Dr. Justin Pollack, ND
However many times a day you eat, you have an opportunity to focus on what you are eating, and put aside the “troubles of mind” that follow us wherever we go. In doing so, you make a profound shift in your physiology. A rare and beautiful parasympathetic “rest and digest” shift happens to your nervous system. This parasympathetic shift only occurs when we sleep, or when we truly relax and find gratitude for the gifts set before us.
Every food set on your plate, or in your bowl, represents a relationship that was formed between the Sun and the Earth, when chloroplasts that came to live symbiotically inside many plants, learned to capture the electromagnetic energy of the sun. That energy is used to transform gas (carbon dioxide) and water into starches/sugars, amino acids/proteins, and lipids/fats that the rest of us can enjoy. It is a gift. If we are eating the flesh of another animal that once ate those leaves, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts, roots and vegetables, it is even more of a gift. In whatever spiritual tradition you find yourself, even if it is none, there is a way to give thanks for that gift, and by setting your mind on that course, you have set the parasympathetic wheels of digestion in motion.
A good goal in any part of your life is to find thankfulness for what you have. When you are thankful, you see things more as they are, instead of in a positive or negative light. If you cannot find something to be grateful for, start with a tree. Remember that the trees, grasses, even the smallest phytoplankton and “pond scum” are recycling our CO2 into the oxygen that we need to live. Each tree is giving us life. Each time we look at a tree, we can be thankful.
Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Eating a meal in mindfulness is an important practice. We turn off the TV, put down our newspaper, and work together setting the table. After breathing we smile. Then, we look at each person as we breathe in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our connection with the Earth. Each bite contains the life of the Sun and the Earth. We can see and taste the whole Universe in a piece of bread! …When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family.”
Encountering the present moment.
“There are so many exercises we can do to help us breathe consciously. We can recite four lines silently as we breathe in and out: Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in this present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. Just breathing and smiling can make us very happy, because when we breathe consciously, we recover ourselves completely and encounter life in the present moment.” - Thich Nhat Hahn
When we eat mindfully, taking time with our food, and the friends or family gathered with us, it is easier to notice if there is a distasteful morsel headed toward our mouth. Rotten bite of apple, anyone? It is easier to make choices about how nutritiously we want to eat, perhaps setting down things that we grew up with, which are not so nutritious for us. French fries with “goop”, anyone?
Take a look at the “Bastyr Healthy Plate”. Be mindful and choose your food wisely. While there is no sugar, no bacon, no ice cream, no beer or wine on that plate, there is always a little room for Michael Pollen’s quote: “Treat treats as treats.” Thank goodness for treats… and nutritious food, of course.