When I first started my recovery from food addiction, I encountered a lot of confusing emotions regarding the events, holidays, activities, and rituals that I used to love that were centered around the foods I was giving up.

The two examples that have presented the most challenges along this journey have been my Saturday cooking date night tradition with my spouse, and spending the holidays with my food-loving family.

Food is something that people connect and bond over, especially food that tastes really, really good. This becomes a problem for us food addicts pretty quickly, as food that tastes really, really good tends to be the food that we choose to not eat in the interest of living happy, healthy, and free of food obsession.

There are two points I want to make about this:

  • This is sad, and it’s ok and healthy to mourn these activities, rituals, and events.
  • When we let go of these rituals and activities, new opportunities for connection arise.

Mourning Food-Centered Rituals & Activities

I’m going to share an artifact with you all, a reflection that I shared with my recovery support community about 3 months into my journey. This was the night I realized that what my husband and I used to do for our date nights was not going to work anymore. I mourned pretty deeply that night. The following is what grieving looked and sounded like for me:

“December 3, 2016

“I’m having a very sad night tonight, because my husband I just tried to have our normal Saturday night dinner date and it was so stressful that after my meal I excused myself to the bedroom and cried for 10 minutes. I’m still trying to work out what my feelings are about, but I’m pretty sure I’m grieving what our dates used to be because I think tonight I finally admitted to myself that there is no version of what we used to do that is going to work for me and that I just have to give it up. This was a very sad and painful realization.

“It has been our tradition every Saturday for the past 5 years to cook a fancy meal together and listen to the Saturday night folk radio show that he grew up listening to. Cooking and eating has always been such a point of connection for us (maybe a superficial one, but still one nonetheless). On these dates, we’ve always enjoyed making something new and exciting and complicated and bonding over the extravagance of the meal.

“Since I started my recovery, this evolved into taking a walk to the farmers market and getting exciting produce and making something new. I’ve been trying to convince myself that we can still make something fun and new with my food restrictions, and we have been trying to do this. But his desire right now with food is to be fancy, and complicated, and cooking tonight was super stressful for me because he made my (old) favorite for himself, and I was in a state of willpower depletion and struggling with my quantities, and then listening to him make yummy sounds while we ate just made my (really delicious) food feel boring, and I just fell apart.

“I am grieving because I have come to the harsh realization that my food needs to be easy and simple, and my idea of a special meal is something that doesn’t set off my food excitement meter, even if it has no sugar or flour. For him, special meals are extravagant, blended, impossible to measure, fried, etc. I don’t think there is a middle ground that doesn’t compromise my peace of mind and integrity. He is super loving and supportive and he understands this conflict and agrees that there is just no way to continue to have our date nights revolve around food.

“I know that we will figure out how to reinvent our Saturday nights to be about connection and love and other activities, but right now I am heavily grieving the element of food that has been central to those date nights. He is sad too, but he loves and supports me and will grieve with me and we will both move on.”

The holidays with my family were not too different. Much of my mother’s identity is wrapped up in feeding her children, cooking extravagant and impressive meals, and delighting in the taste of exquisite, sugary, and floury food. By the time I came home for the holidays, she had enough exposure to recovery programs through me that she actually had given up sugar and flour all by herself. The element of food missing from our holidays this year was palpable. We struggled to do things that filled the void that the food had left behind. My mother mourned her role in pleasing and feeding everyone, and we mourned the amount of time we used to spend gathered around the dining table after an entire day of extravagant food preparation.

All of that said, when we let ourselves mourn, we are able to move on, find new ways of interacting and connecting with people (often in a deeper way than before), and grow our rituals.

If you are struggling with similar things, I encourage you to let yourself feel these feelings of sadness, and then move on. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What was this ritual/event/activity really about in the first place? You will probably find that it wasn’t really about the food.
  • What activities could you do in it’s place?
  • What are some new, fun, and different ways that you could grow your connection with the person/people?
  • How could you deepen the ritual to make it even more meaningful than it used to be?

Growing Connection Rituals

After we mourned our date night meals, my spouse and I moved on to different and equally (if not more) wonderful connection rituals. Here is what we are doing now:
Every night before we go to bed we tell each other one thing we appreciated about each other that day. It’s simple, but very sweet.

  • On Saturdays (our previous date night), we take turns choosing an activity to do together. So far we’ve done the following in the past 2 months:
  • Went to a symphony of one of our favorite classical pieces of music
  • Went to an interesting play and discussed it over tea at a tea house
  • Went to 2 movies followed by “drinks” (sparkling water and lime!)
  • Designed and built a birdhouse
  • Went to the art museum
  • Went to a storytelling event at a local theater
  • Went to a couple of fun restaurants
  • Took a long walk to the farmers market

And guess what, I didn’t miss the food because I was too busy enjoying my dates and connecting with my honey over these new activities.

I was concerned that we were going to spend too much money on dates, but we are finding ways to be frugal (preview nights at the theater, matinees, free days, cheap rehearsal nights, etc). Also, the amount of money we used to spend on fancy cooking ingredients wasn’t that different.

As far as my family and the holidays are concerned, I feel confident that this was just the awkward transition year. I’m excited to see what new activities we will come up with this year!

What has your experience been with recovery and food-centered rituals and activities?