“Ride the energy of your own unique spirit.” –Gabrielle Roth
I’m trudging into controversial territory this week. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to talk about the often simultaneously loved and dreaded topic of food. I won’t lie, I seem to be approaching the topic with mixed feelings. A part of me is jumping with glee saying, “FINALLY!”… and a much less enthusiastic part of me is squirming in a corner.
You see, food and I aren’t the best of friends. Although I couldn’t give you any stats, I’d say that I’m one of many who has struggled with food in one way or another. My story may be slightly different than others, but then again, aren’t we all individuals with our unique upbringings and struggles in the end? I would venture to say that as a society our relationship with food needs to change. We’ve ventured far beyond food as fuel and also beyond food as a savoured culinary delight. Some people have it balanced, but a lot of people are struggling with weight issues, eating disorders, digestive problems, and other health issues that may have a food related etiology or may in some way be related to or affected by diet. I’m not stating anything new here.
But, for all that has been said, there is yet territory that needs to really be covered and brought to the public consciousness lest we continue to suffer under our self-imposed tyranny. Okay, so I could elaborate on food in many different directions, but in this post I’m going to focus on how we need a shift in the way we see and treat food and that change has to come from somewhere far deeper than a diet book. And no, I’m not here to tell you to eat your fibre and avoid fats, or whatever other nutrition truisms you’ve heard in the past. Though as an important aside to that point, I’d like to say that the world of nutrition is so complex and intricate that if anyone gives you seemingly simple advice, even if corroborated by others, don’t accept it at face value. Nutrition is as grey as it gets, new findings come out all the time and more importantly than this last point is that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Now, I’m referring to this in the broadest sense possible, meaning from a health standpoint what works for one’s body, may not work for another, and also in terms of psychophysiological processes, the strategies work for one person to rectify their relationship with food, may not work for another.
I’ve run into a number of people who have been given seemingly sage nutritional guidance be it from health professionals or books that have ultimately failed to help the person. Another prevalent phenomenon is what I’m going to call word of mouth health dissemination. What I mean by that is when someone, be it your friend or someone you just met tells you, “oh, you’ve gotta try[this food product or that diet], it’s cured my mother of [whatever disease] and I’ve been on it and I feel fantastic.” There isn’t a real issue with this in itself. In fact, it can serve to benefit society in that it helps to inspire people to take their health into their own hands and be responsible for their well-being. I’m personally a big advocate for that, because there is no one out there who has quite as vested an interest in your well-being and health as you and no one out there is in your body, so you’re your best advocate. However, and this goes for EVERYTHING in life, a line can easily be crossed into dogmatism here when a health professional says you should do this or shouldn’t do that or even when some random person hands you over a suggestion or advice. If you accept it at face value you are entering into the dogma zone.
One of the major issues in our society is that we are disconnected from nature and by way of that we are very disconnected from the bodies that we live in. Contrary to popular belief, our bodies although influenced by and physiologically connected to our brains, are much closer in their true nature to nature itself, the land, the animals, the atmosphere, than our heads and by that I’m referring to our conscious minds. Our heads spend so much time in some elitist human mode, serving to categorize and compartmentalize everything in the world and thus serving to establish that we are separate from nature, when in fact we are not. We are as much part of nature as an elephant or a chimpanzee in our physical processes. We need to eat, sleep, we have sex, females give birth and then we die and fertilize the land. Our bodies are nature. Yes, our heads can influence our bodies, but beyond autonomic processes which happen automatically, we are only scratching the surface in how to consciously use our minds to influence our bodies. At present most of us are operating at the mercy of a cross between the whims of nature and our own untrained minds mindlessly influencing our bodies (often in less than ideal ways- google the effects of stress on the body to get a sense of what I’m referring to).
Now, what I’m advocating for is a true coming into the body and a true integration of mind, body and spirit beyond dogmatism and the need to be told what to do.This is a huge step for a society in the position that we are in and some may question, “what’s the point?” when it comes specifically to food when we have health professionals that can guide us to better nutrition. First, I’d like to say that this is beyond food, though our food issues are an embodied symptom of an imbalance in the way our society functions and approaches life and living. Second, I say this from my personal experience and from having spoken to others, not from a scientific vantage point, but what works for one person even if said to work for many according to a study, may not work for each individual.
To dive a wee bit into my own life experience here, I remember being told to eat yogurt to help my digestive tract have enough probiotics. That advice given to me from an intern at the doctor’s office, despite the fact that I could simply no longer tolerate plain yogurt in the least. I was further told by other professionals that I needed to take a full spectrum probiotic supplement, which I took for months on end with no success and only worsening problems, only to realize upon stopping it that the probiotic supplements themselves were aggravating my system terribly. And only later, I was able to discover that it was certain strains that were greatly aggravating this, but other strains were actually helping me.
Now, yes, definitely do your own research– that’s good. But, remember that dogma trap. Six years ago, raw veganism was where is was at for me. All the research I was doing on the internet was pointing in this direction. Are you fatigued and tired? Try raw veganism. Do you have digestive problems? Raw veganism is the natural way to eat so your problems will go away. Heart problems? Are you overweight? Can’t think clearly? Raw, raw, raw veganism! Now I’m not saying this to sarcastically bash raw veganism in any way. What I am trying to say is that an approach which was touted by so many to be uber helpful did not work for me personally. And so this is one of the pitfalls of putting your faith into approaches and systems that are outside of yourself. They may seem convincing, they may be helpful for some people, but they may not be what is right for you. And, many people come to that point where they feel they’ve tried so hard to no avail. It’s a pretty deflating feeling because you realize that something that works for seemingly everyone else is not working for you and then feelings of hopelessness may start to set in.
However, I believe that there is a solution to this and it actually lies in the underlying philosophy that permeates much of what I write about. I alluded to earlier that we are disconnected from our bodies. We are, for the most part, so caught up in modern day life, that we have lost touch with the pulse of life and the rhythms that reverberate through us. The key for many of the problems we face be it food issues or anything else lies in re-establishing a healthy connection to ourselves and to nature.
One thing that I found really helpful was meditation. I know this sounds horribly generic, but meditation and I’d venture to say any type, opens your mind up to insights and it opens up your intuition. It’s strange, but many of the most wild, yet best insights came to me either while in meditation or in times when I had a regular meditative practice going on. Sometimes the “answers” were very direct instructions, and then other times I’d be shown a finger pointing in a particular direction to follow a stream of research that led to some answers. And finally, my intuition heightened. What would work and what wouldn’t work (in my case it was a matter of determining which foods I’d be able to tolerate and which I wouldn’t) eventually became less of a trial and error process and more of an intuitive process.
“A true master follows her own footprints, encoded within her before arriving in this incarnation. Someone else may remind her, someone else may in-power her, but no one else can possibly know the unique contours of her own true-path. Since you are the only one living in your temple, only you can know its scriptures and interpretive structure. The next step is right there inside you, divinely imprinted on the souls of your feet.” –Jeff Brown
So at the end of the day, I am advocating for a change in how we approach life. We can approach life using systems outside of us to determine what is right for us and what isn’t. Or, we can approach it by tuning into our inner compass. Truly, I think as long as we put all our faith in systems and guides that are outside of us, we will not be on the right path for ourselves. Only when we learn to come back into our bodies and we learn to listen to the pure voice within that speaks our truth (no, not the multitude of voices that our mind has appropriated from all that is outside of us- those voices can be quite pervasive by the way) will we be able to rectify our relationship with food and with all other areas of imbalance in our lives. This takes work and it’s not about being at that point, but of journey of getting there. I can say that 4 years ago day-to-day living was a great challenge for me, but in implementing what I’ve mentioned above, I have been able to transform my life. It may not be “perfect” (what is “perfection” anyways?), but I can say it is a very liveable and pleasant life and I am overjoyed and filled with gratitude with the strides that I have made. And so, I hope that these words help someone out there and I wish you the best of success along your path.
[Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nebulux/6302344057/in/photostream/]