On the art of eating with deliberation…
I have spent most my life eating at the kitchen sink.
Even as a chef (or especially; I don’t know which) I rarely sit down and enjoy a meal with my friends and family at an actual table with actual silverware and actual time to enjoy the experience. I will spend hours and hours creating a dining event for other people and never enjoy one myself. When I notice I am hungry, I grab the first thing at hand (usually tortilla or carrots) and slather it with the second thing at hand (smart balance…hummus …almond butter…you get the idea) and call it a meal. My justification is that when I am cooking, I taste all day long so I don’t really need to eat. And while I might be getting enough to eat calorically, I am not doing something equally important and that is feeding my heart. As a survivor of years upon years of relentless yo-yo dieting and an alphabet soup of eating disorders I still have not learned how to do the one thing well that is most essential.
I don’t know how to feed myself.
We suffer from a national eating disorder that dictates we eat furtively, shamefully and alone. As Americans we consume most of our meals from food that has been either handed to us through a car window, or standing alone in front of the microwave. Food has become merely a vehicle for existence, further compounding the problems we already face with the Standard American Diet. Our health has suffered; our soul has suffered, and let’s face it our ass has definitely suffered. We have clamped on to each new weight loss or health trend; high protein, low carbohydrate, low fat, carnivore, paleo, gluten free, grain free…with the ferocious passion of zealots and yet we do not think about food as a long term relationship but more an illicit affair. Most diets work short term: calories in, calories out, it is simple as a mathematical equation. What these foodie fads are not taking into account, is that people are not developing a long term relationship with food and like most furtive affairs; diets are doomed from the beginning.
There are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself as you make the commitment to a new relationship with deliberate eating. Do you savor each and every bite, taking time to chew slowly and enjoy the experience or do you bolt your food finishing every last morsel like you are competing for a Guinness consumption record? As a chef, I sometimes get lost in the flavors and essence of a dish and this communion is one of the most exciting parts of my job. Tasting, really tasting, every subtle nuance and flavor brings a whole new awareness to what you are eating. The art of deliberate eating requires that not only do you plan each eating event as an important part of each day, but that you focus on each and every mouthful and taste as you savor your meal. The art of deliberate eating is about changing how we eat and why we eat the way that we do. Part of the process of remaking our relationship with food is to redefine the way we view the actual event and eliminate that which does not nourish our soul as well as our body.
Most traditional cultures observe some form of divine appreciation at the beginning of the meal and enjoy the event of eating with friends and family as part of the social fabric. Food is a part of the cultural identity, an integral part of communal entertainment as well as woven into religious rituals and cultural practices. If you look at the cultures in any one of the identified Blue Zones (areas of the world with exceptionally long life expectancies) you will see that each one revolves around the dinner table as the centerpiece of the important ceremonies of the day. Food is made from scratch, formalized by ceremony and shared by community. Food is treated with reverence and considered the centerpiece of family life. Food is often the very glue that holds the family together through difficult times. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to be quarrelsome with a happy tummy?
Each year when I teach my ten week plant based Wellness Class the first thing I ask is not what you eat but HOW. The ‘how’ of eating is even more important to change than the ‘what,’ at least initially. Learning to share food openly, and as a meaningful part of the day, is much more difficult to create as a behavior pattern than learning to cook in a healthy manner. I can teach you to cook ninety percent of what you need to know in an evening. It took us generations to eliminate the sanctity of the family dinner.
Ask yourself some basic questions to identify your challenges:
Are you eating alone? Oftentimes the idea of eating alone is so distasteful that we pretend we are not doing it. Do it while occupied with almost anything else. Personally my favorite places to eat are in the bathtub, in the sink, on the computer, and in bed, all the while doing something else to distract myself from the fact that I am consuming food. Having a happy relationship has changed this habit for the better, but I notice that when I am without children or partner, I revert to my old habits. Today, I quietly downed a sandwich while doing a health coach consultation. SMH.
The defined eating place in your home should be separate from your other activities and the actual act of eating should be its own entertainment. In example: typing with one hand on the computer keyboard while unconsciously consuming empty calories is not sustenance. Note to self.
Do you eat with utensils?
The ceremony of eating is part of the intrinsic sensual enjoyment of the process. Laying out the table with cloth, cutlery, chopsticks, flowers and candle’s gives the dining event the sense of circumstance that it deserves. Even if only for self enjoyment, making it a dining ‘event’ makes it an act of deliberation.
Do appreciate the divine source of your sustenance?
Many religions and traditional cultures observe the ritual thanking the source of their sustenance whether it is believed to be one of divinity or acknowledging the animal or harvest that produced their meal. By acknowledgement, we appreciate that we are stewards and recipients of this gift and it becomes one we are less willing to take for granted. Even just thanking the earth bound person that made you your meal is conscious deliberation. I cannot tell you how often I was having a really rough night on the line, and someone popping their head in to say ‘thank you’ made everything else go smoothly for me.
Your body wants to be well. Each day that you give your body clean nourishing soul sustaining food it is repairing and regenerating positive growth and healthy energy. By simply changing how we eat, we are also more focused on what we are putting in our body. No longer does a boxed restaurant combo meal fit the bill for the slow savoring of each and every deliberate mouthful. In fact, if we are thanking the divine source of our nourishment then let’s actually do the real time work of making sure what goes on the plate is fulfilling and nutritionally complete. If we are going to enjoy the event with our family and friends then it seems worthy of the time and effort required for preparation of a home cooked meal that is nourishing rather than one from a box or carton served through a car window or popped in a microwave.
Take the Deliberate Eating Challenge for one day and plan what and when you are going to eat as well as where and with whom. For one day make each eating event focused on the actual flavors of the food and contemplation. Whether you are conversing with family or quiet in meditation don’t allow outside media distractions or activities interfere with the eating event. No matter what nutritional guidelines you are following treat the course of deliberate eating as the centerpiece of the table. Even if you live alone make each meal a conscious action by eating at the eating place and slowly savoring every morsel.
Note your physical reaction to your food.
Note your emotional reaction to treating food with ceremony.
Plan each dining experience as if you were inviting someone very special to dinner.
You are: you.
I have made a conscious decision over the last six months to sit my butt down and eat with my children at the dinner table on the nights I have them. While we live chaotic and busy lives it is a decision I have never once regretted. My children regale me with dramatic stories and long and involved tales from their lives and our dinners often last hours past their bedtimes. Holly has me laughing so hard my water is coming out my nose and Hadyn is so sweet and her stories so guileless I love her more each minute.
My soul is fed.
What follows below is a meditation on eating with deliberation. You will need a glass of water, an orange, a quiet place and about ten minutes of uninterrupted time.