For nine months, I interned for Yelp. No, I wasn’t paid to write reviews. I know you were thinking that because 96% of the time, that’s the first question I get.
I assisted the Community Manager in the city where my college is located by fostering the online community of Yelpers, helping plan events, assisting with television segment productions, attending local businesses’ events and using social media as a platform to support the happenings and wonderful spots in our city. And yes, I got a fair amount of free food along the way.
In those nine months, I ate out a lot more than I ever have before. This fact alone transformed my life…stick with me to the end because I’m not being dramatic. Initially, this was all because of my Yelptern duties but only three of the pictures in this post were actually for work. Yelp introduced me to the most innovative and best reviewed local joints so I did what I now do weekly: share businesses’ links with friends left and right and left again with a “What are you doing on Saturday afternoon because Simply Rolled is having a pop up shop”. And right back in return I got a, “You always know the coolest places. I’m in!”
My friends would make comments about this marketing internship and I remember them quite clearly. While a lot of them were so intrigued about my responsibilities and the events I was given the opportunity to attend, I received a fair amount of comments that reflected their diet-culture mindset. The ones that blatantly communicated the fear mongering of eating food that can’t be controlled. Such as, “You eat out all the time and haven’t gained a pound.”
That comment may not mean a lot to you but as a (hopefully) future dietitian and frankly, human being who hopes people see me for more than what I look like, I don’t brush it off too easily. 1. Why do you associate dining out with weight gain? 2. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t weighed myself in a few years. 3. I truly truly hope that is not what you think about when you walk into a restaurant. However, you wouldn’t say that if a number on a scale doesn’t occupy space in that mind of yours.
My weight may have fluctuated because that is freaaaking expected. It would be exhausting to do all in my power to not let my body change as it needs. I follow my hunger cues but I also know what it’s like to eat past satiety. Sometimes a double dark chocolate brownie tastes best on a full stomach and I’d call that normalcy. But I do just that; follow my hunger cues. I order whatever sounds best in the moment, typically stop eating when I’m satisfied and frankly, have much better things to turn my attention to.
The more I ate outside of my home, the more I recognized that the emphasis is not on the food. It never is when I’m sitting down across from a beautiful soul. It’s on that individual and our friendship that grows when we are sharing a meal. Although my camera roll is cluttered with plates and glasses from all over the city of Columbus, I don’t view it as that. Rather, it’s full of memories of who that second bowl belonged to (heyyo, Lez), what we talked about and what songs we sang together on the car ride to and from. It’s full of these edible, fleeing pleasures because hecckkya, food can look pretty and taste insanely good. However, to me, those can’t stand in the way of how it brings people together.
From time to time, I would lose sight of this notion because I know that the majority doesn’t share my view of food and appreciation for all that my body does for me. I would think, ‘I need to stop posting when I’m eating out on social media because people are going to think I’m not “healthy”. They can’t see my pans full of roasted veggies and the ugliest shade of green smoothies (my roommates would actually make fake gagging noises when they saw it because ya, not the most adorable thing ever) in my home.’
I have come to learn that the molecular structure of food doesn’t qualify it for the category of “healthy” or not. PS, those quotations are there because I cannot take that word seriously anymore. What oh what does it even mean? Are you talking nutrient-dense or respecting your body’s natural cravings or restrictive eating with your “cheat meals” and “eat on a smaller plate to trick your eyes” and all that ugliness that seriously makes me cringe. Either way, placing such a big emphasis on food to determine an individual’s well-being is completely flawed. My definition of healthy has shifted over the past few years as I have been on the entire spectrum of health.
Spring of high school senior year, I was being readmitted into the hospital due to post-surgery complications. I will never forget the moment when my mom looked at my emaciated, helpless self sitting in a wheelchair and burst into tears as we were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. My body was failing me (I have a red blood cell disease) and I wasn’t doing a good job at taking care of it. I was going to school part-time because I was too weak to make it past lunch, let alone walk up the stairs. People started looking at me differently, I became very familiar with social isolation and I lost every bit of my vibrancy. Thankfully, a lot can happen in four years (far more than the fact that my scleras are now white instead of 18 years of anemic yellow woo!) 🙂
Spring of my college senior year, I was scheduling scone dates and walk n’ talks multiple times a week. I carried on with enthusiasm in my academics and on and off-campus involvement while finally treating myself with the delicacy that I had resisted for far too long. I was maintaining a Yelp online community while treasuring the in-person community of those in my life. I unraveled a new definition of the messy and loose and splendid term that is “healthy”.
My version of healthy is:
Not working out after a night of little sleep because my body’s cortisol levels are much too high for any good to occur.
Making time for what I actually want to do and not what I feel expected to.
Drinking endless water refills of my healthy human (my side kick aka my beloved wooden water bottle) while saying yes to the cocktails as they come my way.
Scheduling plans on weeknights because I need friend time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and not just Saturdays.
Getting two scoops because I’m in tune with my body enough to know that one will not be sufficient for my hunger on some days.
It was Christmas break when I identified this transition. That month, I fell in love with nurturing the bonds I have with my long-time friends. It’s when I grew a new appreciation for food because it’s social, not because of the actual substance. It’s when my body reminded me that it was starting to trust me again after years of immense stress that literally shut off one of my body’s systems. Yelp in its dynamic, relational glory played a huuuge role in that shift.
You may never call these pictures of beer and ricotta pancakes and fried chicken healthy. But I do. I know what it’s like to not to and that life is not cute. Through interning at an eating disorder treatment center last summer and Yelp the past two semesters, I have never been surrounded by people whose relationship with food is so normal. It makes me sad saying that because I wish everyone fell into that category. But these folks who I worked alongside for the past year taught me so much more than the skills I have added to my resume.
Staff meetings with dietitians and clinicians had veggies with hummus right alongside cookies and ice cream. Everyone went through the line, created a balanced plate, didn’t make any justifying comments about how they “never eat ice cream” and moved on with their day of saving lives. Same goes for my Yelp supervisor. Our conversations about food in the meals that we shared were only of total amazement for the chef or baker’s talents and creativity. He knows how to throw the party of yo dreeeamz and food is the medium for celebrating people. Ahem, Bleu & Fig.
Without even knowing it, they taught me that when you let go of the skewed view of health that is unfortunately normalized today, there is so much more space to think and talk about and conquer the million and two other things that make this life remarkable. Go canoeing with a friend to appreciate nature and your friendship, not to “get your workout in”. Get that fresh loaf of cinnamon raisin bread at the farmer’s market because it’s your favorite flavor combo, not because it has the FDA-approved whole grain label. Apply for that internship or job (just might be your best decision ever!) that you would utterly love and be challenged by, not because you meet every single qualification.
Do what brings you joy. Because that is what makes you healthy in all of the multi-faceted ways it can!! Thank you wholeheartedly for teaching me this new definition of health, Yelp. XOXO TO THE MAX! ❤