Today let’s look at HOW to eat for optimal health and fertility.
You probably heard the term “Mindful Eating” before. I have myself used it extensively. However, I much agree with Marc David, founder of the Institute of the Psychology of Eating, when he advocates using the term “soulful eating” instead of “mindful eating”:
“Mindful eating makes it sound like we’re eating with our head. We have to stay alert to our mind, and it doesn’t sound very sexy, seductive, nourishing, or fun. That’s why I like to use the term soulful eating. Soulful eating means we feel well nourished. Soulful eating is about pleasure, slow, the nuances of the meal, a bit of sensuality, some smiles, some hearty laughs, celebration, connection, and a sweet communal experience.
For many people, when they think of mindful eating, they’ll often think that I have to eat like a silent monk, and be super meditative and not have much fun. Mindful eating is often interpreted as a dry and intellectual experience. Yes, food and nutrition is a scientific affair. And yes, mindful eating can help ensure that we have an eating experience that works. But we need a little bit of soul when it comes to food. Maybe even a lot of soul. When I say soul I mean the part of us that’s emotional, passionate, engaged, inspired, warm and spicy.
Notice people who have a challenging relationship with food – when they engage with a meal or snack, they often become contracted, silent, aloof, pensive, worried, and if they’re in the company of others, they do their best to absolutely hide their inner turmoil and challenge that they’re having about eating in public. They become locked in their heads, and they abandon heart and soul. They check out of the body. If you want to transform your relationship with food, for sure practice mindful eating, but please remember to always go beyond it. Embrace the soulful place inside of you that gives you your color, your character, your personality, and your zest for life.”
The key words when it comes to soulful eating are relaxation, slow and presence.
If you eat under any kind of stress or tension, whether it is time pressure, feelings of fear, guilt or self-hate, eating in an unpleasant environment or surrounded by people you don’t like, or simply eating too fast and/or too much, your body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode, which is the opposite of the “rest-and-digest” mode.
In the stress response, digestion always shuts down partially or even completely, depending on the degree of stress. This means, that your food is either just sitting around, not being digested, or only partially digested. Those partially digested food particles are irritant to the gut and can cause intolerance reactions, since they are considered toxic by our immune system. Rather than being carried to the cells to be turned into energy or to be used for other important metabolic processes (such as tissue repair or reproduction), they use up our energy by making the immune system and detoxification organs work overtime. Eventually, they get excreted unused.
Even though mainly invisible (except for maybe undigested food particles in your stool), this is a type of food waste that goes largely unnoticed. However, this doesn’t make it any less real. You could literally be eating the healthiest, most sustainable, most expensive food – if you are eating it in a state of stress, you are not going to get all its goodies out of it.
So, if you want to get the most out of what you eat while reducing your risk for suffering from food intolerances, make an effort to put yourself into relaxation before and while you eat.
- At home, you can set the table nicely.
- At the very least, sit down.
- Put aside your laptop, mobile phone or magazine and turn off the TV.
- Take 5-10 long deep breaths before each meal.
- Simply notice your food using all of your senses: Take in its smell, its colors, its energy, its temperature, its texture.
- Imagine its story and all that was necessary to get it on your plate and say thanks to the farmer, the animals, the distributors, the cook, the sun, the rain…
- Tell yourself that you will honor your food and the efforts of everyone involved by eating it slowly, so that it will be optimally assimilated and not go to waste in your intestinal tract.
- You do NOT necessarily have to chew 50 times, simply be present to your food and your body.
- During eating, continue breathing and paying attention to the sensations the food causes in your body. How does it feel in your mouth? Do you actually like it? How’s the feeling in your stomach? Is it warm and fuzzy, and does your whole body go aaaahhhhh from pleasure, or is it cold and heavy and does your body contract in reaction to it? Check in with your body and notice how you feel regularly. Note: we are not looking for a specific sensation here, i.e. stomach pain. We simply want to notice whatever we are sensing, pleasant or unpleasant – to then learn from the feedback the body is giving us.
- Put down the fork or spoon from time to time and simply feel and breathe. Oxygen is a crucial part in digestion that will increase the efficiency at which food is turned into energy.
- When you’re done, try to maintain the relaxed state as long as you can, even if you have to get back to work. Breathe consciously. Choose your battles.
I know all of this is easier said than done. I still have to remind myself to do it regularly. Yet it is one of the key strategies for better digestion and assimilation and as such more energy, well-being and balanced hormones.
We are so much focused on WHAT to eat, that we easily overlook the HOW we eat, probably because it confronts us so much with our internal world. In the end, the way we eat is very similar to the way we do life… If we rush through our meals unconsciously, biting off more than we can chew or have no idea whether what we just ate is actually good for us, then we probably also rush through life unconsciously, take on more than we can handle well and have no idea whether our job, partner or the place we live are actually good for us.
One thing that helps me tremendously to slow down with food is to see it as a form of gratitude. Doing the best I can to not only select, buy and prepare my food, but also to assimilate, digest and eventually turn it into usable energy, is another way to honor and respect it and all the efforts and sacrifices that it took to get it on my plate.
May you too not waste your food energy, but use it for projects that are close to your heart and so much needed in this world! It’s a way of giving back to the animals, plants and the Universe. If anything, we owe them that!