Consumption Happens: Practice it Mindfully
We all eat; the question is, how can we eat better?
There are relatively few guarantees in our world. We wake up every morning facing numerous probabilities and unknowns. There are countless paths we could take with every possibility spiraling out towards some distant, parallel universe. But in the midst of these infinite possibilities and their inherent diversity, there are two things we do know and can be certain of:
- We will live until we don’t. Death is as much a certainty as the frailty of life.
- To live, we must eat.
We all must eat to live. Perhaps, this is our one unifying quality as human beings. But, don’t take my word for it. The numbers speak for themselves.
- Americans spend nearly 16% of their income on food in 2011.
- In 2012, Americans spent a whopping $478 Billion on Groceries (that’s right – just groceries and just Americans).
- The next generation is also spending more of their food dollars on eating out – 10.7% more. 44% of their food dollars now goes to dining experiences.
- In 2014, we spent $1.4 trillion dollars on food (at home and out).
Those dollars add up to an incredible amount of time and energy – not to mention the impact of consumption on our society and environment. In many ways, food (from its gathering and creation, its cultivation and exchange, its consumption and waste) is culture – and our food choices stand as a critical reflection on our society, our values, our economy, and our evolution.
Consumption is also costly. It involves an incredible commitment of our money, time, and labor. From a more spiritual side, consumption demands the sacrifice of another entity’s life (plant, animal, or otherwise). In light of these costs and their demands, shouldn’t we be more aware of food and its impact on our lives? Shouldn’t our food choices be made carefully and with awareness?
The answer is a resounding: yes.
In short, what we eat matters. It is a big deal. What we choose to eat plays an important role, not only in our bodies, but in our culture and our world as a whole.
Eating well doesn’t mean dieting; it doesn’t mean eating only organic produce; it doesn’t mean omitting some food groups or adding others; it doesn’t mean avocado toast (although, it is delicious!); it doesn’t mean spending even more of your hard earned income on some obscure, miracle ingredient (that tastes terrible anyway); it means eating mindfully – being aware of what we consume and making conscious choices about the foods we choose to make a part of our lives, our spirits, and of course, our culture.
I need to add, thus, a third certainty to our days and existence. We live until we die; we must eat to live; and what we eat impacts how we live.
Healthy eating is simple – literally
You may have seen #cleaneating hashtags floating about the Insta-universe. It has garnered quite a reputation – both good and not-so-good. It began with incredible intentions: to simplify the sometimes intimidating world of health by encouraging people to make produce, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats the bulk of their daily consumption. As with any simple idea, however, people have a tendency to elaborate, distort, and expand clean eating to an unrecognizable monster of its original self.
Jaclyn London said it best in her recent article for Good Housekeeping:
But these days, I’m worried that the phrase has taken on a new, misguided meaning. The implication is that if you’re not “eating clean,” what you eat otherwise is dirty or unhygienic, and that’s simply not true.
It has also been attached to a health and lifestyle claim. That is, if you’re not “eating clean,” the reverse is true: You’re probably sloppy, lazy, and making yourself sick. It’s morphed from a sense of awareness about food into a diet-driven caste system.
Clean eating is not dependent on where you shop, how much money you spend, and how “pure” you are. In short, clean eating = mindful eating. And Mindful Eating means following a few basic principles:
- Vegetables are awesome. They simply are. Eating more vegetables (think every time you eat) will automatically translate to a healthier lifestyle. Note: not vegetables drowned in ranch dressing, not vegetables layered in cheese and sour cream. Vegetables. Roasted. Steamed. Grilled. Deliciousness.
- Protein is also awesome and necessary. Protein is a vital nutrient, essential for your muscles, for your brain, and for your overall health. It should, thus, be an important and essential part of your daily consumption.
- Make your own food whenever possible. Making your own meals means, essentially, that you know exactly what is going into those meals. It can save you $$ and most importantly, making your own meals requires effort, thought, and energy. It requires you to think about and take an active role in your consumption which translates to greater mindfulness and often, better choices.
- Go easy on sugar and sodium. You will never find someone who loves sugar the way that I did while pregnant with my son, Atticus. I still adore a good piece of dark chocolate. But keep excess sugars and sodium to a “once in a while” treat. When you do get a craving for the sweet stuff, choose fruits instead. When it comes to sodium, eliminate adding extra salt to your dishes; use spices and healthy oils instead. And let the natural flavors of the foods you are eating shine.
- Moderation in all things. Food is awesome (there is a reason why it triggers all the pleasure hormones in your body). It brings people together; it is a critical part of socialization, emotional and physical development; and even, in our spiritual development. Eat! But eat with care. Too much of a good thing is just that – too much. So whether you are eating some dark chocolates, peanut butter on your granola, a glass of wine, or a quinoa salad – moderation is key to health and happiness.
- Eat often. Aim for 5-6 meals per day. Eat something good every 2-3 hours to fuel your mind, body, and spirit.
- You should know what you are eating. It is important that we remain aware of and grateful for the gift of our food and the cost of that consumption. We must take responsibility for what we consume and be aware of its costs and its impact. This doesn’t mean retreating to the wilderness of Alaska and foraging in the summer months, tracking elk and moose via dog sled. This means understanding that your food did not grow on grocery self. It required incredible energy, effort, and sacrifice. Appreciate that. Celebrate that. And let your consumption reflect your reverence for life and your commitment to health and happiness.
Mindful eating fundamentally means shifting the way we see food. Rather than an inconvenience, a reward, a punishment, or a set task, food is a gift. It is a vital part of our lives, of our well being, and of our spirit. And thus, we should treat the process of consumption with awareness, knowledge, respect, gratitude, and integrity. We should be present when we buy and grow our food, when we cook with it, and when we consume it.
For more information about mindful eating, clean eating, and building greater awareness and appreciation for food, health, and wellness, click here to learn more about upcoming challenges, and nutrition and wellness programs.