“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Food has the power to make us or break us. It can spell the difference between a life lived with vitality and energy, or a life plagued with discomfort and disease. It has the ability to help suppress ailments, to assist the body’s natural healing process and to support our mental well-being. We know that food affects our bodies over the long term, but we do not usually tend to associate what we eat with how we feel.
Our bodies are like machines, constantly churning, programmed to function well and maintain a state of balance. When we overindulge in a specific food, our body will try its best to get rid of this excess and restore itself to a state of having “just the right amount” of everything. If we do not consume enough of some vital nutrients, we feel its effects—we feel tired, lethargic and at times, even lacking the energy to go about our tasks for the day. Eventually, this state will bring about the onset of disease. Disease is a form of imbalance in the body, a fragmentation of an otherwise integrated body system.
Food has such a big impact on our body and our mind, but how much thought have we really given to eating? Do we think only in terms of satisfying the palate, of answering a craving?
Much of our eating habits and thoughts are influenced by myths, practices and beliefs we have acquired over the years. For example, how often have we heard this phrase “Pag busog, malusog”? Upsize, unli rice, second serving – all these to get that full, satisfied feeling. Once we are full, it ends there, we stop thinking about it. But we need to go beyond just being satisfied or feeling full. We need to start asking ourselves these questions: “Do I feel okay?” “Do I feel tired and bloated? Do I feel happier?” “Is this good for me?”
Each food can have varying effects. For example, consuming refined carbohydrates may cause spikes and drops in blood sugar that may make some of us feel constantly tired and weak. Feeling tired on some days is normal, but if we feel chronically tired, most especially after eating certain foods, then something could be wrong.
More than signaling that we are full after a meal, our body tries to send us information about how that meal would benefit us or harm us. If our body does not agree with what we just had, it will send a signal to us in some form. Food intolerances manifest in this way. Food intolerance is “a detrimental reaction, often delayed, to a food, beverage, food additive, or compound found in foods that produce symptoms in one or more body organs or systems” (Wikipedia). Unlike food allergies which trigger the immune system, food intolerances affect the digestive system. As these reactions do not always happen immediately (may take a few hours, a day or build up over time), they are often harder to detect and harder to connect to the meals that we have had. But in practicing mindfulness in the way we eat, the manifestations will be increasingly evident.
Some of the more common signals of food intolerance are bloating, dizziness, puffiness, weight gain, inability to concentrate and even brain fog. These reactions may be signs that our body disagrees with or cannot handle and digest certain types of food. All the more, this begs us to be more sensitive and take heed of what our body is experiencing day to day, moment to moment. If we have identified a particular food to be particularly distressing to us, perhaps it would do us good to eliminate that particular food from our diet, and see if that changes how we feel. More than often, eliminating just one food from our diet can make a big difference.
If, on the other hand, we feel alive and feel more energetic after a meal, it may be in our interest to incorporate these foods more often in our diet. Certain ingredients like turmeric and ginger are both anti-inflammatory and can be incredibly soothing to our bodies. Whole foods like whole grain bread or brown rice and fresh vegetables are full of fiber and are absorbed by the body much more slowly, avoiding those blood sugar highs and crashes. Smart carbs like these also help raise the levels of the feel-good chemical known as Serotonin, the happy hormone.
There is also the belief that “diet is starvation.” We all have heard the idea that we need to eat less to lose weight. While that is in some way true (we must expend more than we consume), eating too little can actually have the opposite effect on many of us; if we do not eat enough, our body may go into starvation mode where it will hold on to the weight even more because it thinks it is starving, possibly resulting to more weight gain. Eating as little as possible to keep our calorie intake very low may deprive our bodies of much-needed nutrients and because we are hungry, may cause subsequent overeating and binging. Rather than restricting calories, it is much more important to note the nature of those calories we are consuming. Turn our focus to the quality, rather than the quantity.
Not all calories are created equal. One hundred calories from a sugary drink or candy is not metabolized in the same way as 100 calories of broccoli. Soda and candy are absorbed almost immediately and causes insulin levels to rise and cause our brains to turn on the “hunger switch”. We feel hungrier and consequently will tend to eat more. Broccoli, on the other hand, contains fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that are slowly broken down and distributed to the different parts of the body. It does not cause our insulin level to rise as rapidly, and the fiber allows us to feel fuller longer. Both amount to 100 calories but are metabolized differently by the body. Rather than looking at how little we should consume, it is important to look at WHAT we consume.
Starvation is definitely not the right way to go. Given this, what then is the right diet? What is this “magic formula” that ensures that we live longer, happier, with more energy to achieve and produce what we want in our lives?
In Ayurveda, “food is medicine.” From its perspective, health and nutrition should always take into account a person’s individuality. Because our bodies are unique, the impact of food on each one of us may vary. In choosing what food to eat, we must test and learn, and pay attention. Realize that what works for one will not necessarily work for another; that while we are all the same, we are also all different.
Photo by Brooke Lark | Unsplash.com
There is no one “diet” or way of eating that works for absolutely everyone. As unique as our fingerprints are, so is our body constitution, and the way we metabolize food. No set of “rules” will apply to everybody. Diet is an extremely personal journey.
Even our own bodies will not be the same forever. As we grow in all aspects of our lives, so does our body. It is in a constant state of change, a constant state of evolving. Have you ever wondered why what worked for you 10 years ago does not seem to work for you now? Within our own bodies, there is that dynamism. This means that in order to better nourish our bodies, our diets should also evolve. And if we are to create a harmonious relationship with our bodies, we should never stop listening to what it is trying to tell us.
Does it mean then that all diets are wrong and there are no guidelines? Not at all. But rather than just blindly following rules and diets, we should learn to treat them as guidelines and starting points as we begin to explore the way of eating that would be the best fit for us. More than likely, we find that as we explore, the more we find that the ideal way of eating for us is a mix of all these “diets”, staying true to the idea that we are all unique individuals. Rules are restrictive and all-encompassing, but guidelines provide us with a roadmap, a tool with which to make food choices that can help us traverse that road to health.
As we begin to embark on this journey of listening and tuning in to our bodies, as in the practice of yoga, it always benefits us to set an intention. As the mind and the body is intimately connected, a powerful intention to take charge of our health will open that channel of communication with the body. The process of tuning in becomes easier, and better over time.
Photo by Tirza Van Dijk | Unsplash.com
Food sustains us and nourishes us, but more than just being fuel to keep us alive, it possesses immense power to give us a full and vibrant life. This is the power we should harness, and understand in our journey. It is in that space where the real power of food lies, and whether we harness that power to our benefit would depend on our ability to tune in.
Ayurveda says that true health is not just being “free of disease”. True health is about vibrant energy and vitality, about the fullness of life that comes from the harmonious integration of our minds, our bodies and our spirit. Once we have fully embraced this concept, we will understand the value of food in our lives and the joy in the individual choices that we have made. When that happens, we will find no use for a cheat day.
“Don’t be afraid of Food. Food is a friend and ally—we cannot do without it. But we can abuse it, misunderstand it, not listen to what our body tells us after we eat it.”
– Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing
Steph Puno is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City. She is the chef and owner of The Silly Goose Gourmet, a brand that incorporates healthy elements to traditional desserts and provides alternative options for people with certain dietary requirements. She believes in the holistic approach to health and wellness: that nourishing the body through physical activity and exercise and nourishing the mind through learning is just as important as nourishing the body with healthful food.