Note: This article was originally published in Osho News Online Magazine. You can check it out here.
Our relationship with food is probably the most intimate one of all. We interact with it at least three times a day and think about it even more. When we consume it, it either nourishes or depletes us. Our food affects not just our energy and immunity but also our mood and temperament. The food choices we make on a daily basis, decide how we feel, think, work and live.
Yet, like all things and people that are easily available to us, we tend to take the food we eat for granted.
Bringing awareness into what and how we eat can impact all aspects of our life positively. It is the easiest and simplest way to express self-love and to nurture ourselves.
For many years I shared an almost abusive relationship with food. Although the food went inside my body, I pretended as if stuffing my mouth with junk and feeling awful day after day were completely unrelated. As a result of this abuse, I got increasingly sick in my body and mind. Always lethargic, life-less and prone to infections and diseases, I also found myself experiencing rage, frustration, depression and negativity almost all the time. Even though I was practicing meditations, Yoga, Reiki, acupuncture, I had not discovered the magical, transformative power of eating well. It was a diagnosis in 2009 that served as a Zen stick, waking me up and prompting me to take full responsibility for my health and well being. I began experimenting with different diets and styles of eating: acid-alkaline, veganism, macrobiotics, gluten-free and more. I noticed my energy levels rise and various bodily discomforts disappear. As I introduced healthy, alive foods into my diet, my desire for unhealthy, junk foods faded. My mood took a 180-degree turn (ask my beloved!) and I found myself more life affirming, playful and positive.
It was then that I truly understood the power of food.
Today I would like to share some guidelines that have helped me develop a healthy, happy relationship with food and my body. Please keep in mind that we are unique and our bodies have different requirements and needs. Always check in with your body first before trying out any recommendation from anyone.
Where’s it coming from?
These days produce travels an average of 1500 miles from the farm it was grown in, to the market we buy it from. The farther it travels, the less nutritional value it is deemed to have. The chemicals sprayed on fruits and vegetables to keep them looking fresh or to ripen them are dangerous for our body. Then there’s the environmental impact of transporting these foods around the world.
The best way out is to eat locally grown produce. Eating according to the season helps you align with nature and is a great way to support local, organic farmers and of course it’s excellent for your health! Check in your city about local farmers’ markets or CSAs (community supported agriculture). Whenever in doubt, inquire about the source of the food. If the CSA offers farm tours, take them in order to understand how food is produced. It’s a great way to connect with the earth and with other like-minded people.
If you have the space and time to grow your own vegetables, then explore this option. Our love and respect for the Earth is heightened when we understand the miraculous ways in which she works to feed us!
Breath and digestion
We’ve heard Osho say that the body can survive several weeks without food, several days without water but only a few moments without breathing. Breathing deeply helps calm our body and mind. It helps us de-stress and feel relaxed and re-energized. But breath plays a very important role in aiding our digestion as well.
When we pause and breathe deeply before every meal, the body receives more oxygen. This is akin to stoking the digestive fires. When the digestive organs receive this abundance of oxygen, they are able to assimilate food properly. As a result the body absorbs the nutrients more effectively and our metabolism improves too.
Next time you sit to eat a meal, make some time to take a few deep breaths. This allows us to be fully present in the moment and is also wonderful for digestion.
Loving foods that love you back
We’ve all experienced relating with someone who doesn’t reciprocate with the same degree of love and affection as we feel towards them. This kind of relating is unbalanced, unhealthy and damaging in the long run. Our relationship with food is no different. Choosing foods that don’t love us back can be damaging for our physical, emotional and mental health. Poor food choices can strip us of our vitality, creativity and positive attitude.
The best way to maintain this state is to stick to a whole foods diet – foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. Having whole foods as a guiding principle, you will automatically find yourself moving away from processed, chemical-and-additive laden foods.
Here are some foods that love us right back!
A diet that includes diverse whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, barley, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, oats and wheat provide us with good quality carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index and do not spike blood sugar too drastically.
Fruits and vegetables
They are easily the best sources of phytonutrients, vitamins, fiber, calcium, magnesium and a whole host of other nutrients that are stripped off in processed foods. Try to buy local and organic sources as much as possible.
Beans and legumes
Another rich source of whole foods, beans and legumes are rich in protein and fiber. Cooked in varying styles by different cultures there are many beans and legumes to keep things interesting in the kitchen!
This is my favorite beverage in the world! There is simply no other source of nourishment in the world that can perform water’s role. Whenever possible drink room temperature water. Warm water is great when you want to detoxify (usually during fall and winter months). Avoid drinking water with ice since it literally freezes the body’s digestive organs, which are then unable to carry out their digestion duties.
Then there are some foods that deplete us of our energy: alcohol, cigarettes, refined sugar and grains, processed foods, aerated beverages, trans fats and artificial sweeteners. For some people coffee, dairy and animal protein can also be causes of reduced energy. These foods are best consumed in moderation and if you feel discomfort after consuming them, then perhaps its time to give them up completely!
The practice of giving thanks for our life’s gifts has come to be known as one of the most powerful tools for experiencing health and happiness, and what better place to start than with our meals?
When we give thanks, we are forced to relax, close our eyes and breathe slowly. The act of giving thanks evokes positive feelings and thoughts in us, thus dissipating any negativity or bad energy that we might have brought with us, into our mealtime.
Now lets look at how food uses various resources in order to nourish us. The earth, sun, water and minerals combine to create every fruit, vegetable, root and bean. Then there are all the people who have been involved in growing, transporting, packing and selling it. After reaching our home someone in the house has chopped, peeled and prepared a delicious meal for you from raw ingredients. And finally we sit with our loved ones to share this wonderful meal together.
Taking a moment to acknowledge everything and everyone that has made it possible for us to eat a healthy, hearty meal is a great way to feel centered. This way it’s not just the nutrients in the food that nourish us but also all the good energy surrounding it.
Eating Without Distractions
Imagine you went out on a date with someone you liked and wanted to know them more. How would it feel if our date spent his or her entire time checking email or texting on the phone? It would offend us and we would wonder what we’re doing there, right? Well our food feels the same way. The role of our food is to provide fuel for any and everything we want to pursue in life. Not being totally present with our food, not only prevents us from tasting and enjoying our food, but can also cause a host of health problems such as over-eating. Like all relationships that nourish us, totality, attention and appreciation are key with our food as well.
Recently a study by Oldham Cooper was conducted on the affect of distracted eating.
They divided the subjects into two groups: one ate lunch while playing a computer game of solitaire. The other group ate the same type of lunch, but without the distracting conditions. Memory, mood, hunger and fullness were measured after each meal. The group that played solitaire ate their food much faster than the other group. They craved more snacks in between meals, couldn’t recall their meal’s contents and reported feeling less full than the non-distracted group.
Distracted eating usually results in over-eating. Besides remembering what we ate plays a big role in how much we eat throughout the rest of the day. Being aware of our previous meals prevents us from unnecessary eating.
Here are some tips to eat without distractions:
- Create a space in your house where you eat
- Turn off all distractions: TV, computer, phone
- Take a few deep breaths, acknowledge your food
- Activate your senses: look at your food, savor its taste and smell
Like all real relationships, this one gets better with time if we are committed, aware and allow love to flow easily between both parties. So starting today, try a new way of relating with your food. Pick one or two suggestions from here that resonate with you. As they become habits, you can return to this list and add a few more recommendations. I would love to hear which ones resonated with you so please share your experiences in the comments section!