There is an age-old saying that is very close to being accurate, yet unforgivably disconnected from the truth of the matter:
You Are What You Eat.
In an extremely literal sense, it’s possible to take it as fact, if you stretch the meaning a bit. If you eat a lot of fat, you will likely become fat. But on the other hand, eating a lot of sugar doesn’t make you very sweet, at least not after the sugar crash.
In truth, it’s not just what you eat that makes you what you are, but how you eat.
I’m always inspired by cooking shows, especially ones that are competitively based like Top Chef, because though the cooks are faced with major challenges in cooking, they always seem to portray their respect and love of ingredients. They honor them in color, in flavor, in capacity. They make unexpected combinations, showing the versatility of the ingredient like an actor on stage. They present it beautifully, like a work of art. It leaves me hungry and full of wonder for the capabilities of this most essential thing: eating.
What we can learn from this is that it’s not just what you eat, but how we go about it. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a beautiful thing, but not if it’s done so with too much discipline. A plate full of vegetables can be just as guilt-inducing as a plate full of pasta; if we’re eating it with the belief that we are ‘bad’ and ‘need to be punished/disciplined for our actions’, then it won’t be rewarding. But in being aware of what we are eating, why we are eating it – which is also one of the Five Life Changing Questions I shared on Huffington Post recently – we can clue in to that food and that action’s potential to either give us peace or give us unhappiness.
Take these examples:
The woman who is constantly on the go, eating fast food behind the wheel on the way to her son’s soccer practice before picking up her daughter at piano. Sleeping 4 hours a night and in a constant state of rush. Eating is done in motion, without much thought or care, as everything is simply a means to an end. She likely shares few meals at the table with her kids, and few moments of presence with them as well.
The executive who eats at his desk or over business meetings. He’s not much aware of how the food tastes or feels or how it’s prepared. He’s lives to work, and so eats to live to work. He is distracted when he’s not at work, half-present to the moment and those around him.
The girl who treats food like an emotional reward for the wrong-doings of the world. She rewards herself with fries and pizza; food is her best friend and she seeks it when things go wrong. Comfort is taken in the warmth of the food for her emotional heart rather than her physical heart.
It’s not just what we eat, but how we eat it. Our relationship to food and the mindset we’re in when we consume it directly corresponds with how we treat all of life. Moreover, how we care for our physical lives is just as important as how we emotionally care for it, not just in reward (end) but in preparation (beginning). Food can be a beautiful thing, and a very spiritual practice of taking stock in what the universe has offered us. Of being excited and aware of the flavors, of the colors, of the textures. Of being surprised by the ways it can be prepared, paired together. And in gratitude of the earth for offering so many wonderful ingredients to play with every day.
Eventually, the practice of eating well to enjoy the food will translate into eating well to enjoy life, and be kind to your body. When food stops being only an emotional reward for when things go wrong, it can be an act of loving kindness to progress things toward going right. It can be a reward for good behavior – presence – instead of a discipline or punishment or gift for bad behavior of yourself or others.
Even the busiest schedules can make this change; you just need to make it work for your lifestyle. Recently, the work schedules in my house have flipped, and we’re no longer able to have big dinners together on a regular (nightly) basis. But instead of giving up the ritual of getting my hands in the earth’s bounty and playing around with food, we’ve modified our eating schedules. We now eat a large meal for lunch, one which we cook at home, and a lighter meal at night. It lets me cook and take control of what I put in my body, and gives us a chance to bond.
Sometimes finding the way that works best for you means thinking outside the box. But as long as you remain true to enjoying what you eat and offering your body the gift of great food as well as the kindness of your heart, you’ll be on the right track.
Eat in peace, be at peace!
The book French Women Don’t Get Fat is an inspiring look at not only why French women are so svelte, but how the French view food and eating. It also offers great daily practices for health, and wonderful recipes to bring out your French Chic.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the Instagram of Way of Gray. She’s a fantastic advocate for healthy living and loving your body, and her daily Instagram shots always remind me to be kind to my body.
Take a cooking class. Stores like Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma often offer free classes, and you can buy tools right while your there. It makes a great best friend date night, and will show you that in cooking, there’s nothing to be intimated by. It’s all about fun, feeling it out, and making it your own. You don’t have to be an expert chef to eat well, you just have to want to learn and experiment!
One last tip: don’t be overly influenced by the opinion of others. A girl’s-night-out can be a great time, and indulgence in some junk food is totally fine. But don’t let others pressure you into eating something unhealthy just to make them feel better. I’m often guilted for the small meals I eat at night out with friends or colleagues (often just a salad, or even raw veggies and dip), but when friends try to pursued me into indulging when I don’t want to, I just say “Hey, no one is forcing you to order mac-and-cheese!”. Bad behavior loves accomplices. Don’t let the action of others decide yours. It will be hard at first to resist, be later your friends will expect it from you, and might even encourage you to keep with it or be inspired to do the same.