Wednesday 29 June 2016

Mindfulness to "Bodyfulness"

               Do we need to be only mindful about what we eat or should we be "bodyful"?
I don't know how you feel about eating nowadays, but sure it doesn't seem to be as simple as it once was.

As of late, everything we eat has been tangled up with numbers, rules and contradictions. It is almost a sin to even think about granny's delicious Sunday cake, or to dive into a hearty meal whilst celebrating a special event. We are told that we must eat our "fives a day", and avoid almost everything that used to be our main source of energy. Of course, there is no question about the fact that times have changed. Only few of us start the day at dawn out on the field, and return by sunset. We are not as active physically, but more so mentally, which also takes up a considerable amount of energy. Let's face it, life is not simple! But why must we make something as simple as feeding ourselves so complicated?

Let’s just take a moment and remind ourselves what the definition of food is.
According to Wikipedia, "food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fat, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The substance is ingested by an organism and assimilated by the organism's cells in an effort to produce energy, maintain life or stimulate growth.”
According to the Webster dictionary, “food is something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies.”

Before I go any further, I want to make sure that it is understood that I am not trying to approach this subject from a nutritional point of view; however, nutrition is the key to stay alive. I am not going to delve deep into the number of calories one must take in and the amount of macro and micronutrients that one’s body might need for living. We can hear and read about it often enough online and in health magazines, or seek advice from a practitioner. I am trying to provoke thought and open the doors to consideration about the entire experience of eating. We may be told by any number of sources how many calories we must eat per a day, for example, but we should aim to focus on the quality of the food as opposed to the amount of calories the food contains. Unfortunately, I, and many others have not always thought this way.

Having a medical background myself, I had been deeply influenced by what is "healthy" or "good for me". I have often found myself in a mental debate while sitting at the dinner table; trying to decide whether to consume what I would simply enjoy eating, or to politely excuse myself and munch on something specifically designed in the name of a healthy diet.

When I was young, I spent lot of my time on our farm and in the vineyard. I loved the autumn, not just because of the satisfying feeling we had when looking at our crops, but because of the special time we had during the harvest. It was one of those occasions when the whole family would get together and work from early morning until dark. Even though we had to get up early, we had the privilege of listening to wise old tales from the adults whilst harvesting the grapes. I remember feeling so tired and hungry by lunch time, and we all, young and old, jumped for joy when we saw my father's car arriving with delicious food. Adults had to get water from the well, but us kids could only watch from a distance, as it was very deep and they were worried that we might fall in. The kids were washed and scrubbed first, and then we waited patiently in line for food to be placed on our plates. Everything tasted delicious, even food that we typically didn’t like at any other time. There was everything from chicken stew, homemade pasta, and salad, to homemade cherry pie. We often ate sitting on the sand, or wherever one could find a place to sit. There were jokes to be told and songs to be sung. At this time, eating was like a ceremony.

Not one of us were thinking whether the food was "unhealthy" or how many calories it contained. Nor did we check labels or asked mum how much of whichever ingredients were added to the dishes. We didn't eat with our head, we ate because we needed to have energy to go on working for another 6 to 8 hours. We ate because our body needed it; simple as that. What was most magical about this experience was everyone being together to share the meal, hearing the stories, and having a good laugh.

More recently, the notion of having families sit down at the table to eat together is almost extinct. We may say we have no time, but the truth that is we hardly make the time. Eating barely seems to be an enjoyable activity anymore. We go into the grocery store and purchase according to the labels. Granny is no longer called for the recipes to the family's favourites. We no longer eat simply because our mouth is watered by the smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread. We eat because we are told to do so and we are treating this activity as one of the many tasks that we have on our list of things to do over the course of the day. Thus, eating has become an agenda.

Everything around food is so complicated nowadays that we no longer know when we are hungry. We are unable to listen tour bodies and rely on what they tell us. Rather, we rely on what we learn and hear through the media, and above all, what our emotions tell us. Yes, there is no doubt that there are people who might benefit from "watching" what they eat. Personally, I doubt if that will make much difference for them long term unless severe allergies are a factor. Just think about it: How many smokers give up smoking because they know it is not good for them? They are sitting and puffing away, being completely aware of their behaviour - and so what? Does anybody care that the label says "smoking kills" right there on the packet?

Sadly, our modern lifestyle is not just demolishing the meaning of sharing and eating, but also what food is in the most basic sense. It seems the more we focus on food and eating the further we get from it and the more complicated it becomes. Perhaps what we need is to find our way back to our body and reconnect. Learning to recognize when we are hungry and what our body needs is vital, because our individual needs are all different and we cannot put everyone into one "box".

Most importantly, once we learn to appreciate our body for what it can do for us and treat it with love and respect, we will regain that ability to listen and have the instinct to give it what it needs. A holistic approach, including mind, body, and soul is essential; everything must work together to reach healthfulness and happiness. As with all good things, this does take time and patience, but can be achieved through trying new activities, practicing meditation, and being more involved in the process of cooking and learning where your food comes from.

So, here’s some food for thought (pun intended): What changes will you make in order to become more connected with your body?