When most of us think about “nutrition,” we zero in on specific foods, doing our best to follow the litany of dietary guidelines that inevitably change every few years. Not only do we end up feeling deprived, but we also end up feeling somewhat neurotic, ever-anxious about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” be eating.
Slow Medicine offers a more relaxed, intuitive and expansive view of nutrition, in which we simultaneously feed the body, heart, mind and soul. From where we get our food, to how we prepare our ingredients, to the way we set our table, to the people we invite to share our meal, Slow Medicine emphasizes the many opportunities for true “nourishment.” Indeed, the simple act of eating can be elevated into one of building community, moving the body with joy and purpose, awakening sensuality, creating works of art and otherwise engaging in “healthy multitasking,” in which we synchronously optimize wellness on any or all of multiple levels — physical body; mental-emotional state; relationship to loved ones, community, nature and the divine; and life’s purpose.
Because all these aspects of our lives are interconnected, and because they all impact some aspect of our wellbeing, healthy multitasking sets off a positive domino effect throughout our entire system, elevating our wellness in ways that supersede focusing on a single lifestyle aspect at a time. In other words, healthy multitasking takes us to our “happy place” on multiple levels, all at once.
Here’s how to expand the way you nourish yourself, and practice healthy multitasking, when it comes to nutrition:
Rather than getting caught up in what foods to eat for which scientifically-proven benefits, simply amp up your intake of fresh, whole ingredients — most importantly, vegetables and fruits. Choose ingredients that please your senses on multiple levels: taste, smell, color and texture. For example, create a salad not only using the basics of lettuce, tomatoes and carrots, but also adding orange pepper, lemon, avocado, strawberries, walnuts and raisins, topped off with edible flowers. Have fun with it — see yourself as an artist in the kitchen! Your salad will transform from a boring chore to a creative masterpiece, with a burst of colors and a medley of crunchy, tangy, chewy and sweet sensations in your mouth.
Nourish your spirit, as you nourish your body. For example, grow your own vegetables in a backyard garden, so that you get your food directly from the earth — making it as fresh and tasty as possible. When we garden, we step outdoors and expose ourselves to sunshine and fresh air; we dig our hands into the dirt and connect with nature; and we develop a relationship with the food we consume, and therefore, with the earth in which that food grows. All of this gives us more incentive to increase our daily intake of fresh vegetables and fruits. In addition, when we garden with others, and when we further enhance this activity through developing a community garden or donating some of our bounty to a food bank, we feel a sense of belonging; we bond with our peers — which in turn can lead to supportive, collaborative and nourishing relationships. We also tap into a sense of meaning and purpose in life, by helping out those in need. In other words, gardening elevates the act of eating into the art of living.
Similarly, when we buy food at a farmers market, we can enjoy a whole-being sensory experience while shopping: While we may not have grown the food ourselves, we can see the faces and touch the hands of the farmers who did; we can listen to live music and purchase local art; we can eat freshly-prepared meals from food trucks; and we can otherwise build a sense of community, meeting and mingling with the locals. By supporting local farmers markets, or alternately, local natural food cooperatives, we additionally can feel good about where we invest our resources — supporting businesses that are local, ecologically-minded and sustainable.
Approach food preparation as an opportunity to meditate, unleash your creativity and connect with loved ones. Invite friends or family to join you in preparing a meal, and turn on your favorite music, celebrating the experience of cooking together. Channel your inner “mad scientist” and make up your own recipes on the fly, or follow a recipe from a cookbook — choose one that feels both doable and exciting to you. If you are alone, see the experience as an opportunity for some downtime. For example, turn on a CD of affirmations or meditations, and let the repetitive motion of chopping and stirring occupy your conscious mind, as your subconscious mind absorbs the positive, life-affirming messages to which you are listening.
Most of us take time to set a table beautifully when we have company over, yet find it acceptable to sit in a cramped corner of a cluttered table, when we are eating alone. Send the message to yourself that you are important: Even — or especially — when you are eating alone, take the time to clear the table, put a vase of fresh flowers in the center, turn off the television and telephone and make a place setting with your finest tableware. Setting the stage for your body to relax and enjoy your food helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is involved in digesting your food.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, as is the case when we are stressed, our blood diverts away from the “non-essential” organs (intestines, liver, kidneys, brain) and instead flows to our muscles and organs that help us run faster (heart, lungs, leg muscles). In addition, our body shuts down the peristaltic movement of food through the intestine, to conserve more energy. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, to the contrary, blood flows easily to our digestive organs and restores peristalsis, thereby helping speed up digestion of food.
See dinner as the opportunity to spend quality time with yourself — transforming from a human doing to a human being. Or invite your favorite people over, to enjoy the meal with you, making a point of reaching out to those who make you feel warm and loved. In the latter case, be sure to keep the conversation focused on positive and uplifting matters, instead of problems and challenges. Again, create an environment of peace, tranquility and harmony, so as to engage the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest/digest mode.