GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 28, 2012

Personal Matters: The spiritual approach to healthy eating

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Think back to the meals you have eaten in the last month or so.

Have you gobbled a fast-food hamburger while driving in heavy traffic? Gulped down a slice of pizza as you read the newspaper or watched TV? Did you skip lunch in order to finish a report at your office, only to overeat later at dinner? Have you “inhaled” meals without really tasting them?

If this sounds all too familiar, you are in the company of many fellow gobblers.

The daily eating habits of many Americans seem to be a reflection of much of our culture: frantic, thoughtless, unconscious and, considering the damaging effects to our health, even personally violent.

Statistics tell us, and we hear constantly through many media outlets, that millions of Americans, both adults and children, are riddled with medical and behavioral problems related to unhealthy eating habits: obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, bulimia, compulsive overeating, and anorexia nervosa to name only a few. Eating has become just another item on our overfilled “to do” lists, something to do — in a hurry — while you are doing something else.

This attitude is enormously different from many other cultures, where the act of eating is considered so sacred that specific rituals are practiced before, during and after meals.

These rituals are expressions of many deeply felt emotions — gratitude for the availability of food itself, appreciation for those who grew and harvested the food and the recognition of eating as a nourishing, life-affirming act. It’s life affirming because the food we eat is absorbed through the intestines then becoming part of our bones, blood, tissue, and organs ultimately having a powerful affect on our mental as well as our physical health by determining not only the quality of nourishment to our bodies but whether we live or die.

Biologists and geneticists have recently discovered that the food we eat today even affects the health of our progeny many generations later.

Many Americans express a spiritual approach to eating only on religious and national holidays, and especially at Thanksgiving because this holiday encourages us to slow down and take a few moments to ponder the many gifts life has given us and express our gratitude for them.

One simple method of enhancing our gratitude all year long is to eat consciously. Eating consciously, with heightened awareness, is essential to becoming a physically and mentally healthy person. This means that you need to set aside special time to eat, without doing anything else — without reading, watching TV, and certainly not when driving or walking. Take the time to cook rather than grabbing fast food.

At home, create a calm and sensually appealing atmosphere by decorating the table with simple, but visually appealing place settings. Add a candle and a plant or flower to the table. Then, eat very slowly, placing your fork down after each bite so that you can become mindful of exactly what you are eating and why you are eating — nourishment for the mind and body.

To help you understand the value of mindful eating, try this simple but powerful exercise: eat an ordinary cracker but approach it as if you have never seen or eaten a cracker before, look at the cracker — its size, shape, color, think about the earth’s gift of wheat that is the essence of it, then sniff the freshness of the cracker anticipating the flavor, finally, take a small bite savoring its texture and taste, swallow completely before taking another bite.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you gain both appreciation and a healthier perspective about the act of eating and its consequences. When we change our perspective we open the way to choosing healthier foods while eating less with more satisfaction.

It helps us understand an essential truth: eating is both a sensory and spiritual passtime, one that can nourish the soul as well as the body.

Try this at your next Thanksgiving celebration and with the wonderful leftovers of yesterday, and you may find that you enjoy the traditional gobbler and fixings more than ever.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Based in Rockport, Life Coach and Psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former university director of counseling and career services, teaches couples, individuals, and families to resolve relationship conflicts, achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at susanbritt1@verizon.net and by telephone at 978 546-9431.