If you’ve tried every diet going but the pounds still remain, maybe it’s time for a new approach. It seems that the answer to weight loss may not lay so much in what you eat, but how you eat it and why you eat it. If you want to lose weight you need to look beyond your calorific intake and start to investigate your attitude to food. ‘If you become aware of the psychological and emotional dynamics linked to eating, the tendency to overeat can be curtailed,’ says nutritionist Deborah Kesten, author of Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul (Conari Press). We’re looking at a new phenomenon – spiritual dieting.
Kesten is concerned that in our frantic modern-day society, food has been reduced to ‘fuel’ and that we think of nothing other than its basic nutritional value (or how delicious it tastes). But, she states, the human body is not a machine and many of the food-related issues that plague us – from overeating to anorexia – can be traced to our lack of awareness of the relationship between body and soul. She firmly believes that our problems with food come about because we have lost our spiritual connection to the food we eat.
Her theory is backed up by research: in the US scientists are finding that how food is prepared can actually affect its nutritional content. ‘Is it possible that food may receive, store and ‘give back’ to us the energy and consciousness that we give to our food?’ asks Kesten. The answer seems to be yes. Physicist Fred Alan Wolf PhD says we shouldn’t just be asking, ‘What nutrients are in the food?’ but rather, ‘What were you thinking about when you were eating?’ Researchers believe that by combining intention, visualisation and healing energy, food could be transformed – it could literally contain more vitality, more healing powers. It could be metabolised in the optimum way, making you fit, healthy and happy – rather than fat and miserable.
So the ‘spiritual diet’ doesn’t focus on lists of ‘good’ foods and forbidden foods. Rather it throws out two challenges. Firstly you need to transform the way you think about food – how you buy it, prepare it and how you eat it. Secondly, you need to learn how to connect to your true self and free yourself from being enslaved to food. Instead of turning to others and food for ‘the answer’ you need to learn to love and transform yourself, from the inside out. Sounds difficult? Not if you take it in two slow easy steps. Here’s how.
STEP ONE: Change your relationship to food
1. Practice ‘soul shopping’
– Spiritual food is fresh, seasonal and ideally organic. Follow the current trend and grow your own if you can – no matter how small your space, you could squeeze herbs and salads in window boxes or have trailing tomatoes in hanging baskets. Supplement with an organic box or shopping at farmers’ markets.
– Think about where your food has come from – imagine its original surroundings. Going back to basics will stop you craving processed and junk foods – do you really want to think about the origins of that pie? Once you’ve measured out all the fat, sugar and flour that goes into a cake, you might think twice before having a second or third slice.
– Choose your produce with care – pick up each vegetable, feel it, smell it. Find out where your meat grew up. The spiritual diet doesn’t need to be vegetarian – providing you eat with awareness and choose ethically produced meat.
2. Prepare and cook your food with awareness
Yogic chefs treat food preparation and cooking as a form of meditation and blessing and we could all do with following suit.
– Try not to race your cooking but take pleasure in its preparation. It can be the simplest of meals – a salad, soup, beans on toast – but be mindful of what you are doing.
– Put your intention to treat your body well and be kind to it into your cooking. Think of cooking as spiritual alchemy – you are turning basic foodstuffs into, not just fuel, but sustenance for your body, mind and spirit. Imagine you’re putting healing (and slimming) energy into every meal you cook.
3. Make mealtimes special
– Don’t gulp your food or eat standing up or shove a sandwich in your mouth with one hand, while flicking through web pages with the other. Mindless eating piles on the pounds.
– If you have time, lay the table and make it beautiful – a candle and some fresh flowers make a huge difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s just for you (in fact, all the more reason to make it special).
– Don’t read or watch television or work while you’re eating – focus on your food.
– Even if you don’t have time to lay the table properly, take time out to eat mindfully (see below) away from your desk or work.
4. Eat mindfully
Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, suggests practicing mindfulness as you eat to foster the correct relationship between your mind and your food. If you do practice this exercise with all your meals, your relationship to food will totally change.
– Look at a piece of food (say, a grape) – imagine you have never seen a grape before – what do you see?
– Now bring it to your nose and smell it. Notice what is happening in your mouth – how are you reacting to the anticipation of the food?
– Be aware of how your hand brings the grape to your mouth – how does it feel as it goes into your mouth? Bite consciously and slowly start to chew. How does it taste? What does it feel like in your mouth?
– Resist the urge to swallow until the grape is totally chewed. Once you do swallow be aware that you are now one grape heavier.
STEP TWO: Identify the true feelings, needs and wants behind your food issues
1. Keep a journal
– Whenever you’re overcome with the urge to eat – stop, identify and write down what it is you were thinking, feeling or doing.
– When does your need to eat intensify? Ask what feelings are percolating beneath the surface at that time. Anxiety? Loneliness? Depression? Panic? Sadness?
– If it’s hard to identify feelings, ask yourself what happened during the day. Did you feel socially inept? Arrive late for a meeting? Whatever surfaces, write it down. By identifying your thoughts and feelings, you can start to recognise the inner voices that can lead you to eat and not eat.
2. Take charge by talking back
– Once you start to recognise the voices that tell you what to do and how to feel you can talk back. If they’re telling you to buy a slab of chocolate, shout ‘No’ loudly. If they nag that you’re worthless and fat, tell them ‘That’s not true’ with conviction. A brief, direct ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ can be effective too.
– Inhale deeply to relax, close your eyes and visualise your trigger situation – for example, coming home after work, feeling lonely and hearing your inner voice telling you to scarf fish and chips to relieve the emptiness. Now talk back to your voice. Tell it you’re no longer willing to respond blindly to its orders anymore.
– Thank your voices for what they’ve been trying to do for you all these years (ie protect you from painful feelings). Then say goodbye and let them go.
3. Love yourself
– Appreciate and ‘be’ with yourself, instead of doing what those self-destructive voices are dictating. Speak to yourself with care and concern rather than judgement and anger.
– Take a walk instead of chomping on a biscuit. Stop eating because your body has told you it’s had enough. De-stress by meditating instead of munching on that slab of cheesecake.
– In short, find pleasure in being with yourself, rather than turning to food to avoid it.
A version of this feature first appeared in Natural Health magazine