By guest blogger Darshana Weill
Over the last 13 years I have sat with women as clients and/or students and supported them to explore their relationship to food, their bodies, and themselves.
Although I started out my journey as a nutrition educator and holistic health counselor, I soon realized that most people’s struggles with food did not come from what they literally ate.
I do admit that deciphering the many diets, food styles, theories, and latest research is quite the challenge. The vegans say one thing, macrobiotic people another, Ayurveda something different, Weston Price followers stand behind their beliefs, and on and on it goes. Sorting through these is not an easy task by any means and especially when one is suffering from health concerns related to their diet or weight. The journey to find the “right” diet for your body at any given time in your life could be a full time job, but we want the answers now so we can end the suffering of being in our own skin.
In this article I hope to expand some of your thinking around how you nourish yourself, especially your soul.
I want to introduce you to two terms I use: primary foods and secondary foods.
Understanding the “Foods”
Primary foods are all the things in life that feed you that don’t come on your plate. Secondary foods are the foods that you physically put in your mouth and eat.
Most people who are looking to change their relationship to food and their body address their secondary food first when wanting relief or healing. This is not a bad idea. Learning to eat a balanced, whole foods diet is essential for optimal health. For example, if someone is experiencing depression and eating at irregular meal times and eating poor quality foods, then spending time analyzing and making changes in their secondary food will make a huge difference fairly immediately.
Although I am not using a specific case study, the following description of the way I work is an overview for everyone.
I would first suggest consistent meal times. Then I would get specific about what foods to actually eat. I might say things like, “Add leafy greens daily. Eat whole grains as opposed to processed grains.” I would definitely ask them about the source of protein they ate and how often they consumed it. You can see that being a vegan or omnivore wouldn’t matter at this stage in the game. We just want to make sure they are eating real food.
In relation to this, I regularly use a term called crowding out. I never want to take a food away from my clients. I always add foods rather than remove them. When we add foods we don’t feel deprived. And if we do feel deprived it can be an opportunity to look at the root of our deprivation. When our body is nourished from high quality foods, we can settle and trust more. Our emotions, interest and preferences as well as our history of how we came to feel dis-ease with our body can be addressed more deeply.
So, of course we must investigate the issue of secondary food when it comes to healing our relationship to food and our body and yet, my clients are often puzzled when I start asking questions that have to do with career, relationships, exercise, spirituality, and more general lifestyle issues.
Why do I ask these types of questions? Because these are the root components of primary food. The top four primary foods are: our career, or as I like to think of it, finding work you love. Exercise or movement of any sort. Relationships, which can be a primary partnership all the way down to your dog. And the fourth is spirituality. Spirituality can be a touchy subject so I like to define it as a sense of knowing you are part of the “bigger” picture. Then there are other primary foods like nature, books you read, movies you see, touch, sleep, etc.
When my clients and I start to investigate their relationship to primary food we start to look at the question of nourishing our soul.
Below are some client examples of how we explored their primary food nourishment. See if you fit into any of these descriptions:
The first client I’ll talk about eats a pretty balanced diet. She eats whole grains, vegetables (both dark leafy greens and root vegetables), moderate amounts of animal protein, veggie protein, and high quality fats. She also takes a few supplements. Yet every day at 3:30pm she is looking around her office for anything sweet. Perhaps she will go to the candy machine, or drink a sweet chai latte or indulge in the M&M’s in the vending machine on in her co-workers desk. She is puzzled. She asks herself, “What am I not getting from my diet that I crave sweets every day in the afternoon?” This is a great question. We might need to look more deeply at her secondary food but as I start to ask questions about her job satisfaction, she makes a sulking face and sinks into her chair. Honestly, she hates her job.
Aha! Is it the combination of grains and veggies that will curb her sweet tooth, or finding the work she loves? When addressing someone’s job, I want to be clear that finding work she loves doesn’t necessarily mean she needs to leave her job. Perhaps it’s more of an internal investigation and looking at motivating herself, asking for what she wants, and looking at her relationship to obligation. But if the job she currently has is not matching up to her soul’s calling, then she may wander around looking for foods to lift her spirits. It’s time to investigate primary food.
Here is another client that you may relate to. This client also eats relatively well. Perhaps she eats out a bit more than she’d like but she make the best food choices. She exercises almost daily, yet she cannot loose that extra 10-15 lbs. and she cannot fall asleep at night, even after a cup of chamomile tea and a few herbal-sleeping supplements.
I investigate her bedtime routine to find out that she enjoys watching suspense movies and TV before bed, as well as indulging in a few bowls of cereal around 10:30pm.
We first look at the amount of stimulation she gets late at night and I ask her if she might consider reading some books. She says she really wants to watch TV, so we decide on an experiment that she watches some light comedy and nothing too active. This brings up something for her. As she takes out the high stimulation, she is present to her feelings. Because she is familiar with the term primary food, she realizes she has a lack in the food of relationship, intimacy, and spirituality.
Together as we look deeper through the mindfulness techniques I use with clients, she starts to address the sadness of a relationship that had ended, and a lack of confidence that she would find another. Her late night cereal and occasional ice cream indulgences numbed her out enough so that she didn’t have to feel any of it.
She is grateful for the realization and has begun to make new behavioral changes to nourish her soul and not confide in a bowl of late night eating. Her body and her spirit start to shift.
As you can see there is much to investigate when looking at how to nourish yourself. I like to look at all of it as ingredients for life: protein, fats, carbs, love, work, movement, spirituality, etc…
I treasure and support your process to find the delicate balance that only will resonate with your individual spirit, body and mind. I also know that the process of finding this balance can be the biggest gift in your life.
Darshana Weill is the Founder of Fruition Women’s Health – a way of life that supports women to overcome emotional eating and live nourished lives. She works with individual and groups. She also teaches a variety of health related workshops around the Bay Area, Santa Cruz and nationally. For more info, visit: http://www.darshanaweill.com/