It’s No Song & Dance
By Ali Valdez
Currently, my young daughter is feverishly rehearsing for her upcoming play, Oliver! Yes, the one with the impoverished little Brit boldly asking for “more porridge.”
Oliver is in the work house, scared and alone, without family or means. But all the kids get in dining hall queue is “gruel”.
But our views on food are not always what they should be, especially when aspects of our lives seem incomplete. Emotionally, so many of us have an inner Oliver. We are simply waiting in line anticipating someone else to fulfill our soul’s longings and desires. What we sometimes get when those needs remain unmet feels like the hard clank of a spoon against a tin plate: cold and unsatisfying.
Oliver and the boys yearn for custards, sausages, and mustards. I see these not just as indulgent foods swimming about the grumbling tummies and imaginations of hungry boys, but also a metaphoric dearth of those who possess a hunger to be loved and secure. Food becomes our absentee lover, the merits of our unappreciated outputs.
Our outward pursuits can never truly satisfy our deepest interior needs. We seldom want to do the hard work, reluctant to rend the heart and take the journey.
Having just recently concluded this year’s forty day challenge, I have a few first time revelations about eating and my relationship to food. Although I have countless hours of study in Ayurveda, diet and nutrition studies, I still cannot get a grip on why I approach food the way I do. In each session, I do well during the forty days, being faithful to my system and I see benefits around how I eat. But the challenge is about many things, and food is my weak link in it all. But I do it; however…
Admittedly, it is an intellectual exercise.
Day forty one, I am driving back to Starbucks for a latte. Day forty two, I am back eating out with friends. Determined, I wanted to do better, authentically and holistically transform. This year and with grace and the inspiration of the women in the group with me, I feel like I have come a few steps closer.
Here is what I learned and may it help and inspire you.
Food for me wears many hats. It has become my ally when I am stressed out, my companion when I am bored, my collaborator and partner in crime when I am working like a dog on mental overdrive. Food spoils me when I feel neglected, even self-neglected due to a mountain of responsibilities. I never thought eating would be my “problem” because I am not an emotional eater and can rationalize everything. I think that is where I went wrong in my personal approach to diet and eating.
What I realized is food should serve needs,yes. Just different needs, serve in a higher order.
Maybe this is why my program doesn’t always sustain well for me on the diet side as well as the other six dimensions of the challenge which now run like clockwork.
I am not good at peering into my life via an emotional lens. Of course, I am not an emotional eater because I don’t operate well from the emotional body. This recently changed and so have my eating habits.
Although I don’t tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, I do have feelings and they override my rational side much more often than I give them credit.
As a Taurus, I will never be one to say food is fuel. That sounds super depressing. But food doesn’t need to wear the hats that I have assigned it. It should satisfy one though: it should bring me peace.
- Food brings me peace when I prepare it myself in my kitchen, prepared by my own hands. I know how to cook and enjoy doing it. For years when I lived in Santa Barbara, I walked to the Farmers Market on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings and stocked up. If I didn’t grow it or prepare it at home, it didn’t make its way onto my plate. I glowed. I also had zero cellulite. Friends loved coming over, often times with food in hand in its raw form, begging for the gift of culinary cultivation.
- Food brings me peace when I am caring for myself. From Santa Barbara, I chased the high tech dream up north to Seattle and soon the global traveling lifestyle of a high-tech executive rewired my brain. Let’s roll call the excuses because that is what they are: I need to work; I need to think; I am too busy to enjoy connecting to my food; I need to entertain clients. In short, someone else needs to cook for me and I am spoiled for choice, so I will pick what I want when I want it. Anyone who has walked this road knows this is not a sustainable lifestyle and the health implications need no restatement.
- Food brings me peace when it is a focused activity. Restaurants these days are wall to wall with televisions. When not looking up, people are looking down compulsively on their phones. What people are not doing well anymore is looking forward, eye to eye. I am seeing the wireless world taking hold of my focus. With this comes distraction and a lack of mindfulness of what I am ordering.
- Food brings me peace when I feel great after eating it. Nothing feels better than feeling nourished and vibrant after eating high quality, healthy food. I feel like I can tackle the world and have the stamina and endurance I need.
Going forward, I am moving away from making food my entertainment, my comforter when times are tough, an enabler to my poor work habits, and my indulger when I feel like I am entitled to something. This is the first time that I have gone the entire forty day challenge, as an example, without any coffee. Typically, I may have one or two. It has been over three weeks since the challenge ended and I have lost the desire for the warm, creamy, sweet and caffeinated liquid gold of Starbucks. Hot chocolate, too.
I seriously thought I would NEVER get over that living in the Pacific Northwest.
My eating habits have been radically improved but mostly this time more of it is sustaining after the challenge. I consumed less gluten and increasingly less sugar than ever. I am losing my sugar craving almost all together. Enough of the metaphors already and let’s get down to brass tacks. Here is how I am doing it.
I am blocking time each weekend, a bit on Saturday and a bit on Sunday to be proactive and productive in my own kitchen with batch prepping and meal planning. I prep days’ worth of meals in advance, all balanced, organic and healthy. It’s getting fun as I gain the efficiency producing roasted chicken, grilled salmon, hard boiled eggs, quinoa, wild rice, and about a half dozen different salads and roasted veggies at a go. When I leave or get home, something is waiting for me. There are now few excuses.
The reduction in preservatives, MSG, sodium and fats will make a huge difference is looking and feeling better. Financially, my expenses should go down. Overall, I see this as a win-win.
But let’s face it, not all of us can be Bobby Flay at the grill or some cute Food Network butterflying chicken breasts.
Here are some ideas.
I Can’t Cook Gal: Recipes on Epicurious.com, NomNom paleo and other apps can help those that aren’t intuitive in the kitchen to create new ideas. It’s bad enough if you don’t enjoy cooking. It’s even worse when your food sucks to subject yourself to an infernal quotidian of bummer dining.
I Am Too Busy: If you’re in need of a daily dose of all the good stuff, but don’t have tons of time each morning, supplement with a healthy shake. Find solutions such as Shakeology and add greens like frozen kale or spinach and organic berries and seeds. Save a third of it for when you get a mid day crash and burn and drink the rest then.
I Forget or Lack Discipline: Keeping a food journal or getting into an accountability group also helps. The participants in the forty day challenge set their own goals across seven different aspects of their journey. We always find success supporting one another.
Being open to checking in with your emotions and seeing what triggers (family, relationships, etc.) ignite your triggers and develop a plan. If I can do this, I KNOW, you can do this, too.
Whenever your inner Oliver is asking for more please, pause and see if you can identify what’s really going on. I know hot sausage and mustard, while we’re in the mood, cold jelly and custard sounds like a great idea when the hunger, stress or emotional pangs set in. But you can combat the churlish workhouse brutes by having your prepared meals ready to go and water bottle full. There is always more to your meaningful life than just food, glorious good.