Our Perfectly Imperfect, Hyper Dramatic Relationship with Food

I live in New York City. The world capital of type-A personality, the foodie movement and the place with the largest amount of dieters per capita (statistical data based on personal observations, so don’t bother with google). It is quite interesting how many people are willing to stand in line for brunch, make reservations 2 months in advance to eat at the most recently reviewed restaurant, how many Manhattanites own sous vides, know chefs’ first names, and how most of those people are also terrified of food, and miserably feeling that eating is like borrowing money from a bank and thinking they must pay back by going to the gym ASAP to avoid criminal charges.

Why can’t we just love food truly, deeply, fully? Why can’t we leave dieting out of the equation? Why do we have to keep searching for the secret ingredient in French sauces that allow people to eat happily and not gain weight?  

The problem is that we’re looking in the wrong place! It’s not an ingredient, a nutrient, a magical fat, organic farming, nor the phytochemicals in wine.

It’s about not giving food powers it doesn’t have!!!. Instead of finding pleasure in what we are eating, we’re taking ourselves on an interstellar gilt trip. And in the meantime, while we’re plotting how to lose the future weight gain or penalizing ourselves for our lack of will power, we’re missing the opportunity to enjoy the magic that happens when you eat good food: the sensual experience and the sharing that goes on when we eat with others. Then food looses its main sources of nourishment: nutritional, social and emotional. 

We are so busy worrying, that we miss the opportunity to enjoy. Did you know that our digestion actually starts in the brain? The engines of our digestive tract get turned on when our eyes see the food, our nose smells it, our taste buds sense it and our brain registers it as an upcoming eating experience. It tells the vagus nerve to get the digestive juices going. It’s called the cephalic phase of digestion, and if we don’t allow it time and focus (if we’re stressed and distracted when we are starting to eat, this first step of our digestion gets severely affected), our whole digestive process gets affected. We lose digestive efficiency (that can lead to indigestion), and to a lower production of hydrochloric acid and certain enzymes, which can affect our feeling of satiety, and our capacity to absorb nutrients diminishes. We are designed to experience a meal as pleasure, and if we prevent ourselves from doing so, we only affect our bodies negatively.

Guilt is a form of stress, and when our body is under the stress response, our physiology responds with weak digestion, and a lower calorie burning capacity. By not being aware of the eating experience, we’re not present. Fighting all the voices in our mind talking about the imagined consequences of eating not only causes stress, but our innate need for pleasure goes empty-handed. Our body then asks for more food, because it needs the pleasure to relax and produce the hormones and neurotransmitters that make us keep wanting to stay alive, feel cozy, excited, and make us feel life is worth it. When we don’t satisfy those needs of ours, we feel we need an endless amount of food and we feel like gluttons. The secret is instead, to become a gourmand. To enjoy the food slowly, small amounts of pleasure, with finesse, with time, with joy, with awareness. 

We also stay hungry if we just eat over-processed food with very little nutrients, because our body needs those nutrients as the raw materials to repair, renew, grow, protect, and replenish each one of our tissues. From the brain, to the gut lining, our nails, and our arteries…

We live constantly being scared of our body. We fear that it will betray us and get sick. We are terrified it will gain a crazy amount of weight. We don’t trust it, and we neglect it. It asks us for food because it needs nutrition and pleasure, but we only give it a fraction of it, or we give it a fake kind of them. No winder the body speaks to us through its own language: bloating, constipation, exhaustion, depression, aches, pimples, hair loss, weight gain, pain. We worry even more (and worry is stress), and we just keep trapped in the vicious cycle.

Bringing in awareness and accepting and honoring the pleasure of food, while finding the joy of wholesome foods is the key into relaxing our relationship with food, and it is in a state of relaxation where our wellbeing takes place.

Here’s what I propose to get started, you can start today:

  1. Before you begin eating, take a look at your food, knowledge it, appreciate it, say a quick blessing. Smell it and taste it. Take your time!

  2. Chew as slowly as you possibly can. Feel the taste bring in joy. Tell the inside voices of your head to go feed the meter outside, you’ll be OK by yourself for a bit.

  3. Ask your body how hungry it is (you can do this at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the meal). See note below. And decide if you want to keep eating. Listen and honor what your body tells you. Trust it.

Hunger Scale:

We need to regain communication with our bodies again. Some of us have even forgotten how hunger feels, and it’s very important we re-learn this indispensable skill. All we need to do is give it awareness, attention and a tiny bit of time. It’s very helpful to use a 1 to 10 scale:

1 starving/famished (I-would-eat-anything-or-anyone-in-front-of-me or I’ll pass out right here)

2 super duper hungry/faint-y

3 very hungry and I should eat, but I can still think and not be evil

4 hungry but still comfortable

5 I should eat later

6 I still feel as if I had eaten recently

7 Satisfied to the point of energy

8 Full

9 Stuffed

10 I feel sick, need to unbutton my pants NOW or I’ll burst

Ideally, we should aim at staying between 3 and 8, never getting below or above those. 4-7 would be fabulous!

Winter Fennel Salad With Citrus Dressing and Bee Pollen Sprinkles

Although still simple and easy to prepare, this salad is full of brightness. It cuts through the dullness of winter, while it aids our body detoxify (beets, citrus) and enhance digestion (fennel). The bee pollen adds a lovely floral flavor and these tiny granules pack a ton of nutrients. They contain complete protein (rarely seen in a non-animal sources), they are an excellent source of vitamin A, and contain B complex vitamins, as well as vitamin C, zinc, iron and magnesium. Bee pollen is wonderful for boosting immunity, it is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and helps relief stress, among many other attributes. Make sure you eat it slowly and enjoying!

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1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly in a mandoline

3 small cucumbers, sliced thinly in a mandoline

1 candy cane beet (aka Chioggia), well scrubbed and sliced in mandoline (peel on and still raw)

2 limes, juiced

2 to 3 clementines, juiced

Maldon sea salt flakes, to taste

Coarse black pepper, to taste

Great quality extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons bee pollen

1 teaspoon sumac

1/4 cup shelled pistachios

Variations:

Add 1 can drained cannelloni beans (EDEN brand preferably) and/or cubed flesh or 1 avocado

  1. In a large bowl, place fennel, cucumbers and beets. Add lime and juice of 2 clementines. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
  2. Mix everything well and taste for seasoning. Add more olive oil, clementine juice and/or salt, if needed.
  3. Sprinkle bee pollen and sumac and toss gently. Taste for seasoning again and adjust, if needed. Add in beans and avocado, if using. Let marinate for 15 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle pistachios and enjoy.

NOTE: Bee pollen stays fresh for up to 1 year in the refrigerator.

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