At first glance, you may read this title as a total skeptic. How can food feed, or in this case, heal your emotions? When experiencing anger, tension or stress, we often identify an outside source as the cause of our pain. I’m angry because I got cut off in traffic....
Do you believe that the food you eat is medicine for your body? According to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda, food—herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, even animal products—contributes to the state of your health.
I grew up with debilitating allergies and asthma. When I was in my 20s I decided I didn’t want to visit a doctor for a prescription every time I needed to get my ability to breathe under control. I had hope that by learning MORE about the body I inhabit, I could develop the skills and understanding to take better care of myself.
Our culture doesn’t teach us how to be familiar with our bodies. There is so much information we aren’t taught about food because our society has lost touch with the food itself. It’s easy to take for granted: if you are reading this, it is likely that you’ve have access to enough food your entire life. It’s likely that you will never need to learn how to grow your own kale, raise your own chickens, milk your own cows. Our food culture distances us from understanding how and when food grows, and the qualities and character that make a carrot a carrot, not a piece of lettuce.
Respecting food and your body begins with understanding and familiarity. Many of us don’t have the time to get dirty in a garden, much less spend hours at the supermarket and in our kitchens trying to figure it all out. Knowledge is no small task, but is it worth it to remain in the dark about the your own body in exchange for your health and happiness?
Personally, I didn’t think sacrificing my ability to breathe for an easy and potentially toxic diet was worth it. In our culture, we are taught to look for a quick solution. Body image ideals demand that we look a certain way NOW instead of learning and growing and evolving into our bodies over time. Culture tells us the body you are supposed to have is somebody you will never be: it’s a photograph in a magazine, a model in an ad, a celebrity on TV. It’s a lose-lose situation. The images we identify with and the foods that are marketed to us block us from truly taking care of ourselves. We get trapped in a cycle of unhealthy behaviors because we aren’t given the tools or support to take of who we are now.
As soon as I began to pay attention to who I already am—the body I live in NOW—I began to understand how my own body worked, how it responded to different foods and herbs, sleeping habits and seasons.
This is where self-care begins: paying attention. I call it getting familiar with who you are. Like a scientist in the field, you are able to observe how your body reacts when you eat a cheeseburger and fries at 11pm. How do you sleep afterwards? How do you wake up in the morning? How do you start to judge yourself and react to your own choices? When you start to pay attention, you will begin to notice which foods are medicine, and which foods are poison.
Developing this awareness may seem tedious. Like anything, with practice, self-awareness becomes natural. After some time, your friends will start to remark how well you care for yourself. You’ll sleep better, lose your temper less, have less anxiety, because you’ll KNOW your own triggers.
When I began paying attention to how my body reacted to different foods, I found out that garlic and mushrooms and caffeine were the culprits of my gastro-intestinal distress and that I’d wake up congested after drinking beer or eating ice cream. Knowing this information gave me the power to choose how I felt based on the experience I was willing to have. Did I stop eating ice cream? No way! Ice cream is my favorite food. Do I eat ice cream occasionally, fully aware that I’m likely to experience some congestion afterwards? Definitely. Self-awareness is more than knowing “I want to eat ice cream”. Self-awareness is the understanding that acting on your feelings/desires entails consequences.
Getting familiar with your body certainly takes patience. Your physical body is made up of millions of cells, each performing different tasks. It would take a lifetime to fully understand everything. Fortunately, eastern healing practices like Ayurveda have thousands of years of understanding and observation to help you along the way. Ayurveda has created a systematic way of understanding the digestive effect of a food substance on your body. Together, with an understanding of your own self, you can learn which foods will nourish and heal your body and which foods will be harmful.
Fabulous food is a priority for me. I am also unwilling to sacrifice flavor for health. That’s why I practice Ayurveda and Holistic Health Counseling and work as a private chef.
There is even better news. Some foods are simply wonderful. Modern food fads refer to certain “super-foods” that seem to have superpowers. Indeed, the effect these foods have on the body is quite apparent and intense. Consider for a moment the possibility that any food possesses superpowers, and thus has the ability to transform your body for better or worse. When prepared in the right way, eaten in the right quantity and at the right time, a bowlful of lentil soup can make you feel amazing or bloated and gassy. Eating a small handful of soaked and peeled almonds can give you amazing energy and stamina but eating several handfuls of unsoaked raw almonds will make you feel tired and sluggish. It is the respect that you bring to your food and eating habits that can transform a food from something that fills your belly, to super-powered.
My recipe for Date-Saffron-Almond Elixir that I mentioned at the beginning of this post can be found below. The ingredients in this sweet and tasty beverage nourish your tissues, enhance your vitality, give your energy and stamina, and help create a healthy glow in your skin, hair and eyes. It is fantastic as a breakfast smoothie, midday pick-me-up, or to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Practicing self-awareness is quite simply, a practice. Surrounded by cultural influences that take us out of our bodies and steer us towards our impulses, it can be helpful to be part of a community of people with shared values. That is why I regularly host a seasonal Ayurveda Reset + Renew Wellness Program: a 2-week program for individuals looking to redirect their self-care and learning how to experience wellness everyday through mindful eating and lifestyle habits. The most critical component of this program is the community aspect: it is important to know that you are not alone, to share your insights and experiences, successes and failures, and to hold each other accountable. Our collective knowledge is enhanced when we commit to evolving as a group. My next Wellness Program will take place in fall 2017, stay tuned to sign up for the early bird rate.
This weekend, give yourself the care you deserve. Give yourself permission to enjoy the body you live in. Feel the sun on your skin, the breeze in your hair. Give gratitude for the gift of your awareness—your ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
For all doshas, Kaphas consume in moderation.
- 2 medjool dates, pitted and soaked
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 pinch saffron threads, soaked for 5 minutes
- ½ tsp cardamom, ground
- ¼ cup raw almonds, soaked separately and skins removed
- 1-2 cups filtered water
- pinch of sea salt
In a Vitamix, or high speed blender (or whatever you can get your hands on!) blend soaked and peeled almonds with 1 cup of water until the almonds have been pulverized. Strain liquid through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove the solids. Reserve the ground almond pulp for baking a flourless chocolate cake.
Pour remaining almond “milk” back into blender, add dates, chia seeds and saffron, cardamom, and pinch of salt. Blend on high until mixture is smooth and creamy. Taste for desired texture and sweetness. If the mixture is too thick simply add more water. Refrigerate to chill.
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