Eating is one of life’s basic needs, and yet in today’s western world it has become an extremely complicated issue. I don’t think I have ever met anyone that has never made some kind of comment about their weight or size, what they should or shouldn’t be eating, or about a new kind of diet they are following; most of the comments are self-depreciating and most of the diets are not based on any kind of professional advice or personal body analysis, more often it’s an extreme approach hoping for extreme but long-lasting results based on a celebrity trend. All of this negativity and the mixed messages we send our body are not helpful, for this most basic need, let’s go back to basics.
The study of anthropology has shown that there was a time when humans ate the perfect diet for their health; this was when we were living as hunter gatherers, eating from about a 20km radius and catching some meat about once a month. This of course would mean eating seasonally and perhaps a bit of travel at certain times of the year to move towards a more abundant or favourite food source, or closer to fresh water. This lifestyle was active enough that additional activity was not required to sustain optimum body size. Study of bones from this era show no food or deficiency type illnesses were present, and no-one was overweight.
Then humans worked out that they could farm, they wouldn’t have to move around as much as long as they had a fresh water source, perhaps the appeal of more permanent shelter inspired this change of lifestyle, or maybe it was something as simple as realising seeds grew new trees and plants – that may seemobvious to us because we are taught it from a young age, but there would have been a time before humans new this. The nomadic lifestyle is also not as suitable for the eldery or those injured for example, and perhaps the care for certain tribe members was enough to encourage stable dwellings, who knows, it could be a combination of many factors that led the hunter gathers to become farmers. The trouble with farming is people tend to farm things that grow easily and they farm animals that won’t run away, so not always the best food sources and not much variety. It is from this period that major health issues due to diet were found in the human bone studies.
The amount of cattle we have today has created a hugely negative environmental affect, there just simply shouldn’t be this many cows in the world. Now I eat meat and I drink milk so this is not about me preaching a point of view – I have just found it really helps to think about the journey your food has taken and to appreciate what is involved in producing it.
Back to the basics of how we eat. A lot of us have such busy lives that we may rush food in our mouths on the way to somewhere, we might miss meals and end up shoving the next high calorie thing in our bodies because we are desperate for some quick acting fuel, we probably stay up late looking for answers to why we are feeling like we are missing something and thinking those answers are in the fridge. I’ve done all these things. Now most people know these habits are not ideal and they are probably the very people who occasionally take extreme measures to change their diet only to find it impossible to maintain, but what IS manageable for everyone is small changes, and small changes over time make a big difference.
The saying that the first bite is with the eye is true, the sight of food actually gets your digestive system ready to eat, ‘mouth-watering’ over a TV ad or salivating at someone else’s meal being served to them in a restaurant is something I’m sure we’ve all experienced.
Touching food is also meant to part of the process of eating that aids the digestive system to get ready to do its job, it is also something we often miss out on by using cutlery, so maybe we should feel less squeamish about handling food if it’s that kind of meal. [Food therapists that work with fussy eaters often get them to experience difference textures through their hands or feet to help them initiate the link between feeling with our skin and eating more variety.]
As you can imagine, rushing around, eating food without even looking at it, having to make choices because we are in a rush, eating nothing for large parts of the day and then bingeing – all make for a stressed out digestive system. Going back to our ancestors, in times of famine their bodies would store fat, not knowing when the next meal would be coming; our bodies today do the same thing.
My small suggestion is this: try to make the first thing you eat in the day something that grows, like a nut, or a piece of fruit, or a vegetable, something in its most natural, unprocessed form. Before you eat it just look at it, feel it in your hand, marvel at its form (there are some crazy shaped things out there), think about how it grew, what stages it went through, look at its individual cells, think about the plant it grew on (if you know), imagine the sun shining on it, think about the water it used to create itself, where did the water come from. Maybe even think about the person that picked it, or was it a machine, where did it grow, has it travelled far, where did you buy it from, what people were involved in getting it there?
And now eat it (hopefully you’ve picked something you enjoy eating), really savour it, complete every mouthful before you take the next, feel grateful for the energy that went into growing this food and feel grateful that you are getting to enjoy it and in turn getting energy from it today.
If you are rushed first thing in the morning then choose a time where have 5 minutes to feel calm and do this exercise. Do it once, if you get no value from doing it nothing lost, but if you can take small steps to appreciating what you eat, thinking about your food’s journey, marvelling at the expertise of nature or considering the care of the people who have farmed it for you, and be truly grateful that you are able to eat today; then you will slowly begin to awaken to the importance of not only what you put in your body but to actually appreciate the process every time you eat.
If you’re going to eat cake or a chocolate bar do the same, savour every bite, marvel at its creation, think of the separate ingredients and where they came from, who made it. If you have to shove something in your face without looking because you feel guilty about eating it, then should you really bother? Enjoy it, admit you enjoy it, because if you enjoy all kinds of food and actually are fully present when they are going into your body, then your body will be ready to process them, and your body will be able to send you messages about other kinds of food it needs for optimum function.
Being mentally present when you are eating is a great first step towards improving your whole eating process and to improving your attitude towards food. And learning to be present when doing something so instinctive, that we have done since our first day on earth, is also a step towards being more present in all parts of your life.
Have a go, what have you got to lose..