How To Eat For Optimal Happiness
I'm a big believer that, aside from providing us with the nutritional fuel we need to function at our best, food should make us happy. That's right: food should delight us, ignite us and make us feel good. Really, really good.
But for most of us, the way we approach food does just the opposite. It makes us feel fat. It makes us feel ashamed. It makes us feel ugly and undesirable. It makes us feel wrong and unwelcome in our own bodies. And when we lose the knowledge that we have power over our relationship to it, it allows us to hide out from life. We become fugitives to food.
Food, in our current culture, has become the other "F" word; most of our interactions with it fill us with shame, guilt and discomfort. When we eat, and especially when we over-eat or eat things we know are bad for us, we tend to gobble our food down as though it's some kind of necessary evil that needs to be dealt with as swiftly as possible. Eating fast is the most culturally acceptable way to do it (why else do they call it "fast food?"), especially when you're eating things that you know aren't good for you.
But our relationship with food isn't meant to be so "fast" and furtive. What if we let ourselves slow down around it? What if we really aimed to have a relationship with food that honored how complex and ever-changing our needs and lives are? What if we decided that we'd approach our relationship to food from a place of honor and awareness rather than one of shame and guilt? What if we committed to a practice of eating mindfully and actually tasting — and experiencing — each bite of food we take? What if we cared enough about our bodies to want to be really present when we fed them?
These are the questions we need to ask ourselves about our relationship to food if we're ever going to be able to make radical adjustments in the way we eat. We need to shine our awareness on how our bodies feel and how we'd like them to feel. When we do this, we realize we're not powerless when it comes to food and can begin to look at our eating habits from a place of curiosity. Then and only then can we do food differently.
But there's more.
Our relationship to food isn't the only one that needs to be fixed. There are other needs we need to meet, too. What about our need for meaningful work, liberating play, satisfying sex, companionship, intellectual stimulation, rest?
All of these needs, just like our need for food, should be met with deep, abiding self-respect. Otherwise, we'll stay trapped by our cravings which keep us too distracted to take notice of our deepest, most truthful desires.
There's a fragile quality of spirit that we lose when we over-eat, under sleep, don't play enough, don't have enough sex or intimate physical contact or spend our days doing work we don't find fulfilling. We resign ourselves to "not having" and we lose our connection to our deepest selves.
When we're no longer listening to ourselves, we tend to over or under respond — especially with food — and this just keeps us off- balance and out of the wellness zone. When we aren't attentive to how we're feeling, our reactions tend to be extreme. We let our cravings have their way with us and when we let our cravings call the shots, it's like applying a blunt force when what's really required is a feather's touch.
When we're blinded by cravings, we lose all sense of nuance and measure and pace and breathe. When we're at a craving's mercy, it's impossible to really listen to ourselves, to hear what we really need.