Food. Food is a loaded topic. Why? Because everybody eats, which gives everyone an opinion on food. It's one of the few things we all have in common.
Food is culture, food is tradition, and food is love.
Food is complicated. Scratch that, food is simple. People are complicated.
To me, food has been lots of things over the years: an escape, a source of power, a source of pleasure and comfort, a source of frustration, pain, and control.
In its purest form, food is energy. But you know, as much as I know, food is so much more than that.
Wrapped up in food is all of the human stuff that we put on it. Good food, bad food, junk food, “clean” food. It’s absurd the amount of labels and judgements we put on food. I do not make that statement without taking ownership of my own baggage around food. I spent years obsessing on food: counting, labeling, and controlling. It was such a small way to live.
Yet in an unpredictable world, sometimes the things we put into our bodies feel like our only source of control.
My relationship with food has transformed over the past several years of recovery from an eating disorder. Having spent many years controlling everything that went into my body, some thought processes die hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I still fight against judgements about past “fear” foods and I still have to push against my old patterns when consuming some of them. The more I push, the easier it becomes. I now eat most foods I once labeled as "bad" without thinking about it, and boy is it liberating.
And the foods I still struggle with? I consume them consciously. When I feel myself become more tense when presented with a certain food, I try to lean into the tension. I let my body feel it and I reframe. I find the value in that food. Take doughnuts for example. I consciously think about how important fats and carbs are for our bodies and brains. I savor the flavor and the experience, and I eat it slowly. I let myself enjoy the doughnut rather than looking at it as a transaction or equation, and I pay attention to satiation. If I've eaten half and it's no longer that satisfying, I let myself save the rest for later. I release the pressure to eat all of it or none of it.
I savor food. This is one reason I love dark chocolate. I savor dark chocolate by eating it very slowly and pairing it with coffee. It’s a divine combination.
So how does food relate to peace?
I’ve found tremendous peace in eating slowly and in silence. This is in radical opposition to how I spent so many years eating – mindlessly, frantically, shoveling, not tasting, not thinking, numbing. It’s so easy to emotionally or mindlessly eat. I did it just last night. I don’t binge and I don’t purge, but I still find myself on occasion emotionally eating.
When I find myself nearing the bottom of my popcorn bowl and not remembering eating it, I try to give myself a bit of compassion. I don't damn myself for mindlessly eating, but instead get curious. Was I just not paying attention? Am I anxious? Am I self-soothing? Sometimes the answer is yes to all of the above. And that's okay.
Want to bring a moment of peace to your day, but don’t know where or when?
The next time you sit down to eat try the practice of mindful eating, if only for a few bites.
My practice has started with breakfast. I’m trying to extend this to all of my meals, but sometimes life’s schedule necessitates eating on the fly or eating with others (which is a great thing), and mindful silence is difficult to find.
I’m a creature of habit and have relatively the same thing for breakfast everyday; a big bowl of oatmeal with half a banana diced up in it, cinnamon, and sea salt. I wash it down with a big glass of milk. I’m a bit odd and like to mix my milk (half almond and half cow’s milk).
As I eat, I try to slow down and turn off everything else. I turn off the TV, music, put the phone down, etc. When I take that bite of oatmeal I first notice my sensory experience; the texture, the temperature, the sensations on my tongue, and the taste.
From there I think deeper about what I am eating.
I think about the oats as they were in the field. I picture something like the scene in Gladiator as Russel Crow peacefully walks through the wheat field, touching the strands lightly with his hands. I think about the oats being harvested by hard-working farmers, the process of shelling and all that happens between the field and my bowl. I think about everyone who’s been invested in the process of getting those oats to my belly – the workers at the processing plant, the grocers who stock the oats on the shelf. I go on the mental journey from field to plate and thank each person for the role they had. I marvel at the miracle of how that oat started from seed and wound up in my bowl to enjoy and sustain me.
I go through this process too with the banana and the milk. I especially enjoy the milk. I think about the almond groves I visited in California when I lived there. I think about the amazing gift of the almonds and how much water went into that 8 oz of almond milk. Growing up down the street from a dairy farm has provided an easy visual of the cows and the process. I love cows and reflect on the time I’d spend at the fence up the street petting the snout of the sweet dairy cows. I thank the cow for providing for me and the miracle of the process.
Sometimes I think about the connection of the food to people I love. I think often of my grandmother, her knowledge and love of cows and her unyielding commitment to ice-cream and milkshakes.
Now, I know this seems like it would be a lengthy process, but our minds go through this visual imagery within milliseconds.
The beauty of this process is that it is something we all can do. It’s quick, accessible, and no one has to even know you are doing it! It doesn’t matter what the food is.
You can do this as you grab a burger from McDonald’s frantically driving from work to your kids’ baseball game. All it takes is turning off the radio and slowing down, if only for a few bites. Thinking of the cow in the field, the wheat that made the bun, the marvel of ketchup.
As you do this, you may notice a shift start to happen. For me, I find myself saying “thank you”, because our food is truly amazing. There are so many hands that go into the process of putting the burger on your plate, so many wonders.
Curious what you will find, or in need of 1 minute of peace in a busy day? Slow down. Savor. Think and thank.