“Half of nutrition is what you eat, but the other half is how you eat.” — Marc David
I have a vivid memory of writing in a cafe in Rishikesh, India as I nibbled from a plate of deep fried felafel, potatoes, fluffy pita bread, and creamy hummus, that I finally felt I was reconnected with joy of eating once again. I had eaten my way around town, and would often sit for hours in the same spot or find places off the beaten track as I wandered through the town.
Connect with food as a pleasurable experience; Rediscover the joy of food
When you eat out of pleasure, rather than being motivated to eat (or not) out of fear, the relaxed state youre in stimulates parasympathetic dominance and enhances your digestion and assimilation. Your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations all have a profound effect on the body and how it metabolizes anything you put into it through the senses (including what you watch and listen to!). A positive or negative relationship with food either enhances or inhibits the digestive process through the same channels of the nervous and endocrine systems. The way you relate to a food before you even start your meal has an effect on the messages your central nervous system delivers to the body, including what type of hormones and bio-chemicals are going to be released.
In order to digest and assimilate foods/nutrients properly, you actually have to ENJOY what you eat, so approaching your meals with an open mind and heart is not only instrumental in your enjoyment, but also your digestion and metabolism. This need is known as the cephalic phase digestive requirement, and it necessitates that what you eat is appetizing so that you’re literally drooling in anticipation. This is one of the reasons I’m a big advocate for connecting with food by cooking it. You build excitement by choosing the recipe, grocery shopping, preparing the foods, smelling and seeing it cook, and by the time it gets to your plate, you’ve already started the digestive process by stimulating your mind and body through the pleasure of preparation. 10 deep breaths to calm the mind and body helps to reduce stress and cortisol levels, and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. High cortisol (the stress hormone) blocks the parts of the brain that affect your experience of pleasure, so making sure you’re not stressed about your food is super important. You have to enjoy what you’re eating so you can connect and really get all the benefits of those foods, but nutritionally and emotionally.
So, cortisol and stress inhibit digestion by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which in effect pulls blood away from the digestive system and can actually trick the brain into believing it didn’t even eat at all! On the other hand, eating for pleasure cultivates feelings of relaxation and satisfaction that are essential in activating the parasympathetic nervous system to “rest and digest”.
Slow down and savour your food. Grow it when you can, or connect with the people who grow and sell your foods. Eat with people you love, in calm and peaceful spaces. Another practice I LOVE by Marc David is called the Forbidden Foods Inventory.
Doing an inventory of all the foods that give us pleasure allows us to play with our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” And once you’ve got your list, you can figure out how to include those foods in moderation in a way that works for you.
Let’s say pancakes are on your “Forbidden” list. You might decide that Sunday morning is when you’re going to have a couple pancakes and really enjoy them. Are you going to have unlimited pancakes seven days a week? That’s probably not the best thing for you. But conscious doses of pleasure throughout the day and the week put us in a place where we’re honoring our desires and at the same time nourishing our bodies in a thoughtful way.
Excerpt from Eating For Pleasure by Marc David
Increasing Your Pleasure Vocabulary
- What rules, thoughts, and beliefs do you have about food?
- Rewrite them and get clear on what you LOVE
- Align with your new beliefs through inspiration
Get into a practice that shows you how strong you are — body and mind!
This was absolutely instrumental for me in my own journey through body image issues and disordered eating. Yoga and meditation gave me a tool to deepen my intuition and connection to myself, so that I could make decisions informed by what I was actually feeling versus what I was afraid of. I developed skills like equanimity, acceptance, and self-love. I continue to look at the strength and grace of my body, and the tremendous potential within that and my mind, to cultivate transformation. Yoga and meditation might not be what resonates with you, but I am sure there’s something else that does. Something that makes you feel great, comfortable, empowered in your skin, and that keeps you motivated to make positive changes and choices for your health and wellness.
Speak to a professional
A really important piece of disordered eating and body image issues is that is can be rooted either in developmental trauma or a disregyulated nervous system. If it resonates with you, or you think you need a little more help figuring this stuff out, I recommend seeking out someone who either specializes in these issues, or works with regulating the nervous system. You might also like to find yourself a rad naturopath or holistic nutritionist!