Here is the YouTube recording of “What Are You Craving in 2013? Five Ways to Restore Sanity and Serenity to Your Relationship With Food,” a webinar I gave on Feb. 5, 2013, for Ave Maria Press. If you don’t want to listen to the webinar, you can read an abbreviated version of my talk below the YouTube recording, which also features a Powerpoint presentation.
By Mary DeTurris Poust
We’re at the front end of a new year and on the cusp of Lent, two times of year when we tend to focus on personal change, improvement, and transformation. Probably the most common resolution, goal, or hope people set or have has to do with physical appearance. We want to drop ten pounds or add more muscle, run farther, eat less, become some image of perfection. But often times dropping weight and transforming ourselves has less to do with the food we eat and more to do with the messages in our heads and the empty spaces in our hearts. We think we’re hungry for food, but often our hunger is for something much deeper, a craving for the kind of fullness that only God can provide.
Believe it or not, the shift in your relationship with food starts not with what’s on your plate, but what’s inside your head. Here are five steps to restoring sanity and serenity to your relationship with food:
1. See yourself as beloved by God exactly as you are at this very moment.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Most of us don’t see our true selves. We see our flaws magnified. So our self-image is often not based on reality. We allow a number on a scale to determine our self-worth, and wend up starving ourselves or stuffing ourselves in an attempt to become an imaginary person or to comfort ourselves for NOT being that person. So this process begins by our embracing “what is” not what we think should be. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to improve. Maybe you’d like to lose a few pounds or need to lose weight for health reasons, but you begin from a place of knowing that you are wonderfully made even before you start. You begin with self-acceptance and the knowledge of God’s unconditional love.
2. Trading multi-tasking for mindfulness.
In our culture today, multi-tasking is looked upon as a badge of honor. We don’t feel we’re working hard enough if we’re not doing at least three things at once. Becoming more mindful is absolutely necessary on this path. Here’s how you can start:
- When you eat, just eat. Do one thing at a time. So when you’re going to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner or even a snack, stop everything else. No driving, no talking on phone, no working at desk, no crossword puzzle on the table. When you strip away all the externals distractions, it’s just you and your food. Suddenly you’re very much aware of everything you’re eating, that you’re eating at all.
- Begin every meal with prayer. Whether you start with a spontaneous blessing, a traditional prayer, intentions for family and friends, or simply the Sign of the Cross, prayer can set the tone for your meals. Taking even just a minute to stop and quiet your heart and mind before eating shifts the landscape and tends to make you much more aware of your blessings, your food, and your journey. And just as important as prayer is keeping a positive energy at the kitchen table or office cafeteria table. Mealtime is not the time to argue or discuss problems or get angry or upset. It’s almost like you’re ingesting the tension, and that certainly isn’t good for your physically, mentally, or spiritually.
- Start a food journal. This isn’t to count calories or fat grams but to continue to build awareness. Jot down what you eat but also when and if there’s anything in particular that’s bothering you or upsetting you. Start to notice if and when you grab for food when you’re not hungry. Make these notes without judgment. This isn’t about making yourself feed bad, but about becoming aware of the deeper hungers you may have.
3. Develop some new food rituals.
Create some new rituals to change your relationship with food. For me this started with what I call my “mindful oatmeal,” breakfast eaten in silence, with a lighted candle, no distractions, and deep prayer. The idea is not to always feel like you’re sacrificing, but to come up with new and different ways to enjoy food while giving it its rightful and healthy place in your life. Try to build in some sacred moments and daily doses of joy.
Is there a particular food you love but always avoid because it’s on the forbidden list? Create a ritual around this food. Maybe it’s chocolate. Rather than depriving yourself over and over and then, when you just can’t stand it anymore, scarfing down an entire bar of chocolate, develop a nightly ritual. Perhaps one square of dark chocolate eaten slowly off a nice dish in front of the fire or shared with a family member on the living room couch and savored slowly. Start to see that learning to get beyond your cravings doesn’t mean denying yourself but filling yourself up with more than just food.
4. Begin to bring balance to your life.
We can look to our faith to see that balance is key when it comes to celebrations and even everyday food. Throughout the Church year we feast and fast. We can’t feast all the time. And so it is in daily life. There has to be balance. Lent is a perfect reminder of how the spirituality of food can work. Prayer and fasting work together. Try to find five minutes of silence every day. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re not spending any time in silent solitude, you will be amazed by what just five minutes a day will do for you. Slowly increase to 10, 15, even 20 minutes, if you can. Use this time to rest in God, just listening for the whisper of the Spirit. This prayer time will be an important part of keeping that balance we’re talking about, and you’re likely to find that it’s not only helping you with your food issues but with so many other things as well.
5. Celebrate food
This last step really encompasses all the others and then takes them to the next level. If you are someone who is constantly hoping to lose weight or improve your diet and deal with your food issues, you probably love food and eat lots of good food but you may not CELEBRATE food because it’s too tied to guilt and bad feelings and regret. This last step is a huge one because the end goal is to finally break those food-Is-the-enemy feelings and find the place where you and food happily coexist in such a way that brings peace to your life and, eventually, the healthy weight and diet you crave but without all the angst.
- Look at the big picture. This is not just about eating food. This whole mentality and perspective on diet and self and God is really about taking a healthier approach to ALL aspects of food and eating – from what you buy, to how you prepare it, to how you serve it, to how you eat it, even to how you clean up. The Mass offers us a model. We don’t drive up to a window, grab the host, and eat Communion in our car as we drive home and talk on the phone. We go into church and ready our hearts and minds for what we’re going to receive. The parts of the meal are brought to the altar with love, the priest prepares the gifts with reverence and prayer, and then we approach quietly and take Communion and then return to our seats to reflect on what we’ve just received. How can you bring some of those sacred elements into your meals at home?
- Community. Another important element of Mass that directly connects to our food life outside church is the importance of community. We share in our sacred meal at Mass by joining our brothers and sisters for the feast. Do we experience that at home or at parties? We don’t need buffet tables piled to overflowing with every kind of fried food or heavy dessert to enjoy a party or a meal. What we need is community, which provides us with opportunities to be fed and satisfied on a deeper level. It’s just a matter of taking a new view of what a party or feast should be.
- Lessons from the monastics. We can learn a lot about food and its place in our life and its connection to the sacred can be learned from the monastics. Eating in season, eating in moderation, eating locally and organic, eating slowly – all of these things have been part of monastic life for centuries. We can follow their lead and begin to choose more carefully the food we make and serve and how we approach the preparations, the serving, the clean-up. Of course, I’ve had multiple people remind me that lots of monks are overweight and so they can’t be a model. And to that I say, “You’re missing the point!” The whole focus of Cravings is not on becoming an ideal weight or size but on accepting who you are right now. I think monastics, whether thin or overweight, offer us a pathway that’s healthy in that it strips food of its power to make us afraid or guilty or unhappy and reminds us that food is meant to nourish our bodies, but only God can nourish our souls. When we combine the two, we have a powerful way to put food in its rightful place. We can celebrate food without being ruled by food.
So what are you craving today? The next time you’re about to reach for something to eat, stop for a moment. Breathe, become aware. If you’re really hungry or if it’s mealtime, put away everything else and say a blessing. Sit down to eat. Slow down to eat. Smell your food. Look at your food. Chew your food with attention and INtention. Enjoy the people around you if you’re not eating alone. Savor not just the taste of what you’re eating but the atmosphere, the beauty of the world – even if it’s just your own kitchen. There is beauty there. After all, God moves among the pots and pans.
For a more thorough exploration of this topic, including practical exercises, meditations, discussion questions, and many personal stories, order a copy of Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God.