3 Ways to Re-ignite your Inner Fooition
1) Learn where your food comes from.
Even if you are not a farmer you can try to connect with where your food comes from by buying local food when possible. Volunteer at local farms and get your hands dirty! If you sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture), take a day to visit the farm and see how the food you eat is being grown. Chat with the people growing your food, now wouldn’t that be a first!
If you have any unused space in your backyard consider transform it into a garden and have fun learning first hand how food is grown. If you don’t, there are plenty of ways to grow herbs and other foods like lettuce indoors. Whatever combination work for you, the goal is to provide a real life reminder that you are connected to Nature. Most importantly, be aware and grateful that your environment is providing sustenance.
When we shop at supermarkets our bodies and minds get used to the idea that food is uniformly available year round. We can get blackberries in winter, but they are imported from Chile and probably don’t have that many nutrients left by the time they make it to your shopping cart. And then how long does the stuff you buy hang out in your fridge before you eat it? Most consumers in developed countries are accustomed to doing one gigantic shop once a week and hoping the few fresh products purchased make it to day 6. This is drastically different from how people used to shop, (and still do in many developing countries) by visiting their local market and butcher almost everyday.
Shopping for locally produced food and growing some of your own helps align your Fooition with place and time. Practicing this can help inform your body of what foods are growing during the season and climate in which you currently reside.
Eating with the seasons and climate is important in many food cultures around the world. In China, anyone in Sichuan can tell you that the food there is exceptionally spicy because it is a humid climate and the spice aids your body to expel the extra liquid in the air in the form of sweat. In India, Ayurveda provides recipes for seasonal curries, switching the spice combinations to best help the body deal with changing seasons.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to study all of this to eat healthier. Baby steps. Start to notice what grows where you live and what doesn’t. You don’t need to stop eating bananas altogether, just know that foods that can’t grow where you live probably shouldn’t be the foundation of your diet. Have fun by experimenting with foods you might have never cooked before like turnips and kohlrabi.
If you live in a cold weather climate and its winter, don’t despair. I’m not suggesting you go on an all snow diet! Lean towards winter crops like cabbage and winter squashes. Meat is fair game if you eat it, and if not, lots of hearty grains and legumes are dry staples year round. Be aware of how your cooking methods are aligning with the seasons. Having tropical fruit salads in the dead of winter on a regular basis is not helping your Fooition get back in tune with Nature. Traditionally, many cultures switch to more cooked foods like stews and roasts when the weather is cold.Take a minute to check in with your body and see if it is really asking for ice cream when its snowing outside.
Cooking at home is another way to connect with your food because it is literally more hands on than eating out. Next time a group of your friends or family plans to meet at a restaurant, suggest doing a stay-at-home potluck and each cook or help cook a dish. You can plan the menu together beforehand or just let inspiration strike and see what kind of multicultural feast you create.
2) Eliminate Addictive Foods from Your Diet.
It can seem overwhelming at first to eliminate foods like white sugar, artificial ingredients, excessive dairy and processed grains, which are so prolific in mainstream American food culture. Take comfort in knowing that there are many countercultures and they are growing in strength and numbers. Do not try to go “cold turkey,” but also realize that your body may protest at first to try and get you to stop changing your eating habits. Approach improvements to your eating habits with kindness and patience.
Make sure you are replacing the foods you eliminate with whole foods that will both nourish and excite your whole being. For example, if you have a fierce sweet tooth that is currently being indulged with candy bars and soda, rather than intimidate yourself with the threat of a no sugar diet, try fruit with honey or home-baked cobblers instead. Dark chocolate (with no soy lecithin added, as it seems to give me pimples) is my go to, sometimes I even bring a bar with me so I won’t be tempted by over the top desserts when I go out to restaurants.
There are plenty of great methods for transitioning your eating habits. Try a simple elimination diet, that doesn’t limit calorie intake, but instead eliminates processed foods and major allergens like corn, soy and wheat. You don’t need to enroll in a program and spend money to make the transition, although it can be helpful for some. There are plenty of free online sources for incorporating more real foods into your diet. A few I like are Chrisa Orrecchio and Wellness Mama.
It can be hard to transition your eating habits if your whole social life revolves around eating pizza and potato chips while watching TV with your friends. Look for new friends (no, you don’t have to shun the old ones) or neighbors that want to make similar changes and consider starting a potluck group. Make time to cook more at home. We are all busy, but using your downtime to cook a delicious meal instead of watch your favorite TV show will leave you feeling a lot more revived. If positive peer pressure helps you, find a supportive community like a Slow Food local chapter.
Most importantly don’t overthink what foods are good and what foods are bad. There are plenty of opinions out there and the research is constantly changing. I tell my students, ask yourself if it was a food when your grandmother was a kid. If the answer is no it is probably better to pass it up. Remember that you have your own judgment to exercise. Here, try it. Pick the one that was a food when your grandma was a kid: Strawberry low-fat yogurt, margarine, and butter. The first two are foods that have been marketed as healthy by the industrial food complex that created them. Don’t be fooled, go with real foods that have ingredient lists your grandma could read without having to look anything up in a dictionary.
When you start eliminating addictive foods from your diet you could start to notice that your food cravings change. This may happen sooner than you anticipate. After 2 weeks of not eating processed foods with artificial ingredients you may notice that you don’t really want them anymore. If after a month of not eating any super sweets made with white sugar, you might be surprised when you let yourself have an Oreo cookie as a treat and end up not enjoying it much. Your senses will be attuned to the aftertastes left by artificial ingredients.
Things like soda and other things with white sugar or high fructose corn syrup might taste offensively sweet. You may actually notice the distinct rush that comes after drinking a soda and the inevitable crash that follows. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have made your body more fragile than before. The body is simply remembering how to react when it is given something that does it more harm than good, and your Fooition is awakening from its slumber to deliver the messages.
3) Treat Eating like a Celebration and Be Present.
Food is the glue of culture in many countries. In Ethiopia people share meals from a single platter, using Ingera bread to sop up delicious stews and lentils. In China, family style meals are the norm. Even the tables are designed for it, often displaying a round spinning platform in the middle so that everyone can easily reach the 5-10 dishes that are meant to be shared. I found this makes trying to go out to any restaurant by yourself really awkward. It was not out of the ordinary to spend 3 hours savoring a meal with my Chinese friends, and most of the time the conversation revolved around food!
Taking time to nourish our bodies is celebrated through diverse rituals and cultural practices around the world. Unfortunately, somewhere during the Industrial Revolution in the US these rituals around eating were all but abandoned. Now, most of our meals get chowed down while we’re driving to work or rapidly inhaled at our desks during the infamous 30 min lunch break.We might multi-task when we eat by ourselves by watching TV or reading our Facebook feed. This takes our attention away from the food and deflates the joy of eating.
Too many of us end up eating when we are lonely because of old habits or logistics or cultural norms. We all know the feeling of being home alone and feeling like it isn’t really worth it to cook for ourselves. Instead we reach for single serving meals like mac-n-cheese or Ramen, that are easy to prepare. It does get easier, with a little practice at meal planning and simple cooking methods.
There is nothing inherently wrong with eating by yourself. In fact, in India, yogic eating is recommended to be done solo, placing all of your focus on your 5 senses. Smelling your food before you eat it, listening to the sound of your chewing, and paying special attention to the tastes and textures with your tongue and fingers (yes you can eat with your hands!) are all methods thought to help improve digestion. In addition, this level of focus encourages both our mind and body to partake in the nourishment, often leaving you feeling satisfied on a deeper level.
It can be helpful to start holding a moment of silence before each meal where you practice deep breathing. You can even put your hands on your tummy if that helps you engage in diaphragmatic breathing. If you wish, say a few words to yourself and offer some kind of blessing to the food you are about to eat; send positive energy its way and remind yourself that you are grateful to have a meal in front of you. Be joyful that your life is abundant and tell yourself that the food in front of you is going to be delicious and satisfying. This will put your mind, body and spirit in a optimal mood for receiving sustenance.
Of course social context impacts how much you are able to focus on your food. Sitting down with friends and family to enjoy a meal is different than eating pizza with a bunch of friends during Superbowl Sunday. If food is just an afterthought in a social situation, your body is unlikely to focus on the food. Breaking bread with people you don’t like is also problematic. If your environment (and yes friends and family are part of it) is making you feel anxious, angry, depressed or bored these emotions can easily pollute your eating experience. When you are eating in social situations make sure you are not actively feeding any feelings of animosity towards your fellow food companions.
In Ayurveda, it is taught that emotions directly affect our digestion and assimilation of nutrients. That is, you could be eating a super healthy breakfast of granola and yogurt, but if you happen to be upset about something that happened last night your stomach will tense up and you will likely have poor digestion. On the other hand you could be eating pancakes with whip cream, but if you are happy and focused on your food the whole time, your body will get more nutrients from the pancakes then from the granola and yogurt. So even when you know you are about to eat something unhealthy, once you have decided to do so it is not wise to beat yourself up and invite shame to the dinner table, instead try to be fully present with the meal and notice how it makes you feel afterwards without judgment.
Ambiance is equally important. Avoid white noise like a TV in the other room. If you are going to play music pick some that is soothing and doesn’t make you want to get up and dance (on a subliminal level your body might be trying to head band instead of digest). Just taking a minute to actually think about how you could make your environment more relaxing before you eat will send messages to your body that it should prepare itself for ingesting nutrients. According to Ayurveda, these are all important factors in determining the digestibility of a meal.
It can feel like a stretch for us to step outside of our busy lives and just relax during mealtime. For some it is even harder to do so when eating alone. We feel like we should be doing something else, because eating is not revered enough in our culture to warrant our full attention. You can practice enhancing your awareness during mealtime whether you are alone or with others. The main thing is that you try to keep your body and mind focused on its main task: eating. Remind yourself that food is the sustenance of life, and it deserves your full attention.