For a long time, my response to going out for a bowl of ramen has been, “Mm, no thank you.” Why exactly? Because I was nervous about the sodium content. I was scared of its level of “msg”. I was apprehensive over not being able to figure out how many calories per bowl I’d be consuming. I somehow finagled into my mind that ramen is “bad for you.”
Sitting down to a bowl of hot, garlicky, veggie-tempura ramen at, The Ramen Shop in Oakland, California changed that. It was where my now boyfriend of nearly two years took us on our first date, and it’s where I returned the favor on Valentines Day.
Placed in front of us on the evening of February the 14th sat two steaming, salty bowls of noodles. Swimming in a broth of umami like flavors, each vegetable in the bowl was cooked perfectly; mostly chewy and soft with just a little crunch. The lump of noodles slipping through our chopsticks made for the perfect conversation. My ability to use chopsticks (properly) was equal to that of a toddler attempting to color neatly within the lines. Splatters of broth adorning my top, giggling at my complete lack of hipster-ease, I relaxed and let the warmth fill my belly, enjoying the simultaneous salty and fatty flavors of each and every bite.
What I’m alluding to here in my saturated description of ramen is the idea of letting your guard down. While the bowls in front of us were delicious, it was the person sitting next to me that made the evening worth it. Knowing I had picked a restaurant that he loved meant more to the meal than the food. For a long time I’ve worried myself into stomach pain, believing that a meal out at a fancy restaurant would inevitably lead to tummy troubles because of the unknown quality and quantities of oil used.
There is no right way to enjoy food. And there is no wrong way to enjoy food. While learning about the science of nutrition is beneficial, at the end of the day there is no greater wealth of knowledge that stands beside our intuition. Food isn’t about listening to your stomach growl then finally allowing yourself to eat. Food isn’t about stuffing yourself with croissants to the point of discomfort because you haven’t eaten in hours. Food isn’t about following guidelines around what is “optimal”, “primitive,” “effective” and so forth.
Food is eating a little bit more in the morning, even if you’re not totally starving, because you know it’ll be awhile until lunch. Food is accepting a chocolate kiss or Reese’s peanut butter cup on Valentines day despite its “lack of nutritional benefit.” Food is making a salad one night and enjoying ice cream for dinner the next. Food is eating a bagel for lunch and pizza for dinner.
Moderation doesn’t exist; intuition does. The more you can feel empowered by the decisions YOU are making when it comes to food, the more digestive flexibility you’ll find you acquire. I’d venture a guess and say also the more happiness you’ll feel.
Bloating happens. I get bloated. I don’t always feel comfortable after dinner, and sometimes I get cramps when I really wish I didn’t. Like every other aspect of life, food and digestion aren’t perfect processes. Eating intuitively means honoring how you’re feeling and giving your body what it’s asking for. It’s ok not to partake in certain foods. That’s being intuitive. It’s a learning curve and you have to trust that you’ll make the right choice(s).
So I’m going to eat ramen. A lot of it. I’m going to fill myself up with warm, salty broth, unbutton the top notch of my pants and enjoy slurping noodles and noodles and noodles into my mouth.
And I would also love to point out that after this meal, I had zero stomach distress. Happi- and mindfulness beat out my fear of fodmaps. I won’t always understand how…but for now, when I sit down to a meal, I think just being grateful for what’s on your plate is a good start.