“You Are What You Eat.” 

I don’t know where I first heard this saying, but it’s deeply ingrained in my thinking.  I grew up on a farm where we grew our own corn, green beans, butter beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, peaches, apples, blueberries, blackberries, plums, figs, pecans and more.  We made our own sauces, fruit preserves, and even got honey from the beehives and beef from the cattle.  “You are what you eat” began as a call to eat healthful, homegrown foods.

After Grandma Grimes passed away, I realized there were foods she prepared that I would never taste again.  Her homemade Brunswick stew and cornbread (aka Johnycakes) were unlike any I’ve enjoyed since her passing.  What she served was unique to her kitchen.  I was her grandchild, I am what I ate, and it’s unique to our family.

There were certain foods mom has always loved.  When Chick-fil-a was a new enterprise, mostly only in malls in the deep south, I feel sure that we drove to Savannah sometimes (almost an hour away) not only to shop but mainly so that mom could get a Chick-fil-a sandwich.  Then she discovered their carrot slaw and brownie ala mode (both now discontinued.)  These were not favorite foods for a season, but this was what mom always wanted.  A few years ago, I remember hearing from my brother that during visits to the mall in Atlanta, she was choosing a fast food hamburger over Chick-fil-a.  It was hard to believe, but it was consistent and it continues.

Mom also has a real sweet tooth and introduces herself to people as a “choco-holic.”  It’s true, she loves chocolate.  And through the first ten years or so of mom’s journey with dementia, she was always up for a Dairy Queen drive-thru.  Recently that has changed.  Almost every time I take her out, I ask… “How about we swing through the Arby’s drive-thru for a milkshake?” or “How about we run by the house and grab a brownie?”  Invariably she responds, “Only if you want one, I’m really not hungry.”  Who is this and what did she do with my mother? 

Mom has always been so consistent regarding her food choices that it’s hard to adapt to her new preferences.  “You are what you eat.”  But now she doesn’t want what she was always wanted.  Her signature foods are untouched.  It’s like she’s a different person.  I find myself getting frustrated and wanting to tell her what she should want.  I go through a drive thru and buy her a hot fudge Sundae and she doesn’t finish it.

This is one of the greatest challenges when a loved one has dementia:  Certain traits remain, even if they only occasionally show themselves, but other traits (like mom’s food preferences) seem to be gone for good.  And yet our loved one is still here, still present… just so… very… different.

For now, I’m putting away the wise old sayings.  Human wisdom fails where dementia is concerned.  I’m going to shorten the proverb “You are what you eat” to simply “you are.”  It’s a hard adjustment, but mom is still here.  She still laughs, she still tells stories, she even still enjoys food (even if I can’t predict what foods she will enjoy!)  I can’t make sense of it and I’m certainly not going to argue with her about what she should like or dislike.  I’m just thankful that the “You are…” part of “You are what you eat” is still true for us.  It’s a challenge some days.  It’s painful some days.  But there’s still a lot of beauty and joy.

“’You are…’ is enough, Mom.  I’m glad you’re still with us.






One thought on ““You Are What You Eat” ??

  1. She is. You are. We are. Again – perspective. You help demonstrate so poignantly how dynamic it must. Life is always changing, and we must always adapt. And be grateful.


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