Eating is a spiritual practice. Traditionally, people recognized the sacredness of food and eating. Sacred often has a religious connotation but according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means ‘entitled to reverence’ and ‘highly valued’. In the past food was not readily available and required a great amount of energy to obtain: planting, cultivating, harvesting as well as hunting. Because people weathered the scarcities of winter, the possible excessive rains or droughts of summer, witnessed a seed grow into a plant and a fawn into a deer, they were aware of the sacred and even miraculous nature of food.
For most of us today, food is readily, if not excessively, available. We often don’t give a second thought to who grew it, how it was grown, where or even when. Food has become ordinary. That many of us throw large quantities in the garbage instead of saving it shows how commonplace food is and how much we take our food for granted.
As a result mealtime and eating has become just as mindless. We eat in our cars, inhale food that is laced with a multitude of chemicals without considering the ramifications and eat an entire box of cookies in front of the TV—and never really taste a single one. Historically, people knew that they were intimately connected to their food: whether it was a prayer at dinner time, the Native Americans offering thanks to the plant or animal they just killed or the Kosher and Hallal dietary practices which require a humane death for the animal.
When we sit down to eat (or stand up, or drive) we are unaware that the food we are eating and the thoughts and emotions that we are experiencing can be our heaven, hell or somewhere in between. Until we make the connection that our diet is much more than following—or not following—the latest diet trend and realize that it is in fact a relationship, many of us will continue to fall off the proverbial wagon. After all no ‘diet’ can work if our relationship with food and eating is not compassionate or mindful. There is a growing theory that our diet is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. I believe it is rather how we connect to food and our relationship with eating that is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.
Ice Cream Irony
If we are eating an ice cream sundae and the whole time we are guilt ridden that we caved in because it is full of calories then that is unfortunately, both a hellish and ironic ice cream cone. The ice cream that was supposed to bring you joy and rightfully so—because most would agree ice cream is undeniably delicious—is now leaving you with feelings of guilt, failure and even shame. You are resenting the ice cream and hating yourself for eating it. That is no way to ‘treat’ yourself.
Food and Spirituality You Say?
When we eat mindfully, we eat spiritually. And when we eat mindfully, we eat better and lose weight. Several studies have shown this. One study on binge eating conducted by psychologist Jean Kristellar at Indiana State University found that the participants who meditated regularly throughout the day and before meals struggled less in controlling their eating choices.
It is only recently that I myself have come to recognize eating as a spiritual practice. Spiritual eating is not only reserved for the religious. When we are spiritual we connect and give meaning to our experiences. Many of us think that spirituality doesn’t have anything to do with the way we go about our daily life such as the way we eat, sleep, connect to people and the work we do. But in fact, every encounter, experience and even task—including eating—is a spiritual experience regardless if we get the lesson or see the meaning. Religion or a belief system is what you subscribe to, but spirituality is how you ‘be’—how you live.
Spirituality is defined as an evolution into perfect wholeness. If spirituality is about achieving our wholeness then it stands to reason that our spirituality cannot be reduced to one aspect of our life. It is our whole life. It is the simple, routine and often mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, and eating and how we do them that forward us to a higher self-awareness as we observe and alter how we engage in these experiences. Do we do them mindfully, with meaning and purpose, or do we trudge through these tasks?
How Do You ‘Be’ When You Eat?
Let’s face it—most of our day is composed of routine tasks and experiences. Now ask yourself what is your state of ‘being’ when you do them? Are you always in your head thinking about the next thing or the past and how you forgot to do this and should have done that? Are you rushing from one task or one role to another and never existing in the present? Never feeling that stillness within that is always there regardless of what ‘hat’ you are wearing?
Mindful eating means tasting and savoring the flavor and textures of our food. Our focus is solely on the experience of eating—the smells, tastes, colors, sensations and sounds that surround us. Eating mindfully means we aren’t thinking about the argument we had with a colleague or a phone call we have to make afterwards. Call it an eating meditation if you will.
Mindful eating (and after, since digestion uses an incredible amount of energy) not only calms us because it relaxes the central nervous system, it also helps us to make more conscious choices so we are aware of our relationship to food. As we become mindful we become aware of why and how we are eating as well as what situations cause us to eat in a way that is not in line with our vision of health. Mindfulness brings to light our triggers. We uncover what causes us to be impulsive and eat the whole bag of chips. When we are truly conscious, we can finally move towards healing the issues that trigger mindless or emotional eating.
Mindful or conscious eating means asking:
- How do I eat?
- Where do I choose to eat?
- What am I eating?
- Why am I eating?
- Am I savoring my food and grounded in my body when I eat or am I stuck in my head, totally disconnected from my body’s signals?