From my experience, I think it’s safe to say almost everyone cares about food and nourishing themselves — but it seems that few people love food as much as Asians do. As an Asian American, I witness daily how obsessive we can be about food. Whenever we travel, we plan our day around foods we must try. We’ll queue for hours for food sold at popular Asian night markets. Our Instagram accounts are flooded with pictures of our meals. And I’m sure you’ve seen countless “mukbang,” videos on YouTube, where YouTubers film themselves eating, often massive amounts of food. Why are these videos entertaining? Once again: the food.
For many people, food basically equals life. More delicious food should then mean a better life. At least, that’s what I had been influenced into thinking for years.
After being around family and foodie friends for so many years, I started to develop a set of habits that increased my psychological need for food beyond basic sustenance. I used to have a compiled list of recommended restaurants and eateries, and made it a personal mission to finish said list, or heaven forbid I miss out on the best. At potlucks, I HAD to taste a little bit of everything so I wouldn’t feel I was missing out. It also didn’t help that whenever an Asian Aunty or Uncle would try to spoon some food onto my plate at a potluck or restaurant, I couldn’t refuse either out of fear of seeming rude or missing out on food once again.
At Christmas time, people gave us special treats or specialty foods from whatever country they visited. I felt I had to try it all, or I would be missing out yet again. Christmas ironically was a stressful time as I tried to figure out how to fit in trying the new foods without overeating, or before my dad devoured it all by himself.
Soon, my out-of-control eating habits caused me to overspend past my budget. Impulsive bakery visits, expensive fusion restaurants, and constant takeout orders led me to overspend by $70 per month on average. I felt even more terrible from all the indulgent foods giving me sugar crashes and indigestion, affecting my ability to exercise and preventing me from getting a good night’s sleep. At my lowest point, I couldn’t fit into the pair of jeans I had just bought the previous month. The worst part, however, was that I had no idea how I had lost control over my eating, and I didn’t know how to stop.
I attempted to make changes by eating healthier, exercising more, and eating in a caloric deficit. But I still had no self-control over the constant triggers to eat anything that was new or “special,” leading to me thoroughly stuffing my face, then wallowing in guilt and shame. Finally one day, it hit me: I had Fear of Missing Out on Food. I had an unhealthy relationship with food where my brain thought food and satisfaction existed on a linear curve. I automatically assumed a constant intake of food equaled sustainable pleasure (even though that clearly wasn’t the case). In reality, food and satisfaction interact more on a bell curve type of relationship. At a certain point, the hunt for food starts to bring diminishing returns, and instead just uses up time and energy. And even when you reach the peak of the curve, any pleasure you get from food might last for a couple of hours at most. You’ll be satisfied only for so long, as you’re already thinking of the next thing you can try. You might laugh at the fact that I didn’t understand this concept already, but if everyone understood this, then none of us would eat past the point of feeling full or experience the same lack of control I had.
So what did I do to solve this dilemma? Well, I couldn’t exactly break up my relationship with food. After all, we need still need a certain amount of food to function. And it wasn’t like I wanted to not care about food completely. Instead, I reflected and realized that food has a special place in my heart because of the people in my life with whom I eat and make wonderful memories, whether it’s family dinners with loved ones, or burgers and beer nights with my closest friends. Sometimes, it’s way more about the company than the food.
With this new perspective in mind, I re-established what I expected from food: nutrition and sustainable energy. Food now acts as my fuel, so I can think and function properly in work and life. If I’m not hungry, I can politely say no to an offer of food without thinking about it for the rest of the day. I also no longer hunt down new restaurants in order to bring more excitement in my life. I enjoy having cooked meals at home again, and I still let myself indulge on the weekends with my friends.
Because I focus less on food, I also spend less money and am able to focus on my savings goal. After my automatic bank transfers, I also contribute an additional $30 to my savings account each month. As a result of all these changes, I am now healthier, more financially stable, and more in control of my life. Instead of struggling with a temporary sugar high, I draw long-term happiness from several avenues aside from food, such as hobbies, friends, and family. I’ve eased up on the pressure for food to make my life better, and I’ve let go of my fear of missing out on food and on life. My relationship with food has never been better.
Carole is a somewhat quiet individual who loves to express her voice through creative endeavors. In her spare time, she likes to breakdance, write, and sing when no one is listening.
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