When I was a kid, I really loved marshmallow cereal (like Lucky Charms or Marshmallow Mateys, the knockoff brand that we actually usually ate).

I really wanted to pick out all the oatmeal pieces and eat them first, so that I could have a big bowl of marshmallows left at the end and try eating it all at once. I wasn’t allowed to do that. I’m not sure if I wasn’t articulating myself well enough and maybe my parents thought I meant pick out the oat pieces and throw them away (rather than eat them) or whether it just annoyed them too much to see me eat things in strange/picky ways.

Anyway, I’ve been digging through photos I found in a folder in my computer from 2013-14 — ten years ago! — and I found this picture, which made me smile. I was newly married and newly living “on my own” (I got married quite young) and extremely brand new to listening to anything that I wanted in my own body. I not only remembered that I wanted to eat all the oat pieces so that I could have a bowl of marshmallows, but I remembered and it seemed profound enough to me to take a picture of at the time.

[Image description: A photograph of a bowl of Lucky Charms with all the oat pieces already eaten out, leaving brightly coloured marshmallow cereal pieces in a bowl of milk with a spoon. There are shooting stars, leprechaun hats, rainbows, moons, hearts, and gold bars. End description.]

Funnily enough, in reflecting on it, I realize that eating things in strange/picky ways was really one of my very very first forays into practicing listening to my body about what I eat. I’ve written more in depth about my relationship with food before. In my teens and young adult years I used to regularly throw up from not listening to myself about how much I was eating, from having no idea how to interpret my own hunger and satiation cues, from forcing myself to eat things that not only sounded unappetising but literally sounded sickening, yet I felt I needed to eat them for various reasons. I was very unskilled at listening to my body about food and it was regularly harming me.

But the one thing I did do (if I was by myself, and it was safe to do so) was eat things in strange ways. I picked apart a Kit-Kat layer by layer and ate each wafer layer; I ate all the chocolate off the outside of a Butterfinger and then ate the center; I unrolled a swiss cake roll and ate it flat; I ate all of one food before any of another food rather than alternate foods; I did everything I could to not let my foods touch; I ate all of the crust before any of my sandwich; I peeled all the skin off grapes and ate it and then ate the center; etc, etc, I could probably go on and on naming unusual methods of eating that enhanced my sensory enjoyment of the food, at a time when I had barely any idea how to interpret my own sensory cues to such an extreme as to literally make myself sick over and over again.

So I look back on these quirks with fondness for my younger self. Some of them persist to this day, some of them don’t. All of them were a play-exploration of autonomy, of texture and taste, of listening to what I thought would be good for myself. And in such an objectively risk-free way.

Like, seriously, what would be the harm? A small amount of wasted time, or maybe more crumbs than usual? But exploring and playing with food is so powerful for so little risk. Even more than just “minimal risk” I’d argue that there is a large amount of benefit to feeling free around food and confident, not anxious, in your ability to handle it, to feed yourself well, to take care of your body.

So, if you need a defense of eating things unusually — or letting go and letting your children eat things unusually, without feeling you have to step in and correct them about it — well, there you go. 🙂