Eating and nourishment, by @suek.
In spite of the title, this post is not about diets or eating styles or regimens. The whole food and eating thing is a deeply personal journey, and only you know your own body and its reactions and responses to what you eat. I just want to put a self-care spin on the topic.
I also want to say upfront that I have no professional expertise in nutrition, eating disorders, or any specific diets or eating protocols. I am simply sharing some ways I approach food and eating as a self-care practice.
Eating is one of those non-negotiable survival activities we all have to do, so it can easily become an automatic, habit-driven activity, completely outside our ideas of self care. But when you think about it, nourishing your body is a crucial act of self care. What you put inside your body can either keep it healthy, be more or less neutral (doing no damage but not much good either) or can damage it and abuse it.
The question isn’t so much which foods fall into which category. The important questions are: when we eat, are we consciously nourishing our bodies; are we on autopilot, or eating mindlessly; or are we indulging cravings without considering and caring about our overall wellbeing?
When I think about how eating can be a consistent act of self care, I come back to my trusty three-step process: Awareness, Attention, Intention. No matter what I apply this process to, it gives me more control and more self-sufficiency. It really helps me shape my life the way I want it to be, rather than life just happening to me.
Awareness is about noticing what’s happening, how am I feeling, reacting, responding: when I’m grocery shopping; when I’m hungry; when I’m eating, and afterwards in the near term, and longer term?
Remember how when you first stop drinking, at wine o’clock your body starts whining? If you don’t apply any awareness to this situation, you just find yourself opening the fridge, opening the bottle, pouring yourself a wine, and knocking it back. And going back for another one. But if you apply some awareness—in the form of a pause—it goes from autopilot to something like:
I want a drink. Pause. That’s the addictive wanting kicking in.
I had a hard day. I deserve a glass of wine. Pause. Addiction speaking. My body thinks that wine is the perfect stress relief and reward for hard work. Wrong!
Come on! Wine. Now! Pause. Persistent! What else could I do instead of drinking wine? Water, tea? Get outside for a walk?
The pause allows us to hop out of our addictive habitual tracks. We might still indulge the craving, but we have made significant progress by at least considering options that would be more caring to ourselves.
We can practice this same process with eating. Try pausing when you feel hungry, when you buy lunch, when you’re deciding what to put in your mouth. Ask yourself: is this thing nourishing and supportive, or not? Then decide your next move.
Once we have some awareness in place, we can start to give those moments more attention, and with attention we can begin to see change.
When it comes to food, I think it’s a good practice to pay attention to how eating certain things makes our bodies feel, not just when that thing is in our mouth, but afterwards. This is the food equivalent of ‘playing it forward’. Sure you want a sweet greasy donut, or a plate of fish and chips. Yes, it’s going to have amazing mouthfeel. But what happens next?
What happens in your body?
What happens emotionally?
What’s happening, long term, at a cellular level, when you indulge that urge?
What could you eat instead that would be kinder and more caring for you physically, emotionally, mentally?
You can also reverse engineer this idea, and when you notice you’re in a state (emotionally, physically, mentally) that doesn’t feel healthy to you, ask yourself “did I eat something that might have contributed to this?” Over time we notice patterns, and learn to nourish ourselves better.
Next we can ramp up our self care by applying a good dose of intention to our eating. When we are clear about our intentions, and willing to write them down, magic can happen. I really believe this. Here’s a personal example.
My number one intention around food is to eat as simply and naturally as possible. How does this intention play out in real life?
If I’m hungry between meals: eat an apple or a banana or a handful of nuts, not a bag of chips or lollies. Water, not fizzy drinks.
Over time, if I stick to this intention, it will start to impact how I shop. If I have decided to eat simply and naturally, then only simple and natural things go in my shopping trolley.
I’ll be more motivated to pack a lunch or snack when I’m going to be away from home, rather than relying on the pie warmer, or fast food options.
My cooking will start to reflect this intention, because I’ll have more simple and natural ingredients in the fridge and pantry.
As we get into this process of increasing awareness, paying attention, and setting intentions around how we nourish ourselves, our behaviours and patterns shift. Just like when we decide not to drink. We will find ourselves less and less often at the donut shop, at the fish and chip shop, at the lolly counter. We will start to train ourselves to notice how we are feeling (bored, sad, nervous, whatever) and know some healthy things we could do to soothe those feelings. Things that are not abusive to our body and psyche.
It’s a journey. It will be different for everyone. And it’s a journey that can make great use of the many sobriety practices we already know.
How do you incorporate self care into your grocery shopping, cooking and eating day-to-day? Please share your tips and ideas in the comments.