If we look around us at all the habits society has around food, is it any wonder that we are confused about our relationship with it?
Long ago, food was something people were much more connected to. They tilled the soil, planted the seeds, grew the food and harvested it. After the harvest, there would be a harvest festival celebration — which is still celebrated in many countries and was at the root of the American celebration of Thanksgiving. In times gone by, Thanksgiving was a sacred celebration of thanks for the land, Mother Nature and everything that went into providing us with the fuel we need to survive. People understood the sacred connection of land to food to humans and back to the land again. It is the cycle of nature.
Food for Profit vs. Food for Health
We have a $66 Billion (US) diet industry that aims to make money on fads and gimmicksWhat do we know today? We have over 35,000 choices of foods from who knows where — all waiting for us at the grocery store. We have food manufacturers, most of whom care more about the profits, efficiency & cost effectiveness of food production than they do about nutrition. We have Madison Avenue advertising campaigns aiming at selling us more and more food — feeding cravings through subliminal advertising. And we have a $66 Billion (US) diet industry that aims to make money on fads and gimmicks, most of which have nothing to do with learning real, healthy, lasting eating habits. One more swing around Madison Avenue and we see ads that feed our desire to take part in the diet industry or that tell us how we’re “not good enough” just the way we are. So, what are we buying — literally & figuratively? And how, in this “fast food nation” do we reestablish a healthy connection with food?
What Happens When You Breed Speed in A Body That Needs Rest to Digest?
Everything is fast — just look around. Images on TV, the work we do, our lives, computers, the Internet — and yes, our food. We run around in an adrenaline rush, pushing our bodies to do more, better and faster. What is this doing to our minds? If you really pay attention to your thoughts, do you have a lot of chaotic, rushing chatter of thoughts in your head? Does it feel difficult to turn it off? Is it hard to slow down, to concentrate — to sleep?
When you push your body, your mind revs up and when you push your mind to go faster, it revs up your body. Your body goes into stress mode — that “fight or flight” response once reserved for emergency situations. Today, we may find our bodies in constant fight or flight, releasing the hormones adrenaline & cortisol. Adrenaline allows you to accomplish amazing feats of activity, but is not meant to be coursing through your body 24/7. Your body cannot digest if it’s all revved up and stressed. Eventually, your body goes into burnout and fatigue — if you don’t pay attention, it can create immune system problems and digestive problems. Digestive problems affect your mind, including memory, decision-making, your ability to sleep and your moods. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress and also attributed to creating weight gain, loss of sleep and inhibited immune function.
Under stress, your hormones start working against you…which means that all your efforts at being naturally slim and healthy get more and more difficult. The good news is that this can be repaired — although it may take time. Your body always takes care of you, if you in turn, take care of it. Obviously, this means your mind has to play a large role in the care-taking — even the Center for Disease Control has found scientific evidence of the mind-body connection in disease and stress-related illness (they say 80% of disease & illness is caused by stress!).
Steps To Regain Your Sacred Connection to Food
These steps will take commitment because it requires you to change what may be long-standing habits — and habits that are embraced by our fast food nation. You will be stepping out of the mainstream and reclaiming your connection with food a fuel, as nourishment for your body. From my experience, this made a huge difference in my relationship with food. It helped me enjoy my meals, know when to stop eating and give myself time to both eat and digest.
- Educate yourself about nutrition and healthy foods. Some useful resources come from Ayurveda (a 5,000 year-old Indian wellness practice), and Macrobiotics (ancient Chinese healing nutrition). Whole foods and organic foods are also useful to know about. Your nutritionist or health professional can point you to resources that will be right for your situation. Tap into your own inner wisdom. You have inner wisdom and often, you may get a whisper, a feeling or a gut reaction on what is healthy or right for your body (see tips for conscious eating, below). Go with your inner wisdom when you choose foods.
- Plan time in your schedule to buy & prepare (cook, prep, etc.) the foods that will nourish you. Make sure you have eaten before you go to the store, so that you are guided by a calm, peaceful body & mind, rather than a hungry body with a fearful, chattering mind.
- While at the store, pay attention to the foods you are choosing. Be very aware and alert. Catch your thoughts — watch them to see if any struggle comes in to buy binge foods. Realize that they are only thoughts from that fearful mind. Choose to let them go. Focus on the healthy foods to nourish your healthy body. Focus on how it will allow you to love and care for yourself.
- Really pay attention to the vegetables and healthy foods you pick. See them being the perfect fuel to make you healthy and strong. This is considered being mindful or being present. If your mind is allowed to slip away to the past or the future, it wanders away from where you are in this moment. To get your sacred connection to food, make your choices in a mindful way — stay aware and focused on what you are doing in the moment.
- When you get home, follow the schedule you created for food preparation. A tip is to wash all of your vegetables, cut them up and keep them in containers ready to use. This way, you can create healthy meals quickly.
- As you prepare your foods, again — be mindful or present. Stay aware of what you are doing. Notice the colors, textures, smells of the food. See them being nourishing to you, giving you strength of body, mind & spirit.
- Watch your thoughts — catch yourself thinking anything negative or judgmental. Catch any fearful thoughts — these are just thoughts. If you buy into them, you are deciding to buy into the beliefs that Madison Avenue & the diet industry want us to buy into. Those beliefs keep us locked in a vicious cycle because they were created to make money — not health or happiness.
- Let go of any thoughts about past, future or fears and anxiety. Choose to let them go and instead, focus on what you are doing in the moment. Notice how you feel when this happens. How do you feel in body and mind?
- Play soft music, if that is pleasant. Keep your environment light and stress free. Chaos and loud televisions may only create stress. Pay attention to how you feel and make adjustments in your environment as necessary.
- Prepare your food with love. All actions are energy and the energy you put into making your food ends up in your body. Would you like to eat negative or positive energy? Pay attention to how your actions lead to the taste and enjoyment of your food when you eat it.
- Being mindful and preparing food with love creates joy around the experience of the cycle of life. Food is part of that cycle. Every step you take in the cycle, including your mindset, helps or hinders your sacred connection to food.
- Conscious eating, from my perspective, is about tuning into your inner body to see what it needs. It is not about the latest fads or what anyone else tells you is “good” or “bad” for you.
- It starts with knowing about nutrition — and goes beyond this. It goes beyond healthy nutrition because it allows you to tap into your inner wisdom to know what your body wants & what will be good for you. I went to see Eve Ensler interview women for The Good Body, which is her latest work on body image. In the interview, Marion Woodman, who recovered from an eating disorder & wrote Addiction to Perfection, said that she can now pick up a food and tell if it is right for her. We all have this inner wisdom — if we only listen for it. To learn to tune into your body better, try this exercise.
- Trust your body to tell you what food it needs and how much. Develop this awareness so that it can guide you, rather than analyzing everything with a fearful mind.
- All books are written for the masses, only your body knows what’s right. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re eating.
If you don’t like your meal, don’t eat it and pick something else healthy, letting your body be your guide. It used to be a trigger for me if I was eating a meal that didn’t taste good. Healthy food tastes good — experiment with recipes to find healthy foods you like.
Getting Ready For Meals
- Consider creating a food journal. In your food journal, write down all of the food you eat during the day and any emotions, symptoms or sensations that come up before, during and after your meals. Some examples are: Did you feel stable and calm or anxious? Did you sleep well? How are your energy levels? How are your moods? What physical symptoms did you notice? These can be anything like a tightness in your jaw or an increase in cravings. Use this journal before and after each meal.
- Put the portion you plan to eat on a plate or in a bowl — avoid eating from containers, standing up or at the refrigerator. Eating while standing up does not allow the body to get the cue that it is time to relax and digest. It inhibits digestion & metabolism.
How is your state of mind? Food is best eaten in a calm state of mind. A quiet environment is great, although soft music and easy conversation can be nice as well. Avoid eating if you are stressed or if you are having a difficult conversation with someone. If you have loud rock, rap or other rapidly beating music, consider changing to silence or something soft (See Deva Premal CDs in my resources for the spirit section of the blog. Her music is great for meals).
- Put all reading materials away, turn off the TV, leave your computer — eating, while typically done on the run or while multi-tasking, is more healthy when you are mindful of just eating. This helps your digestion and metabolism. Give yourself plenty of time for the meal and some time to reflect after the meal — before going back to work or your activities.
Eating Meals With Presence or Mindfulness
- Do a brief meditation or thanksgiving/gratefulness prayer before you eat. I thank the universe for the food and everything it took to get the food to me. I envisioned a process of nature creating this food. I envision the food giving me strength, nutrition my body needs and perfect digestion. Then I thank the universe and begin eating. You can even do this quickly and silently, with your eyes open, when you are eating with others. The visualization of the food nourishing my body allows me to feel that sacred connection. This slows your body & mind for the meal, so that you aren’t running high on adrenaline & cortisol (slowing for meals down helps your metabolism because it allows your body’s energy to be used for the digestive process).
- Pay attention to how you are feeling during your meal. Watch your thoughts — see if you are going into past, future, fears or anxiety. Release any thoughts that arise and really focus on your meal, the sensations of eating and breathing deeply between bites.
- Check in with how your body is feeling and when it is full.
- When you are full, thank the universe, God, source, yourself (whatever you like) for the delicious, nutritious meal.
- Remove your dishes from the table with gratitude for your meal and leave the kitchen or dining room.
- A gentle walk, soft music or light conversation with friends or family can be a nice way to end the meal, while disengaging your thoughts from any discomfort your body may feel (Recovery can sometimes mean feeling overfull from a regular meal, bloating or other digestive discomfort. This is normal.).
- Writing in your food journal is also a gentle activity after a meal. Some things you may consider writing about are: How did you feel during the meal? What was it like to do your gratefulness prayer? How did you know you were full? Did you listen to your body? What was the whole experience like? What will you do next time? What did you learn?
Final Thoughts – Reclaiming Your Life
You can’t find your normal on TV, in books or in magazinesFood is part of the cycle of life. As I started to work toward my recovery, I kept telling myself — “I want to live.” I wanted to participate fully in life, rather than losing hours and hours on bingeing and purging. I wanted to feel good, healthy and strong. I wanted to feel like I could eat and live “normally.” Except I didn’t know what “normal” was. You can’t find your normal on TV, in books or in magazines. It doesn’t come from other people or the outside world — it comes from inside of you. While we can be guided by books and caring professionals, it is knowing our inner wisdom that eventually guides us best.
Finding a connection to life means finding a connection to your inner wisdom. Remember that calories are a measure of energy. As humans, we are also made up of energy. We give and take energy as part of life — and food is just one elelment in that process. It is meant to support us — and yet, somewhere along the line, we bought into Madison Avenue and the diet industry. At some point, we decided to buy the idea that food was against us. As long as we are trapped in this war, we lose out on understanding our true connection with the energy of life. From this energy springs our true essence, who we really are.
Coming back to a sacred connection with everything in the cycle of life actually helps us live. And that’s exactly what I wanted when I recovered my health and learned to trust my body to take care of me. It has worked well for me and I hope it works for you too!
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