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For the joy of eating

Diet fads, junk food, inflammatory foods, allergies – these are just a few of the topics most associated with food in our modern, health-conscious culture. Restrictions on what we eat (and when we eat it) can create a sense of guilt, doubt or frustration when it comes to simply feeding ourselves. This environment can feel heavy, and certainly not very joyful!

For many of us, the joy of food can be negatively impacted by the stories of the mind. Letting go of stories that some foods are inherently bad and allowing yourself to be curious about how each item feels in your body will be more enjoyable and connective.

What if you were to breathe into your body and ask what it would want to eat today? What sounds good, even if it doesn’t make sense to the mind? Many of us fear we would eat junk or make “terrible” choices if we didn’t control or overanalyze each meal. True – those less nutritious foods may be part of what we choose but, in my experience, this is often temporary and not as satisfying as anticipated.

What if we returned to the act of eating as something to be savored and enjoyed each day?

Eating is one of the few things we do daily that includes the five senses. We see the food we are preparing and cooking with our eyes. We touch the food with our hands and mouths. Cooking aromas waft from the kitchen to stimulate our sense of smell. We hear the call of food as it’s being cooked or crunched. And of course, we taste the wonders of our creations. This creates a highly sensual (literally) and pleasurable experience – if we are paying attention.

When was the last time you truly enjoyed what you were consuming? Noticing the subtle flavors, the textures and the colors gives us a more satisfying gastronomic experience. It slows the process so we can more fully receive all of the sensations. It also cues the brain into the fact that we’re eating, allowing the brain to monitor satiety, which creates a more balanced approach to how much we’re munching.

Being present is another way to enhance your culinary experience. Many of us eat most (if not all) of our meals while doing something else – emails, driving, watching TV, multitasking. When you are engaged in another activity, your body is not attuned to accepting nutrition. This will cause us to be more likely to bloat, have more gas and overeat. Plus, it keeps us disconnected from the simple pleasure available for all of our senses while eating.

When we slow down, we are also allowing our nervous system to switch from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest). This creates a more harmonious environment for digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Not to mention an opportunity to savor whatever is in front of us. Try taking three deep belly breaths before eating as a way to turn on that parasympathetic nervous system and give your body a better chance at receiving its food optimally. (This stimulates the vagus nerve, which is a key player for your parasympathetic nervous system.)

If you’re feeling uninspired in the kitchen, try finding a new recipe by going to the library for some cookbooks or looking online for something tempting. Go to your local farmers market and feast your eyes on the fresh bounty. Buy a vegetable you’ve never eaten before to wake up your taste buds with a new experience. No matter what, invite joy and pleasure back to your table.

Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.