THOUGHT FOR FOOD
So, here’s the thing -- I am no trained nutritionist, and hence have always refrained from giving dietary tips, except to friends and family who are privy to unasked for and asked for advice, lucky them! I do not believe something as simple as food and as complex as eating can be boiled down to a template to fit everyone’s needs. I do not believe that by eating this, or not eating that, one can achieve fitness and health, and this magical solution can then be applied to all. We all are more than a product of our genetics, chemistry, health history, age, gender, body type, circumstance, culture, and this relationship with what we eat and drink, evolves as a product of all the above and more. I do believe how we feel about our bodies is very directly linked to how we treat it, in terms of how we use it, what we put inside it, and how we talk about it.
I will not give a list of what you should eat and shouldn’t eat. But I do hope to trigger some thought and awareness when you think about food and your eating habit. I do have strong and informed opinions from Ayurveda, to yoga to more modern nutritional insights, and experiences that have influenced my food philosophy.
Here are three things I have learned:
1.) Diet is not a dirty little word, and it’s not about what you don’t eat. It’s not about starvation and deprivation. It’s about what you eat, how you eat, and the most important of it all, why you eat. Do you eat something because it is supposed to be good for you? A salad with very little dressing for example: how do you feel when you do that? Do you feel good about the choice you made? Or deprived and martyred to your cause of fitness!? If the answer is the latter, perhaps romaine isn’t your friend. How often do you feel this way? Eat well, eat with your senses of smell, taste, and sight. Savor it, and eat in moderation. What does moderation mean? Moderation is a highly subjective term. According to a study published by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (source: Livestrong.com), people ate more healthy grains than they thought they did but not enough for a healthy diet. They also ate more fats, sweets and oils than they thought they did. Figuring out what is an adequate amount for you is a process of learning what works for you. Two indicators that I use: energy levels during the day, and the quality of sleep at night. Perhaps write a food diary to document what you have eaten and how you felt in these two indices, especially if you are working on making a few changes. Observe but don’t judge.
2.) Food is simple, eating is complex. Food is simple; we all know vegetables are good, a lot of sugar is bad. We all know home cooked food is best, and things that look like they belong to a space mission, bad. We all know that we have to drink water, more than soda, and yet these choices are hard to make, and most of us have struggles with eating what is right for you. What is your food history? What have we learned about eating? How do we talk about food? How do we think of it? Why do we eat? Boredom? Anger? Sadness? There is no right or wrong answer. To understand why we eat what we eat is the key to changing how we eat. In yoga philosophy, per the Upanishads, the body is made up of five layers or koshas or sheaths: the physical body, the energy sheath (made of breath, and life or Prana), the emotional body, the wisdom sheath, and the deepest layer, the state of bliss and truth. These sheaths are dynamically influenced by each other. Food is the macro and micro element of the physical body i.e, what we eat is who we become. The physical body influences the flow of breath, and energy in the body, which influences the emotional well being and so on. This is the bedrock of my personal food philosophy: what I eat is who I am. And it changes every day. Some days I am a piece of cake, literally and figuratively, and at others, it’s all about balance.
3.) Practice and practice is coming, the mantra in my personal asana practice, translated onto the table, means that by practicing good eating behaviors, we are learning good eating behaviors. We are not transforming into the “perfect” body. Be realistic of expectations and define what you want to accomplish by making those changes. Let’s not compare ourselves to our neighbor, or a friend, because their story, their body is different. One has to unlearn a bad food habit, like over eating very often to deal with stress, or the junk food drive through because it’s convenient, to replace it with and learn good food habits. This process of learning and unlearning, in my opinion has to be something that we can sustain in our everyday lives or it won’t work in the long run.
What has worked for me is to make small changes and keep at those changes, for example eating more pesticide free food, or drinking more water, or reducing the dessert intake (still a challenge). These small changes when practiced over a period of time becomes second nature and we want to make better and bigger changes. This is a marathon and not a sprint, so avoid making grandiose diet changes. These may work in the short term, but have rarely seen them work in the long term. Be your own best friend, if you fall off the wagon. It’s a fallacy that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Research says that it take one anywhere from 66 days to 254 days depending on what you want to change
Food is not a bad four letter word, it’s what gives us pleasure, it’s what nurtures us, gives us life. If we look at it as a part of our story, an integral part, but perhaps not the defining part, it can make our life, our every day life full of vigor and joy. So dig in and savor the texture one luscious bite at a time.