With all this talk about nutrition and diets, are we missing the mark? Maybe love needs to be first on our daily menu. The act of eating and what we eat shows how much we value and love ourselves. Eating behaviours can reveal how connected we are compassion for our bodies. When we have healthy self-love, we are able to form a healthy relationship with food. Without a solid foundation of love and a free, open heart, we are unable to lovingly assimilate any quantity or quality of nutrients we ingest, no matter how pure and adequate they may be for our body.
Many suffer from disordered eating – over-eating, starvation, or fixated eating – and have a damaged self-image that doesn’t allow them to love their bodies. Obesity is a global epidemic and anorexia continues to be one of the leading chronic illnesses among adolescents. Is it time to be concentrating an equal amount of attention on the emotional aspects of eating and not just the quality of food itself?
Cultivating compassion is a primary focus in current research on disordered eating. Low self-compassion was the strongest predictor in eating disorder pathology in several recent studies (1, 2, 3) and building self-compassion has been shown as the best means by which to prevent disordered eating (3). Feelings of shame, failure, self-disgust, resentment, and contempt are commonly exacerbated in those with eating disorders and, in turn, food is used as punishment rather than nourishment (1).
Here are a few easy ways to cultivate compassion with food and get more love as daily nourishment:
Grow food with love and respect.
People who buy organically grown food claim it tastes better than conventionally-grown food, even when they do not know which one is which. There certainly is an element of ‘love’ that appears to go into organic gardening that you don’t find in mass, industrial farming. When we make the selection for organic food, we are actively tapping into what was imparted from the sun, stars, moon, sky, farmer, harvester and grocer.
Share meals with others.
The more we share, the more nourishment that is available to all. Invite others over to eat and try new recipes – this is the perfect meal for the heart. Eating in a communal setting is important for us as human beings as we are interdependent. Our lives are about giving and receiving love. When we build walls of isolation or separation around us, we close off the heart. Eating with others blossoms the heart with joy, especially when the meals are prepared and eaten together.
Eat plant foods for circulation and expansion.
On a symbolic level, vegetables, especially leafy greens, embody the element of expansion. On a nutritional level, plant foods are nourishing to the heart because of the phytonutrient complexity they provide. Green foods contain high levels of plant compounds antioxidants like chlorophyll – the “king” of the plant-based antioxidants.
Religious traditions have used the phrase, “Your body is your temple.” Indeed, loving and caring for ourselves implies providing our bodies with quality nourishment. Truly, the greatest nourishment we could ever take in is that of love.
(1) Goss, K., & Allan, S. (2014). The development and application of compassion focused therapy for eating disorders. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(1), 62-77.
(2)Gale, C., Gilbert, P., Read, N., & Goss, K. (2014). An evaluation of the impact of introducing compassion focused therapy to a standard treatment programme for people with eating disorders. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy, 21(1), 1-12.
(3)Kelly, A. C., Vimalakanthan, K., & Carter, J. C. (2014). Understanding the roles of self-esteem, self-compassion, and fear of self-compassion in eating disorder pathology: An examination of female students and eating disorder patients.Eating Behaviors, 15(3), 388-391.
Contributing Author: Dr. Deanna Minich (PhD, MS, CNS, RYT) is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and utilize her program to become your own Certified Food & Spirit Practitioner.