I cook and never cooking the same thing more than twice.

The truth is, blogging is quite a lot of work. That’s why most people who do it successfully consider it to be their job! I do not really consider myself “successful” at this “job” because I have another career that is pretty consuming: mom-ing. In order to live up to that calling well, I have long sacrificed large parts of the blogger job description, parts like posting on social media and following friends faithfully in order to grow my audience here.

But last Fall, I realized that I wasn’t doing my mom job particularly well, either. Every time I sat down to do something on my computer, my scope of attention shrank to a small, glowing rectangle 12” from my face, and my patience with children’s shenanigans and demands disappeared entirely.

Around that time, I started asking myself some hard questions. Questions like: why have I been spending so much time thinking about food, trying new dishes, and taking pictures of everything I eat? Why do I like writing about food? What do I hope to offer or gain by doing this? Is writing a food blog the best use of my time as a mother of two preschoolers (and do I even enjoy it)?

The truth is, I found myself longing for the freedom to throw myself into other projects and ignore what’s for dinner.

IMG_7766I needed to simplify. I needed to find a lighter balance. I needed to blink and look away from Pinterest, Facebook, Tastespotting, and everything else. I needed to spend time with my gap-toothed smilers. You know. The ones who absolutely refuse to stand still next to each other for a two-second photo. #alwaysblurry

I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I should take a break from blogging, even though I knew I really needed to reorganize my priorities. But while I was fretting, before I knew it, a month had passed. And then two.

And I have to tell you, what started as a break from having my attention constantly divided turned into so much more.

Spoiler (in case you haven’t figured this out yet…): This is definitely a long-winded, reflective post. And there will not be a recipe at the end. I am so glad to have someplace to collect my thoughts, but I will not be offended if you decide to abandon this post, and just wait to see if it takes me another six months to show up again.

Baring My Soul on the Internet

At the risk of becoming a cliché, I am going to share some personal history with you. I do tend to be a rather private person, which is why none of this has appeared on Smells Like Brownies in the past. But I want you to understand where I’m coming from. Why this period of soul-searching has been necessary, and why I’ve ended up where I am right now.

Melissa at 16 cropped

I have struggled with bulimia since I was a freshman in high school. In case you were wondering, that’s creeping up on two decades of my life. Two decades of cultivating an utterly broken relationship with food. Of loving food so much that I never say no, but disapproving of myself so strongly that I can’t fathom keeping that food down.

Since I was 14 years old, I have judged myself almost solely by the number my scale reflected back at me each morning. My life has been so consumed by the rituals surrounding my eating disorder that I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense into that mixed-up little girl who first willfully used food as a weapon. I remember sitting in church at age 14, toward the beginning of my confusion about body image and food, knowing that I must surrender this to God. But instead, I chose to wall off that part of my life from Him and try to make it work my way—which I assumed would be a quick path to a skin-and-bones body, a quick path to acceptance from my peers. It was not. Instead, it was a lifetime of unhappiness and unhealthiness.

I have allowed my entire estimation of my worth (not just my exterior beauty, understand, but my whole personhood) to be connected to my appearance. I know many women struggle with self-image issues…probably most of us, if we are really honest. But I feel a deep pain for the smaller number of women who, like me, have found both their only solace and their deepest shame in food—something God designed and gave us as a gift, to keep us alive and show us His creativity.

If you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you might be feeling pretty surprised right now. After all, I have been very vocal (in between baking desserts) about making nutritional choices. I do read a lot and care a lot about nutrition! But all of that has been a Band-Aid over my ongoing unhealthy interactions with food.

What you might not know is that I have used this blog as a front, a justification for the real reasons I am obsessing over what to eat. I have looked to the blog as an excuse to cook more than I should eat, and I have gobbled much more of each recipe than my body needed.

I have not used this blog for good. Instead, I have fueled myself with a false purpose; I have put my hope in the idea that food and I could be great together if only I could find the right recipe. And just maybe I have thought that if someone else was eating dessert, that makes it okay for me to eat dessert, too.

But the truth is, I am simply not the kind of person who can eat only one brownie.

I haven’t taught myself to exercise restraint and self-control where food is concerned. As a result, some things that might be okay for you aren’t okay for me, because of my broken relationship with food and my body.

All the Wrong Reasons

One of the hard questions I asked myself during my sabbatical was why am I writing this blog? And the answer was so, so far from pretty.

Deep down, I might be blogging to try to make myself look good or impressive.

By this, please don’t misunderstand that I actually think I am impressive—I think I’m a mess. Scroll up and read again if you think I’m saying that glibly. But I am a perfectionist. I like doing things well, and I like it when people admire what I’ve done.

And let’s be real. This is probably true of most bloggers. We aren’t an entirely altruistic bunch, hoping to inspire you and nothing else. We want validation and encouragement from you! We want you to like us! We spend countless hours writing about our ideas and endeavors and throwing them out into the ether for (potentially) anyone to read!

IMG_9664 artisticWe live in a world where self-promotion is normal, and many people share smiling and excited selfies of their accomplishments hourly. Is that what I am doing here? Do I blog because I genuinely love sharing food ideas, or because I want to look good? (As in, hey, look, I can make a wedding cake! Hey, look, I can bake bread! And I can do all of this with two preschoolers and a kitchen cleanish enough for a photo!)

I have spent most of my adolescent and adult life caught and twisted within a comparison trap: if [Name-of-friend-who-seems-to-have-it-together] can do [something-I-witnessed-or-heard-about] with her [# children], then I should be able to do that, too! If her kids are happy…; if she can be involved in these activities…; if she can eat that…; if she can find the time to exercise/go on a date/join a group/plan an event/what have you…then clearly I am inadequate if I can’t get it together in exactly the same way.

But that kind of thinking is folly. Looking for my own happiness in someone else’s talents and successes has only exhausted and depleted me.

So the real question is this: Do I write this blog in hopes of growing as I pursue something I enjoy, or to prove something?

Let me tell you, friends, that cooking and writing for Smells Like Brownies has taken an embarrassing amount of time and energy and money. It often leaves me feeling irritable, because I have given it all of my mental chips and I have none left for a toddler who wants me to read the same book on the floor twelve times in a row. Doing this to look good, doing this to compare favorably to anyone else, is not worth it.

What if, instead, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me? (I mean, who am I, anyway?) What if I don’t write because I want people to like me, but instead because I like to write? What if I share a meal with a friend instead of a photo with the Interblags?

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photo © Natalie Zhou of Nana Floral

What if no one at all thinks I’m cool, but my children are smiling because I put everything down and sat on the floor for 30 minutes to build a helicopter out of gears and then read The Cat in the Hat with all the voices?

What if I give in to my greatest fear, and I become “just” a mom?

Getting Healthy

Over the past several months, God has been teaching me a valuable lesson, that he made me to be me, not anyone else. He made my body—and he knows that I have the metabolism of a slug—but still it is true that He doesn’t make mistakes. If I pursue holiness with my body, then my size will matter less than my actions. He also gave me my talents, limitations, and earnest-rather-than-funny personality. He made me to be creative, to be an introvert (even on the internet), to be a servant to friends, to be a perfectionist, to be easily overwhelmed. He made me to be me.

But the fact remains that I have made a lot of choices that do not honor Him. I have made choices to value my own perception of my body and food more highly than His. I have made choices to measure myself against my friends rather than striving to be holy as Christ is holy. I have not asked what God requires of me each day, but rather whether I can make up my own rules and run myself ragged in a race of my own prideful design.

A lot of things need to change. And I’m sharing this here because a lot of things will probably change at Smells Like Brownies, too.

Ephesians 5.29

One of the ideas that has come to me, time and time again, for nearly two decades, is that I have been hating my own body, which, Paul tells us in Ephesians, is against the nature God placed within me.

At the beginning of 2017, I resolved to enjoy taking care of myself. I wasn’t exactly sure what that would mean, but I determined to set aside specific time for self care.

In January, I also read a book called Made to Crave, by Lysa TerKeurst. This book spoke to me so completely, and I would recommend it for anyone who has ever eaten a brownie or had a glass of wine to satisfy themselves emotionally rather than physically. (Hello. I’m talking to you. Because who hasn’t thought at one time or another, “It’s been a hard day. I think I deserve a scoop of ice cream.”???)

I loved this book because it gave me hope. It gave me hope that no matter how confused I had become over the purpose of food, that I could still learn to make good choices. It also spoke of self-discipline in a way I had never before imagined. Basically, Lysa wrote that if I want healing for my body and my mind, then I would have to be willing to make some permanent changes.

As I read this book, I knew immediately what kind of permanent changes were on the table for me. I was going to have to give up foods that I routinely abused, without any plans to take them back up again. Foods that caused me to overeat and purge almost every time. I was going to have to replace them with a lot more effort and a lot more dependence on God.

I am not a nutritionist, but being obsessed with food has given me a bit of an edge in terms of knowledge about nutrition. My new food lifestyle plan includes:

  1. Giving up all refined sugar (which basically means giving up almost all processed and packaged foods). I still eat small amounts of honey and pure maple syrup, but never agave or sugar alcohols. I have discovered coconut sugar, which is low on the glycemic index, and I occasionally bake with it. But my goal is to rely less on sweet foods, and to eat treats only occasionally.
  2. Giving up Dominos cheese pizza, mac and cheese, cheesy quesadillas, and buttered bread. I can’t stop eating these things once I start. They are dangerous to me.
  3. Giving up meals and snacks that are more carbs than vegetables or proteins.
  4. Eating leafy greens at every meal possible. Yes, this includes breakfast. In general, considering what the most nutrient-dense options are, and choosing those or choosing to wait until they are available.
  5. Giving up that glass of wine on a hard day. Choosing to drink less coffee.
  6. Expanding my pescetarian diet to include chicken. This has been a hard one. I actually debated going full-out vegan at first, but then I considered how dearly I love cheese (haha. See #2 above) and Greek yogurt, and how I genuinely believe that vegan “butter” is toxic, and I went in the other direction. I do actually eat vegan dishes several times per week, and I have only had chicken about once per month since making the decision to relax my diet. I haven’t particularly enjoyed it, except as far as it makes cooking for my family a little less time-consuming.

For the first several weeks, these changes were so exciting and motivating that I did not find them challenging at all. But I have a food addiction…and so after the initial transition, I have found myself occasionally despairing. Like when a friend offers me a homemade sweet treat and I have to say no. Or when a friend chastises me for my new food lifestyle, supposing I am on a fad diet rather than in a spiritual battle. But friends, don’t doubt: this is a spiritual battle for me. Changing 17 years of habits related to cookies and pizza is hard! Hard but good.

Dozens of times each day, I have to ask myself whether I am genuinely hungry, or whether I’m hoping to feel good if I eat. I have taken many of what I call “self-defense naps” during my children’s quiet time, so I won’t end up snacking with abandon. I have, on several occasions, stood in the kitchen and hollered, “Help!” to God, knowing that I was on the verge of eating something I really didn’t need.

I hope you don’t struggle with these problems. I hope you understand the purpose of food, and that food is good, and that you need only as much as you need. I hope that you don’t have to give up cheese pizza and cake. But…I do.

So. Here is your notice, friends, that my future posts might be a little different. And a lot less regular. Because, you know, I shouldn’t eat the entire recipe serving four, just to make room in my fridge to photograph another one. And because, like you, I am not superhuman, and I need to let things be easy sometimes, make a repeat, or take a night off.

I am excited to write again! God has been speaking to me about having joy in creativity, which is what this blog will be at its best.

I am more than just food.

I am hoping to expand what I share here to include DIY/crafts, party planning, and even mom thoughts. I am hoping to reflect always that I love Jesus…which I have downplayed quite a bit in the last six years, because it didn’t seem relevant to chocolate chip cookies. (But, guess what! I can’t eat or live a healthy life if God is not guiding it. It’s just not my story. Therefore all of my food is about God.)

I make no promises about frequency of posting, because the truth is, my most important job is turning two small people into amazing humans who know I love them and know God loves them. The most important place I can be is in the real world. Giving my family my best doesn’t mean I’ve given up on myself or things I independently enjoy; but the reality is, I might need sleep more than I need to write about chickpeas or Spring decor.

I do hope to see you here again soon!

Thanks for sticking with me.

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photo © Natalie Zhou of Nana Floral

xoxo
Melissa

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