I Gave Myself Permission To Eat, And Built A Better Relationship With Food

by Nikkya Hargrove
Granger Wootz/Getty

The word “diet” forces me to try to fit my rolls and thick thighs into a box that was never meant for me. My body was never meant to be 100 pounds, a size two, or exist on vegetables alone. Over the years of finding love and having babies, the weight I carried turned from the “happy fat” of allowing myself to be loved by another and birthing babies into the world into something much different. The weight I carried, the image reflected at me, I didn’t like looking at. My thighs became too big. My belly too flabby. My butt too round. And the nonsense I filled my head with led me to try diet after diet.

I grew up in a household where large, hearty Sunday dinners were prepared with love by my Southern grandparents. Dinner was topped off by some homemade dessert of my grandfather’s, usually a cinnamon swirl cake with vanilla frosting and accompanied with some new flavor of Breyer’s ice cream for all of us to try. My relationship with food was built around love, the love others put into making a meal for me that would fuel my body and feed my soul — whether it was healthy was a secondary thought, coming after the thought about who made the meal and who sat with me to eat it. Eating was a family affair for me; food was something I enjoyed, and snacks were my saving grace.

After I had my twin daughters, and while on maternity leave, I began to cook more. I fulfilled my dream of making most of their first solid foods instead of buying them. I wanted them to grow up knowing and eating organic and healthy foods, resetting my tastebuds to better handle the foods I wanted them to eat. At some point, I told myself I needed to be successful at making their healthy foods and put unnecessary pressure on myself to eat better for them.

I thought I needed to follow someone else’s plan to help me help my waistline, so I started the Whole30 diet. My goal has always been to lose a few pounds, then to lose the baby weight, and then to get below 140 pounds. When I failed to lose any weight on the Whole30, I got discouraged and quit before the thirty days ended. I ignored the voice in my head that told me I didn’t need any diet.

Then I found the Keto Diet, a plan that encouraged eating high fat foods so that my body could burn fat first. I found success. This was it. This was the diet I’d been looking for! I lost five pounds easily. I fasted. I ate my fats. I tracked my food intake. I watched the number on the scale go down. This made me happy, until it didn’t. I wanted to have a slice of cake on my wife’s birthday. The keto cake I made for her did not go over well for any of us — and I mean, it was her birthday, so why did I make her suffer through the cake too?

The holidays came and went and I cut myself a little slack, giving myself permission not to diet because “I only live once.” So, I ate the rice and curry and the desserts offered up during Christmas and Thanksgiving, taking a little Keto diet detour. Eventually, I lost interest in being a Keto diet follower; blame it on pandemic life or the fact that being at home, stuck inside, cooking all my meals told me something about myself. It told me that all of the pressure I’d put on myself to follow someone else’s eating plan for me didn’t work. I’d lost control when that’s all I ever wanted. No diet, no food plan, no accountability partner could give me what I could only give myself: freedom. I owed myself the opportunity to tell myself a different story about what eating could and “should” be for me.

I gave myself the permission I needed to eat the homemade bread I perfected throughout the last few months. The bread born out of the times I scoured the empty aisles hoping to find yeast and flour. I practiced over and over until I perfected the ever so famous no-knead Mark Bittman loaf.

Making bread became a form of therapy for me. It cost less than $5 a baking session for me to realize that I only needed a few ingredients to give myself the kind of freedom I’d searched my entire life to find — permission to eat whatever the hell I wanted. And this is how I began building a healthier relationship with food … one loaf at a time.