I have spent the past week practicing yoga in Thailand at an amazing place called Agama on the island of Koh Phangan. The experience has been so tranquil and just what I needed to refocus my yoga practice and take time out for my own self development. I tend to over commit and push harder than I need to, so taking a break and finding a new space to focus on me is crucial for my sanity and continued motivation. Traveling also reminds me of how very little we need in this life and how easy it is to survive out of a little backpack… this is always such a profound realization.
But, we are not here to discuss my travels. Today’s focus, albeit inspired by my new found yoga practice, is based on a concept I call “food realization”. Some of you who practice yoga have probably heard of the term “self-realization” which relates to the fulfillment of one’s potential in life. In the same way, food realization relates to the fulfillment of one’s potential as it relates to food and nutrition. We all have the potential to eat our healthiest diet (which is different for everyone by the way), but we don’t always know how to figure out how to get there – especially with all of the conflicting information on the web.
For me, yoga and nutrition are intimately related so I like to teach them together. There is a heightened sense of awareness that comes from a regular yoga practice which helps a person identify choices they have made in their lives which either nourish them or tear them down. This awareness is the key to making a change, if the person wants it. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the choices surrounding food but it’s worth mentioning this concept of awareness can also apply to many other aspects of life, including relationships, life purpose, and sex. When we start asking ourselves more questions about our food choices and how foods literally make us FEEL we become more aware and start to change our habits around certain foods — sometimes without even realizing it. When we pay attention, we discover foods that light us up and others that maybe dampen our soul and make us feel heavy and sad.
It’s true. How do you feel after eating a real whole foods diet for one week versus fast food diet for the same period of time? For the purpose of this example let’s imagine that this whole foods diet includes nothing but vegetables, fruit, organic proteins and healthy fats from nuts and seeds and the fast food diet is eating mostly fried versions of foods usually sandwiched between two pieces of white bread. If you have ever tried this experiment you will know that the real whole foods diet will win just about every time. The side effects might not show up as you expect them to either. Most believe the only symptoms of eating too much fast food involve stomach aches and other digestive distresses, but you might be surprised to learn that foods can greatly effect our moods and energy levels in profound ways, negative and positive.
If this concept feels foreign to you, do not despair. The journey to “food-realization” as I call it, is not always an easy or quick one. If we have been eating a certain way for a long time there is a certain level of resistance that we also face with making behavior change. We also have to make many mistakes before we learn from them in order to find our personal balance. In other words, after following a clean eating plan for a period of time, we might have to eat a big hamburger with fries from time to time in order to remember why we stopped eating it in the first place. There is an ebb and a flow to our food choices and we should honor this.
Food-realization is a process that should not be approached with guilt, but rather with curiosity and even a sense of humor. Instead of viewing those cookies as evil, thigh-enhancing, sugar bombs, consider eating them with love and attention to every morsel and delightful texture that touches your tougue. Enjoy every bite with sincere gratitude that you GET to eat a cookie in that moment, knowing this moment will quickly pass. Then, once the cookie is gone, observe. Observe your body, your emotions, your reaction to the cookie. Do you feel better or worse? Did the cookie solve your problems or did it just taste good? Are you a better human for eating the cookie? There is not a right or wrong answer. Awareness is the key. For some, the cookie will be no problem and better enjoyed without any guilt attached to it. For others, they may observe the cookie gives them a headache or makes their blood sugar spike in a way that leads them to feel nauseous or over full. Awareness of this reaction is the beginning of change and possibly making a different choice the next time the cookie is presented, or not — either way, we understand the consequence.
This example can be applied to just about any food out there. You can try it with kale or potato chips, dark chocolate or peanut butter. It’s a practice that evolves over time and changes with you as you age and move and travel and grow as human being. You may also have to remove a food for a period of time and then reintroduce it to observe the real effect on the body. Gluten, sugar and dairy are three categories of foods that I commonly ask clients to remove for a period of time in order to note their true reaction to that food (but more on that in another post).
As you spend more time observing and listening to the body, the better and quicker you will get in making food choices that elevate you versus deplete you. When approached with curiosity and humor you can laugh at yourself for making less desirable choices and gain the will-power to make better choices the next time around. The more often you do this, the easier it gets and the better you will start to feel….
Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. The next time you eat today, think about the food you are choosing. Why are you choosing it? What does this food give you in terms of energy and nutrition? But most importantly, how does it make you feel after you eat it? If the answer is “not so good”, then perhaps it’s time to try something new.
What are you experiences on the path to “food realization”? I’d love to hear them!