Note: This is the last of a short series of posts relating to the Mindful Eating cycle in the Am I Hungry? program, where each part looks at one of the decision points that goes into eating – why, when, what, how, how much, and where you spend your energy. This section looks at where we spend the energy we get from food. Learn more here or at www.amihungry.com.
In our diet-obsessed culture, eating is often equated only with calories and grams of nutrients, or sometimes with guilt and shame – that is, if we think about it at all. But what if we could more often consider it as the means of fueling our life?
I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t quite think of food simply as energy; I want to enjoy it as well. But at the same time, I don’t want to obsess about food when I’m not eating; I’d rather be able to use that energy to simply move on and focus on the things I love.
This is hard to do if you’re constantly thinking about food. For instance, if you don’t have enough to eat (due to dieting or actual shortage), it can be difficult to concentrate on anything else. This struck me particularly when reading the story “In the Trenches” by Michael Alexander*. The story was about soldiers engaged in a drawn-out war, where food was both scarce and, when provided, generally unpalatable to say the least.
The protagonist wasn’t even sure how much he cared about survival anymore, until he happened to meet another soldier who had better rations. “I sat in that small cavern… eating cold, greasy corned beef with my fingers, and life began to feel vaguely worth continuing…. It’s sad, really, how thoughts of existence can turn on a can of fatty meat.” (p. 151)
Being that short of food is less likely in our society. Instead, we may constantly worry about how much we’ve already eaten, and how much more we can eat, or feel bad about what we’ve consumed. This type of focus can seep into every corner of your thoughts until you’re never truly free of it. You might even wake up in the middle of the night with your mind cycling back on that familiar track, or focus on it when you’re meant to be intent on something else. It means that you can’t ever be completely mindful of what you’re actually doing. (At least, this has been my experience with certain diets.)
And yet, those other activities are what can truly make life vibrant and enjoyable. A wonderful description of this is in Jane Eyre, when Jane is telling Mr. Rochester about how she felt when painting: “I was absorbed, sir: yes, and I was happy. To paint [the pictures], in short, was to enjoy one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.” (p. 117)
It’s a fine balance, though, because more fuel doesn’t necessarily mean more energy. In fact, many times, eating more than you need simply results in feeling lethargic. Napping on Thanksgiving, for example, may be as traditional as turkey for some people.
Now that my eating is more truly for fuel, though, I also appreciate so many other things: playing with the various children in my life, visiting family and friends, writing, reading, hiking, volunteering, being in nature, and more. If I didn’t have enough food, or if I had too much, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of these. So if you’re struggling with eating, perhaps it might help to ask yourself, how do you want to use your food to fuel your life?