Fresh picked berries, herbs snipped from the garden, brilliant peppers and tomatoes—summer is the time for tantalizing our taste buds and learning how to eat in a new way—with mindfulness.
Nothing seems as vexing for many of my clients as their relationship to food. Preoccupation with what, when, and how much to eat gets in the way of simply enjoying food. Instead of focusing on taste, we worry about calories, additives, nutritional content, and so on. In reality, it is very simple—buy locally and in season whenever possible, prepare food simply while appealing to sight and smell as well as to taste, and eat with consciousness—slowly enough to actually taste the flavors and experience the textures of every bite. When we follow these guidelines, we will naturally eat less, supply our bodies with needed nutrients, and once again take pleasure in our experience at the table.
Summer is the time for shopping at one of the many Farmers Markets around the area. Not only are you supporting local small businesses, you are also getting the freshest food possible. When I suggest this to clients or friends, I often hear that produce, eggs, cheeses, and meats at a Farmers’ Market are more expensive than at a conventional grocery store. That may be true, but there are two things to consider. First, products for sale at a Farmers Market generally taste better, smell better, and are better for you than comparable foods found in a grocery store. Because it is more satisfying on such a number of levels, you will be more easily satiated and will actually eat less. Second, in our current global economy, we need to consider the cost as well as the price whenever we buy anything, from food to clothing to automobiles. How much energy did it take to truck that tomato from California or that apple from Oregon? How much energy was consumed in turning those berries into the jelly on the grocery shelf when compared to the jam made and canned by your neighbor? I know that these are challenging financial times for many of us, and that we all must operate within our personal economies. Still, I maintain that by eating locally and seasonally you will eat less and stay healthier, thus saving money in other ways.
In reality, it is very simple - buy locally and in season whenever possible, prepare food simply while appealing to sight and smell as well as to taste, and eat with consciousness – slowly enough to actually taste the flavors and experience the textures of every bite.
You will also notice savings in terms of food preparation. When fruits and vegetables are eaten in season they need very little added in terms of sauces or toppings. A fresh ear of corn needs only a quick boil and a dash of salt and pepper, a perfectly ripe tomato just a single basil leaf. Sun ripened berries that are colorful and fragrant don’t need to be hidden in a crust or smothered with whipped topping. By paying attention to the colors, textures, smells, and flavors of the various components that go into making a meal you will create a satisfying sensual palette, pleasing to both body and mind. This doesn’t require any real work or effort, just paying attention.
Finally, eating with mindfulness is a great way to ensure that our food nourishes us on every level – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Make each meal special, sitting down to eat (no TV or reading, please), looking at your food, smelling it, and really tasting—savoring every bite. Chew slowly and notice how the texture and the flavor changes. How do the foods on your plate combine in your mouth? Putting the fork down between bites is a great way to remind yourself to truly taste what is in your mouth.
So what does all of this have to do with acupuncture? Plenty!
Traditional Chinese Medicine helps us to re-create and maintain balance within our lives. One way to accomplish internal balance is to maintain harmony with the external—nature and the cycle of the seasons. Eating seasonally is an easy way to do this. Chinese Five Element Theory also looks at the balance among our senses, understanding that when we engage all of our sensory organs we experience a feeling of internal integration and wholeness. We can use food as a way to integrate our senses by paying attention to its sight, smell, texture, and taste. Finally, a goal of Five Element Acupuncture is to increase our awareness of our body, mind, and spirit so that we are always acting from our very best place, our “tao.” Thinking about how and where we buy, prepare, and ingest our food supports this goal.
Use this summer season to re-think how you eat. The how can be as important as the what. It doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, and it is my wish for you that it always be enjoyable!