Written by Vanessa Kähler, Nutritional therapist. Reviewed and edited by Dr. Bojana Jankovic Weatherly.
A change in our attitude to food
An overabundance of food in developed countries has led to a change in the value that is placed on food and it is now seen more as a consumer good rather than a simple food. Fruit and vegetables are now pre-packaged and we are led to believe that the best has been selected for us. We no longer need to know what foods are in season, the difference between ripe and unripe, how it smells, how it feels, its place of origin, how it is grown and what it looks like in its natural environment. This change in value has led to a loss of respect, knowledge and function of food and as such a lack of understanding of its immense and very real effect on our health.
This concept can be illustrated by creating an analogy between a house and the human body. A house is made of specific raw materials, designed and built to the finest specification. This house will stand for hundreds of years if it is maintained using the original and appropriate raw materials, but if left unattended and maintained with inappropriate poor quality materials, it will crumble and fall. The human body is no different. It needs to be maintained with high quality foods that contain the essential macro and micronutrients and water in order to function efficiently and maintain repair.
The body is not made up of caffeine, alcohol, soda drinks, artificial colors, preservatives and flavorings, refined sugar and processed foods. But if these are the raw materials we provide it with, then we can only expect a decline in our health expressed as depleted energy, poor digestion, pain and inflammation, imbalanced hormones and chronic disease. In many ways, the body we have today is the body we have built and created based on the love and attention we have paid it over the years.
Has eating become too complicated?
Are the problems with our current eating habits the consequences of an endless search for the single cause of health and disease and therefore that infamous magic bullet? Have we delved so deep into the smallest isolated molecules that make up our food and analyzed every vitamin, mineral and coenzyme to such an extent that we have outsmarted ourselves and created overwhelm and confusion leading to chronic stress and deficient diets.
In our naming and shaming of certain foods as anti-nutrients and promotion of others as elixirs of life / youth and in our obsession with the latest eating plans, we seem to have lost ourselves under the blanket of information and lost touch with our intuition. We have over complicated food to the degree that we don’t know what to eat any more.
On the other hand, it’s also fair to say that since food became a pre-packaged consumer good, it has become necessary to keep up with what we eat by building our knowledge of what our food is made up of and where it comes from. So while it is not in our history to need an understanding of macro and micro nutrients in order to select food, it is now somewhat a necessity to educate ourselves. If we are to make informed, intelligent food choices, we must increase our knowledge about our food.
It is important to mention that while we strive primarily to consume foods that nourish our mind- body, we must also remember those foods that nourish our souls, our social connections and our joyful food memories. So we need to find the balance. Our bodies are constantly seeking to create balance between positive and negative, good and bad, excess and deficiency. But balance is not a fixed state, it is a state in constant flux and therefore we need to constantly check our intake of nutrients versus ‘treats’. This we can do if we have an understanding and appreciation for our food.
The key is to look up and to look out, to take in the research but also to use common sense and intuition when making food and lifestyle choices.
To help us, we can take influence from the ancient art of healing that has been used in India for thousands of years called Ayurvedic Medicine. The wisdom of Ayurveda places primary importance on the efficient functioning of the digestive system. Without effective digestion, assimilation and absorption of our food we cannot hope to draw from it the valuable life giving nutrients that will sustain our mind and body. Ayurvedic teachings describe two aspects of digestion, the first is how we physically break down our food (chewing and digestion) and the second, the way we consume our food through our mind. For example, what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell and think of the food are all essential to the resulting benefit that is gained, so even from a digestion perspective, our environment is invaluable to our health.
According to Ayurveda, efficient digestion, quality food, mindful eating and a balanced routine will provide the circumstances for the maximum release of Ojas (the essence from food that supports all life and health) from our meal. This means that we need to focus not only on the quality and type of food that we eat, but also on the routines and habits by which we eat. By this token, if we consume quality food but in a manner that shows no respect or thought, we will achieve the opposite effect and increase the release of Ama (toxins) from the food.
Mindful eating is the art of being aware that the food we are eating is not only satisfying the pleasure of taste, smell, satiety and sight but is also providing us with life sustaining energy. It is about respecting our food and its power to strengthen or weaken us.
Ayurvedic tips for mindful eating:
- Cleanse the mind and body before your cook. We can achieve this through a simple breath and meditation.
- Avoid eating when you are upset. Take 5 mins to calm and focus on your meal.
- Before a meal, ask yourself if you are feeling hungry (you can mentally note this on a scale of 1- 10, 1 being not so hungry, and 10 being extremely hungry).
- Begin your meal with a blessing or gratitude.
- Chew your food until it becomes liquid and savor the flavor.
- Check in with yourself periodically. Are you starting to feel satiated (you can mentally note this on a scale of 1-10, 1 being hungry, and 10 being full). You will know when it’s time to stop.
- Eat silently or have a gentle conversation. Avoid stressful conversations.
- Eat a modest portion – approximately what you could hold in two hands joined together.
The next time you have a meal or a snack, take a moment to pause and practice these principles. Take a deep breath (or 5!), practice gratitude for the food you are about to eat, focus on eating mindfully, chew your food well, and notice when you start to feel satiated. Intuitively, you’ll know when you’ve had just the right amount of food for you, for that particular meal. If you practice this consistently, you will likely notice a shift in your relationship with food in as early as a few days.