Eating Like a Yogi

On a recent trip to Indiana, I ate some yummy things, but they probably weren’t the best things for me.   The trip, and the aftermath (stomach problems, a few extra pounds) has me thinking about food – and trying to think about thinking about it (meta-thinking?) in a more healthy way.

As many people who know me well know, I do not have a history of a healthy relationship with food.  At 44 now, I would say that I have been “eating disordered” for three decades plus.  The extent, type, and severity of the issue has changed over time.  There have been times when the label of anorexia fit; there have been times when it was probably more bulimia.  And, there have been times when it’s been more like your garden variety I-am-a-woman-and-have-to-be-size-X obsession.  There have been times when I’ve been overweight and times when I’ve been underweight.  I’m not proud of this history, but I’m not ashamed of it either (good thing, since I’m blogging about it).  It is what it is.  There isn’t any point in feeling bad about the past or in worrying about the causes, or fretting over how it will impact me in the future.  The task is to figure out a better relationship with food in each and every day.

I’ve also been a practicing vegetarian for going on 15 years, and a vegan for several (5? 6?).  While being vegan or vegetarian often correlates with a healthier way of eating, it’s not the dietary label or restrictions that produce the healthy eating.  In fact, a person can be a vegan and eat nothing but potato chips and popsicles.  Rather, I suspect that often people who elect to become vegetarian or vegan are also people who cultivate a more healthy relationship toward food.

In thinking about that healthy relationship to food, I have been considering the relationship of yoga, and the yogic way of life, to eating.  What does this mean?  Well, to me, the practice of yoga is much about doing what serves the body and mind (and through that, the larger universal).  Yoga teachers can often be heard to tell yoga students to focus their energy or their selection of poses on “that which serves you.”  So, I am trying to think about what serves me in my eating and relationship to food.

In an example of how this unfolds in my life, today I wanted a handful of potato chips.  I really did.  But, I reminded myself to think about how eating that food does (or does not) serve me.  Would it serve me in the joy of the taste for that moment?  Possibly, yes.  But, probably not for a whole handful.  Would it serve me in the calories needed to provide fuel for the body and mind to function?  Yes.  Would it serve me in nutrients that keep the body healthy and mind sound?  No.  Would it serve me in healthy fats that are needed for the functioning of the brain, and regulation of hormones?  No.  Would it serve me in the fiber that the body requires to maintain a healthy digestive system?  Would it serve me in avoiding artery clogging cholesterol?  No.  Really, there are few ways that potato chips would serve me.  And sometimes, the fact that they bring joy in the the moment is enough.  Today, however, it wasn’t.  After considering what the taste was that I wanted/needed, I concluded that it was probably salt.  So, I had 1 chip and then with dinner, I had an ear of corn with sea salt.  It was delicious and serves my body in more ways.

I don’t always manage this type of reflective and mindful eating.  In fact, I probably manage it only a little more frequently than I don’t.  But, in each day it is my goal for eating right now.  And summer is an excellent time to work on this way of relating to food, because of the abundance of colorful (eye serving), tasty (mouth serving), and nutritious (health serving) fruits and vegetables that are readily available.

Maybe sometimes a popsicle will be what serves me (or a frozen fruit bar at least).  Perhaps other times, it will be a pretzel.  Now and then, it might even be a deep fried Oreo (ok, not really, those make me gag).  But, if I can mindfully approach food, and eat that which serves me, I hope that I can create for myself a healthier body/mind and a healthier relationship with eating.



Would You Please Stop Interrupting?

A month or so ago, I had a bout of IBS.  After a few days of trying to just tough it out, eating the usual fruits and veggies – even though I wanted crackers and bananas more, I did some research about what I should be eating to calm the system down.  Interestingly, I found that the items I had felt like eating (crackers, bread, bananas, applesauce) were exactly what I needed to eat to get my system back on track.  Having been authorized by Google, I accepted that diet for a few weeks and now feel much better.

Last week, my body seemed to need a rest day from yoga, and I was not happy about it.  But, after arguing with myself, I took it.  And the next day my yoga practice went really well – I felt strong and good and the back pain I was having started to dissapate.

Toward the end of last week, a friend was worrying with me about why she wanted to eat so much (and mostly carbs) during the week before menstruation.  We did a little research and concluded that, between the drop in estrogen and the drop in serotonin that  seems to occur at that time, it makes utter sense to consume more complex carbs.

Then, yesterday (Sunday), I found myself totally exhausted at 10 a.m.  I was so tired my eyes were burning and I had to go lay down for an hour.  As usual, I was scolding myself about it, when it occurred to me that a similar thing had happened the previous Sunday, but I blamed it on going out Saturday night.  And, when I thought about it, the Sunday before had been the same way, and so on.  After pondering for a while, it finally struck me that I have been taking my weekly large dose of methotrexate on Saturday evening.  And what is a major side effect of MTX?  Fatigue.  Ohhh.

So, what’s the moral here?  I think it’s that sometimes, or often, our bodies know what they need and they try to tell us.  We just don’t always listen.  Toddlers get it.  They will sometimes go a day or three eating next to nothing.  And then suddenly eat 6 bananas in an afternoon.  And maybe the next day they only want green beans and chicken.  It drives parents insane.  We think our little dears are going to starve, but they don’t.  If we make healthy food available and let them make selections, they do pretty well.  They haven’t learned how to shut down that body voice yet.

Maybe we should take a page from the book of toddlers.  Eat when we are hungry (though we may have to think about what we are hungry for, because as adults we have hunger all mixed up with other things), nap when we are tired, smile when we are happy, cry when we are sad.  We probably shouldn’t bite anyone, but other than that it sounds not so bad.

What is your body trying to tell you?