I have spent most my life eating at the kitchen sink. Literally. Even as a chef (or especially; I don’t know which) I rarely sit down and enjoy a meal with my friends and family at an actual table with actual silverware and actual time to enjoy the experience. I spend hours and hours creating a dining event for other people every day and never enjoy one myself. I grab the first thing at hand (usually bread) and slather it with the second thing at hand (hummus…romesco…tapenade…eggplant dip …you get the idea) and call it a meal. My justification is that I taste all day long so I don’t really need to eat…
And while I am getting enough to eat calorically (although definitely not nutritionally) I am not doing something equally important and that is feeding my soul. As a survivor of years upon years of relentless yoyo dieting and an alphabet soup of eating disorders I still have not learned how to do the one thing well that is most essential and that is to actually feed myself.
As Americans we consume most of our meals by food that has been either handed to us through a car window, alone standing in front of the microwave or in our cubicle spilling ketchup and crumbs between spreadsheets. Food becomes merely a vehicle for existence not a primary sensual and spiritual pleasure. Our health suffers; our soul suffers and let’s face it our ass suffers. We clamp on to each new foodie trend in dieting; high protein low carbohydrate, low fat, plant based, carnivore, caveman…with the ferocious passion of zealots and yet we do not think about food as a long term relationship but more a furtive and illicit affair. Most diets work short term: calories in, calories out, it is simple as a mathematical equation. What diets are not taking into account is that far too many people are having a furtive relationship with food rather than taking it out of the closet and putting it front and center into the evening, the family, and the dining room table.
In examining our relationship with food one of the most important things to ask ourselves is why we eat that way in addition to what we do when we eat. Part of the process of remaking our relationship with food is to redefine the way we view the actual event and eliminate that which does not nourish our soul as well as our body. Your body wants to be well. Your body also wants to be its ideal weight so each day that you give your body clean nourishing soul sustaining food it is repairing and regenerating positive growth and healthy energy. Clearly the most important thing you can do for yourself is give permission for this healing and growth to occur. The process of deliberate eating is channeling and directing this positive energy to its greatest possible benefit. You are allowing yourself to eat appropriately and in a nutritionally satisfying manner and more importantly you are allowing yourself to enjoy the experience.
Most traditional cultures observe some sort of divine appreciation at the beginning of the meal and enjoy the event of eating with friends and family as part of the social fabric. Food is a part of the cultural identity, an integral part of communal entertainment as well as woven into religious rituals and cultural practices. If you look at the cultures in any one of the identified Blue Zones (areas of the world with exceptionally long life expectancies) you will see that each one revolves around the dinner table as the centerpiece of the important ceremonies of the day. Food is made from scratch, formalized by ceremony and shared by community.
There are a couple of questions that you should ask yourself as you depart on a ‘diet’ of deliberate eating. Do you savor each and every bite taking time to chew slowly and enjoy the experience or do you bolt your food finishing every last morsel like we are competing for a land speed record? As a chef I sometimes get lost in the flavors and essence of a dish and this communion is one of the most exciting parts of my job. Tasting, really tasting, every subtlety brings a whole new awareness to what you are eating. But the last time I had dinner with my family did I give that same intent preoccupation to each mouthful?
Are you eating alone? Oftentimes the idea of eating alone is so distasteful that we pretend we are not doing it. Do it while occupied with almost anything else. Personally my favorite places to eat are in the bathtub, in the sink, on the computer, and in bed all the while doing something else to occupy myself from the fact that I am consuming food. Having a happy marriage has changed this habit for the better but I notice that when I am without children or husband I revert to my old habits. The defined eating place in your home should be separate from your other activities. (Typing with one hand on the computer keyboard while trying to consume calories is not sustenance)
Do you eat with utensils? The ceremony of eating is part of the intrinsic sensual enjoyment of the process. Laying out the table with cloth, cutlery, chopsticks, and candles and giving the event the sense of circumstance that it deserves. Even if only for ourselves; making it a dining event makes it an act of deliberation.
Do you eat with the ceremony and intention of appreciating the divine source of your sustenance? Many religions and traditional cultures observe the ritual thanking the source for their sustenance. By acknowledgement or prayer we appreciate that we are stewards and recipients of this gift and become less willing to take for granted. One of the profound growth periods of my philosophy of deliberate eating came when I was pregnant with my daughter. Realizing that I was the vehicle for her growth, wellbeing and nourishment made it more possible for me to focus on my own. At a time that is traditionally challenging for most women to see their changing bodies and forms I was able to embrace mine in a way that was far removed from my bulimarexic body dysmorphia.
By simply changing how we eat, we are also more focused on what we are putting in our body. No longer does a boxed restaurant combo meal fit the bill for the slow savoring of each and every deliberate mouthful. In fact, if we are thanking the divine source for nourishment then let’s actually do the work of making sure what goes on the plate is fulfilling and nutritionally complete. If we are going to enjoy the event with our family and friends then it seems worthy of the time and effort required for preparation of a home cooked meal rather than one from a box or carton served through a car window.
Take the Deliberate Eating Challenge and plan what and when you are going to eat as well as where and with whom. Try it for one week and at the end assess whether this worked for you. No matter what eating plan you are following (and as a chef I have a million opinions but have never once claimed to be a nutritionist) treat a balanced eating plan as the center of the plate. Even if you live alone make each meal a conscious action by focused preparation, eating with ceremony and slowly savoring every morsel. Note your physical reaction to your food. Note your emotional reaction to treating food with gratitude. Plan the event as if you were inviting someone very special to dinner (you are: you) and treat the event with the ceremony and gravity it deserves.
What follows is a menu that is filled with cleansing foods and ritual. This is also a detoxing and light menu for one full day that is low in calories but loaded with antioxidants and nutritionally complete whole foods.
Organic green tea or tea you prefer that is herbal and decaffeinated (I love raspberry/pomegranate)
Half dozen different pieces of fruit that are in season (a couple of extras)
One pint of organic berries
One organic lemon
One whole grain (try something new like kamut or spelt or quinoa)
One organic sweet potato (baked the night before in a 350 degree oven wrapped in foil for 30 minutes)
1 knob of fresh ginger
One bunch organic carrots
One head of organic leaf lettuce
Organic GMO free extra firm tofu or other protein of your choice that is organic
Rice noodles or bean thread
Asian Greens such as Bok Choy or Peas shoots or bean sprouts
One bunch of Scallions
Pantry: rice wine vinegar, tamari, sesame seeds, sesame oil, sake, nutmeg, vegetable stock, sparkling water, almond milk, fresh fruit juice
Upon waking examine how your body feels. Are you hungry? As you allow yourself to look inward at your physical condition drink one cup of organic green tea with a slice of lemon infused in the cup. Allow the tea to work its way through your system and select one piece of ripe fruit in season and cut it into one inch segments or chunks and prepare one cup of whole grains. This can be oatmeal, quinoa, kasha etc. Choose a grain you either enjoy only occasionally or something you have never tried. Take a departure from your usual breakfast tradition and eat both the cooked grain and the fruit while sitting silently and savoring each mouthful. Examine the different flavors and textures. Eat slowly enough to feel the food and nourishment begin to reach your digestive system and boost your blood sugar.
Mid morning/afternoon remove the baked sweet potato from the refrigerator and mash (what to do with skin is up to you) with one teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and sprinkle of nutmeg and teaspoon agave nectar. Bake until warmed through in 350 degree oven for twenty minutes. Eat in your chosen eating place. Take as long to eat as it took to bake. Try to quiet your mind to ‘neutral’ if possible or by playing music that is soothing. Drink sparkling water with squeeze of lemon or fresh spring water.
Mid day/late lunch make yourself a power smoothie with one cup of berries, one piece of fresh fruit in season and 1/2 cup of fresh fruit juice and one ½ cup of almond milk.
Mid afternoon prepare ginger soy dressing with one tsp grated ginger, one tablespoon grated carrot, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, one tablespoon toasted sesame oil, one tsp toasted sesame seeds and one tsp tamari. Shake or whisk to mix. Toss two cups of freshly torn greens, sliced scallion, cucumber and shitakes with dressing. Again quiet your mind and spend at least as long as it took you to make the dressing to eat the salad in your eating place. Drink sparkling water with squeeze of lemon or fresh spring water.
Late afternoon prepare yourself another cup of green tea and piece of diced fresh fruit. Drink and eat with ceremony and deliberateness.
For dinner you can choose your protein of either seafood or plant based. You are going to prepare an
Asian Noodle bowl with your favorite ingredients. The base of the broth is per person:
Broth Ingredients: 2 cups vegetable broth, 1 smashed stalk of lemongrass (releases the oil to smash it) 3 slices ginger or 1 tsp grated, ¼ cup sake, ½ tsp Siracha (optional).
Bowl Ingredients: 1 cup tender greens as in baby bok choy or pea shoots or sugar snap peas etc. and your choice of ½ cup thinly sliced of roots as in carrots or kohlrabi or turnips or even shitakes. All greens can be mixed up and you may put in as many types of vegetables as you like. Focus on the Asian Choys since they are loaded with vitamin C and calcium.
Also pick 4 ounces of protein either tofu or seafood and ½ cup (cooked amount) of either rice noodles or bean thread.
Directions: Bring broth ingredients to a boil. Simmer ingredients until ginger and lemongrass have released their aromas and flavors, remove pieces. Drop in noodles and root vegetables for three minutes add protein for two minutes then soft greens for another two minutes. Finally top with bean sprouts and scallion if you wish.
You will have noticed at this point that you are feeling hunger pains sporadically. The volume of food that you have eaten for this one day is probably less than you are used to. If you are eating dinner alone then eat slowly enough to allow your digestive system to catch up with the food as it is being absorbed. If you are eating with company savor the conversation as much as the meal. Plan to spend more time at the dinner table that it took to prepare the feast. Be thankful for each mouthful that you take and really feel the hunger become satiety. Eat slowly enough to feel your stomach begin to fill. Drink more spring water or green tea or sparkling water with squeeze of lemon.
One of the goals of a deliberate eating Detox is to reboot your system to recognize hunger and signals of satiety. We have gotten in the habit of literally bolting or shoving our food into our mouths and then running to the next activity or demand on our time that we are unable to recognize and appreciate the delight of truly enjoying the source of our sustenance. Deliberate Eating allows you to rethink your bodies need and signals in a way that is life affirming as well as freeing from the enslavement of calorie counting and dieting. If you wish to have more information on deliberate eating visit my BlogSpot or enroll in my wellness program at myhobos.com.