In response to the many reflections that I am observing lately around diet and food choices, I thought it would be an appropriate topic to pull out of my “to write” list. Before I begin I want to share that you will not find any external sources or appeals to authority in this blog – only that from my own personal experience – which may or may not be in alignment with yours. I’m sure you can find compelling studies from the reductionist approach of science for all sides of the debates and I know that you are as free as I am in deciding what to put in your body. As with most things in life, I choose to let my body be the authority when it comes to my food choices. The wisdom of the body has kept me alive thus far despite my past history of disrespect and lack of awareness/presence and I will continue to move into deeper trust of this wisdom.
I. Guilt did nothing for altering my diet
I don’t know about you, but I became tired of eating food with the thoughts “I shouldn’t be eating this”, “This is bad/unhealthy for me”, “Is that person judging me if I eat this?”, etc. The thoughts did not help my waistline at all, nor my efforts at creating lasting change in my food choices. Guilt distracted me from the present moment experience of eating and removed me from the actual present moment feedback from within the body. This also goes for any form of distraction (television, talking, starting the next bite before finishing the first, being on the run immediately after, etc.). Try eating a meal without talking, savouring each bite, and sitting for a moment after finishing. Notice how your body feels. Notice your breathing.
The first step in becoming aware of your food needs is to give yourself complete permission to eat whatever you want. Seriously. Ice cream for breakfast? Pancakes for dinner? Cupcakes for lunch? You want it, go for it! Be aware of how you feel before, during, and after. Sometimes we need to get what we want before we realize that it isn’t what we want anymore. Sometimes the path to a healthier diet starts with a tub of ice cream. And I love you!
II. Gratitude moves me from a taking/deserving reward to open receiving
Too often I would use food that I had heard was “unhealthy” but knew tasted good as a reward for my previously forced attempts to eat “healthier”. A short detoxifying cleanse or water fast followed by the feeling of deserving a treat afterwards. The reward mentality arose as a result of doing something through force of will, an alteration of my normal diet in favour of the perceived need to clean out my “toxic” body. Pendulum swings. This is what happens when we force a change before we are ready. With gratitude, I see my food as a gift and am present to receive the gift of nourishment it is providing, whether given to me from another or prepared by myself. Gratefulness is filling.
III. Emotional support for others through a shared experience and better opportunity to affect change
Enough of the judgment and attacks over personal choices. This habit of “othering” only creates walls between. If someone feels seen/heard/felt first, they are much more likely to be receptive to new information. I have found that people who engage in choices they may alter (or not, either way it’s not my job to change them) from a new awareness, they are much more likely to do so if they feel connected to you. Sharing in the consumption of food will open the door of receptivity and create space to chat about information you have that they may not know. I experienced this with my brother the other day eating peanut butter. I choose to eat 100% peanut butter normally, although on this occasion I enjoyed some of his Kraft cut peanut butter in community. This gives me the opportunity to share of the extra ingredients added and to inform of the additive free alternatives. Will they change? Who knows. At least the invitation is there and did not produce judgement, guilt, shame, or othering.
IV. Diet is simply an expression of one’s present, total state of being
When monks commit to living a simple life and practice deep mindfulness through some form of meditation, their diet shifts to reflect that change in lifestyle. When human beings ate a paleo diet we had very little technology and very different lifestyles. When children are controlled to the point of having no personal freedom of choice, they take back their power in whatever way they can, often in the form of choosing the food they eat (or mostly don’t eat). Living a fast life creates a desire for fast food. If my life lacks the sweetness of intimacy I crave sugar. If life feels pretty plain and boring, lacking any excitement or change, our food will reflect that. Spice up your life and you will spice up your food without any effort at all. Stop blaming your food for your lifestyle/body/experience. Your food is merely an external expression of deeper life choices.
Attempting to force a change of diet through will power, without a corresponding shift in lifestyle, will eventually result in your usual indulgences during weak moments. You are always balanced and in harmony. This recognition allows one to relax into diet changes naturally. Everything that has fallen off my plate and come onto it has done so naturally, without any force. This was what happened during my year and a half as a vegetarian (and my later reintroduction of meat). One day my body just said, “That’s it, no more meat needed”. People always seemed surprised and super appreciative when I shared this as my reason for being vegetarian as I am sure they are used to the typical confrontational moral/ethics arguments.
When we are present with our experience and recognize the patterns within our body (i.e. too much dairy makes me phlegmy, sugars hurt my teeth, etc.) then our will power moves to simply remind us of how we felt when we have the craving again. No force needed. Just presence and gratitude. Discipline becomes the art of feeling into this awareness.
V. Gratitude connects me to my deeper needs
My body knows what it needs and does a wonderful job of letting me know that. Practice this awareness when you go grocery shopping next. What foods look vibrant, bright, colourful, delicious to you? Maybe it’s those carrots this time. Maybe those deep red beets. Allow your food choices to change and fluctuate. If I crave something I am not sure if I need, I typically wait and see if it remains after some time. Ask, “What do I need?”. When you are making a choice (food or otherwise), ask, “What am I saying yes to?”. Trust yourself to make the best decisions at each moment and your self-trust will only grow. There is no universal diet and only you can know what is good for your body. Play and experiment. Learn about where your food comes from and what is involved with its creation.
Gratitude clears the space for me to receive deeper connections with the people, places, and land on which I am visiting. There is very little that I will not eat. The “dislikes” I had as a child fell away a long time ago. I prepare 95% of my meals at home with whole ingredients. My first major shift in food came about from simply reading the ingredients on the food I purchased. This need mostly fell away as I gravitated towards the produce section and grew into the joys of preparing my own meals completely from scratch and cooking for others.
I have no allergies, take no medications, and have no physical ailments interfering with my life. I get a minor cold every few months that lasts a week or two and that is about it. I view this pattern as my natural and regular body detoxification (no, I will not repeat this pattern forever). Unless I go live in the mountains and grow my own food I find the total avoidance of ingesting material my body does not desire unavoidable. Thus, the need to purge through sickness. Not a bad thing. Not something to avoid. Accept. Be present. Notice the patterns. Relax into the change. Eat with gratitude. Give thanks in whatever way feels appropriate.