Food, Mood & Spirit: Part 2
Over the last twelve years I’ve been on a journey which has significantly changed my relationship to my body, the food I consume and my personal and spiritual practices. (Read Part 1 here if you missed it.)
Eating Habits & Digestion: About eight years ago I began to notice that my body was not digesting food in quite the same as it used to. I thought I was becoming lactose intolerant and after talking to friends, it sounded like a common occurrence among my peers in their late 20’s – but why? I was pretty upset because I enjoyed my dairy products thoroughly: cheese, ice cream, yogurt, milk on my cereal, etc. I grew up being told on TV every Saturday morning about milk – “It does a body good!” (Little did we know then about the possible dangers of rBGH.)
I decided to go visit an Ayurvedic Practitioner, per the suggestion of a classmate who had seen big changes in her digestion after working with one for a few months. In the first visit I filled out an extensive questionnaire about my current state of health, lifestyle and history. I then met with my practitioner who spent an hour asking me more questions about my symptoms and goals, and explaining the possible treatment plans. I returned the following week after she had analyzed the data from the questionnaire and we came up with an outline of how to begin revitalizing my digestive system.
Over the next year I visited my practitioner ever 3-4 weeks for an hour visit. She was very attentive and I felt very much cared for during those visits. We started by looking at what foods supported my constitution and which weakened my digestion. I also learned new habits to cultivate around my eating, particularly the quality (organic being best) and preparation of the food and myself (including my state of mind while eating). I discovered that I would mostly eat for the sake of refueling and often in a hurry or while anxious.It is very important to use all of your senses for optimum digestion, and to create the best environment for the mind and body while eating. The quality of most food in our modern western culture is not very high; and for some it takes extra time, care and money to eat things which are healthy and nourishing to our whole beings. Also, the fast paced and digital world we live in does not help those of us with a weakened digestion or constitution. We often don’t take time to be present with our body and food, and that is paramount. It is foreign for many to sit and savor our food, fully chewing every bite and allowing our body to absorb all the nutrients that food can bring us. (I have co-lead a couple of workshops using mindfulness to help people become more attuned to their bodies and cultivate a harmonious relationship with food.)
Over time I began to feel much better as my digestion improved and I slowed down, listening to what my body really craved and what it didn’t want. This can be a difficult task, as many of us use food to help cope with feelings which are uncomfortable. Creating healthy ways to help regulate those difficult emotions can make changing our relationship to food and our body much easier. This was where my yoga practice (discussed in my previous article) really helped with my anxiety and anger, so my gut didn’t have to hold those feelings and it could properly absorb my food.
My relationship to food and my body around my digestion continues to challenge me to move toward health, and is a excellent barometer for what is happening in my life. I mindfully listen to my body and spirit, for it shows me what is out of balance and how to move toward health every day.