Nutrition as a Practice


by Jennifer Andrews, M.D.

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Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.
— Brillat Savarin

At Praktis & Bloom, we are all about promoting practices that drive personal and spiritual evolution.  We focus on the PRACTICE, not the theory, of growing into better versions of ourselves.  This practice comes in many forms, and Praktis & Bloom serves to promote and discuss the various forms of practice in our daily lives.

Some forms of practice are easy to identify - yoga, meditation, physical training. We start by making a conscious decision that we are interested in the practice. We motivate ourselves to engage in these practices. We participate, and we immediately reap the rewards of our practice. We feel strong, calm, in control, peaceful, happy, ect. We continue with the practice, and we grow into better people.

Other forms of practice, however, are not so clearly laid out for us.  They exist quietly in our lives, without us even recognizing them as a practice. Often they are lost opportunities.  Opportunities for us to grow and evolve, and we miss out.  An example of this kind of practice is our diet.  This article looks at the concept of diet as practice, and considers the possibilities for how we can grow and evolve through our eating habits.

 

This article looks at the concept of diet as practice, and considers the possibilities for how we can grow and evolve through our eating habits.

Don’t be distracted by the term ‘diet’. It is not meant to be used in the sense that we are accustomed to seeing it - that is, a restriction of calories or food types in an effort to lose weight, lose fat, or improve our physical health.   Yes, that could be considered a ‘practice’, and indeed it is prevalent everywhere we look today.  However that is not the focus of our use of the word ‘diet’ today.

Our ‘diet’ is everything we put into our bodies as a form of nourishment. All the food we eat, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’, forms our diet.  Our diet also consists of our eating habits. When we eat. Where we eat. How much we eat. How fast or slow we eat. To really look at diet as a practice, we need to dig deeper. Why we eat. How we feel about eating. The significance we place on what/when/where/why we eat.

The fact is, nourishing our body through eating is a practice that is universal. It is vital to life. Every living being on earth depends on it. We practice it every day, multiple times a day. We find great enjoyment from it, and also at times have great battles with it.

Our diets are significant in many ways - Religious, Philosophical, Ethical, Cultural and Social.  Think of the Jew that does not eat pork, or the Hindu that does not eat beef.  Think of the significance of the last supper and communion amongst Christians. Think of the vegan who eats no animal products out of principle.  Think of a huge Italian family that gathers each sunday for generations to share a homemade pasta feast, or think of the fact that our entire culture of dating and connecting is often done through sharing a meal.  We celebrate the greatest moments in life by sharing a meal with those we care about.

On the flip side, our diets can be a source of grief and great stress.  The pressure we sometimes place on ourselves, the guilt we feel over our choices, can create a very negative energy around food. A person’s diet is often a reflection of their state of self control (or lack there of).  Diet is frequently used as a coping mechanism - a way to deal with emotions and stress.  We find ourselves eating mindlessly, either over-consuming or neglecting to eat at all.

So, it is clear that there is a great opportunity for growth and improvement when it comes to our diet.  How can we approach eating as a PRACTICE- something we work on for better self control and personal growth? What would that look like?

Better to eat a dry crust of bread with peace of mind than have a banquet in a house full of trouble
— Proverbs
  • Not obsessing over what you eat, or what you have already eaten
  • Not feeling guilt associated with food
  • Not judging others regarding their eating habits
  • Not feeling/showing ‘pride’ regarding your own eating habits
  • Being truthful and accountable to oneself
  • Not being wasteful, or ungrateful
  • Appreciating the gift of food
  • Not dreading the preparation of food
  • Not worshiping food

Praktis & Bloom is all about practical guidance, and thus here are some ideas to help you achieve some of the above-mentioned goals.  

Diet as a practice

  1. Reflect on your perception of what your weaknesses (and strengths!)  are - not for the purpose of being hard on yourself, but instead in order to identify potential opportunities for change and improvement.
  2. Pause and be mindful of what you choose to eat.  Remember that your body is like a temple. Don’t nourish it with junk. There is a lot of truth to the wisdom ‘You are what you Eat’.  Respect your body.  Consider each thing you eat, and ask yourself whether it is a choice you will be content with afterwards.
  3. Gratitude for what you do eat.  Take the time to be grateful for the abundant society we live in, where pretty much any food item is available to us, all of the time.  Consider our more unfortunate brothers and sisters who still experience hunger and poverty.  Perhaps you even take the opportunity to donate to a food bank or a charitable organization that focuses on food supply.
  4. Take the opportunity to make positive change every time you eat.  Perhaps that means eating a little less, or a little slower.  Perhaps it is appreciating a really simple meal, like a monk would.  Perhaps it means taking the time to share the preparation of a healthy meal with a family member.  Find some way to make a step towards self improvement with each meal you consume.

If you are looking for more specific direction for healthy eating, there is an abundance of helpful resources out there.  Keep in mind that extreme habits or trends are often one-dimensional in their goals or approach. Stick to resources that maintain a balanced approach to eating and nutrition.  To get you started, here is some practical advice that will never go out of fashion.  If you make an effort to follow these principles you will be most of the way there.

Clean Eating

You’ve heard it before. Although you see those words everywhere now, trust us, its not a trend.  Clean eating is referring to eating foods that are unprocessed, they are as close to their natural form as possible.  Basically think about going to the grocery store and sticking to the edge of the store - the fruits and vegetables, the dairy, the eggs, and the meats/fish/poultry.   Avoid the ‘shelf’ products - Foods that come packaged, processed in a factory.  Another way to analyze food for its ‘clean factor’ is by considering the ingredients list.  If it has no list at all, its very clean. Think of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat -- these foods don’t come with an ingredient list because they are not processed.  .  Next, if you are buying something that comes in a box or a package, look at the ingredients list - if it lists a whole bunch of things you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, it is likely highly processed.  But if its a box of pancake mix and the ingredients are whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt, its a pretty ‘clean’ item.   Something that is important to mention with regards to clean eating is that it is NOT about being limited to raw fruits and vegetables and bland food.  The best and tastiest prepared meals come from clean eating ingredients….Think of a homemade soup or meat dish that has been prepared with fresh, wholesome ingredients and natural spices and herbs.

 

Reducing refined grains and refined sugars

We could go into great detail about how refined foods may be the single biggest factor explaining the current state of affairs in terms of the obesity epidemic, the Diabetes epidemic, the heart disease epidemic, ect. The refining process refers specifically to carbohydrates such as grains and sugars. Many grains are refined to make them taste better, to create a finer texture, and to improve the shelf life of the product.  Refined grains and sugars are stripped of most of their nutritional value, and the calories are left behind.  These calories are almost instantly broken down by the body, and our bodies release a large amount of insulin as a response. Without going into too much of the science behind it, huge spikes in our insulin levels is what is ultimately responsible for storing energy as fat, and for the development of type 2 diabetes.     Examples of refined grains: corn bread, white rice, white bread,  flour and corn tortillas, couscous, crackers, pretzels, noodles, spaghetti, corn flakes and macaroni. Examples of refined sugars: candy, regular soda, syrups, table sugar, cakes, cookies, pies, sweet rolls, pastries, fruit drinks and dairy desserts.

 

Mindful portions

Important for a few reasons. The first being that the issues we see with obesity and diabetes actually have more to do with portion sizes than they do with the actual food choices.   The portion sizes served in restaurants in North America have grown exponentially.  Second, being mindful of  smaller portion sizes inherently makes us appreciate and enjoy the food better.  Imagine you are about to eat the most exquisite cheesecake.  Do you think you would savour the taste more if you had a 2 inch square versus a 5 inch square?  Our eyes tell us we want the big piece, but our senses will get more out of the small one.  The finest restaurants serve small portions for a reason. It’s not because they are cheap and trying to rip you off. It is because they understand how good food is best appreciated.  Going along with this, eating smaller portions encourages us to slow down in order to enjoy our meal.  That 2 inch square of cheesecake could go down in 2 bites and be gone in 25 seconds. Or, you could slow down and enjoy it with a cup of coffee.  You don’t get more ‘taste factor’ with a bigger faster bite!

 

- All the best in your practice

 

The more you eat, the less flavor; the less you eat, the more flavor.
— Chinese Proverb

One can have no success in yoga if one eats too much or eats too little. Nor can one be successful if one sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.
— Baghavad Gita

Take care that the food which you put into the stomach does not fatten (nourish) you, but the cheerfulness of the mind: for the food is changed into excrement, and ejected, and the urine also flows out at the same time; but the cheerfulness, even if the soul be separated, remains always uncorrupted
— Epictetus