Nourishment – a story about a hot cross bun

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It is Friday morning, the first day of the Easter Weekend. We are on day 15 of a (just extended) 35-day national lockdown due to the Coronavirus.

I toasted a hot cross bun for breakfast this morning. I felt a moment of guilt, since a hot cross bun has little nutritional value to me – my breakfasts, besides being high on my pleasure scale, usually consist of good quality carbohydrates, plenty of protein and healthy fats.

“How can a hot cross bun be nourishing?”, I asked myself.

I knew the moment I took a bite.

I was instantly transported to the family farm where I spent many Easter long-weekends as a child. Our family would set off on the long drive into the semi-desert Karoo on Thursday around mid-day or a bit later, as soon as school was out. We would stop somewhere along the way for a meal (hamburger and chips!) at a fuel-station restaurant. The last part of the drive would seem to last forever, on a dirt road with lots of bumps, hills and dust. Eventually when it was dark, sometimes already late at night, we would pull up to the farm house, my Uncle Ernst and Aunty Joey meeting us excitedly at the gate. We would all tumble out of the car, stretching after the long car ride and exchange deep, loving hugs with our people that we haven’t seen in a long time. We would be ushered into the kitchen and given some freshly baked farm bread with butter and home-made jam, or rusks with some tea or coffee to go with it, and soon after we would all be shown to our rooms and go to bed, exhausted. For a city kid, the nights on the farm was unusually dark, and it took me a while to get used to – I would wake up in the middle of the first night and think I had gone blind as I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

By now, Friday morning, I would be sitting with my mom, my Aunt Joey and my Aunt Mara who would have arrived earlier the previous day, in the sun room knitting. It was usually terribly cold on the farm this time of year, but it would be cozy in the sun room, and we would sit there knitting, chatting, flipping through magazines, reading… And at some stage during the morning, the toasted hot cross buns would be brought out, buttered and enjoyed with coffee.

Over the next few days there would be long walks in the dry, dusty, rocky hills, the smell of sheep droppings and the dry bushes that grow there and breathing crisp, cold, fresh air, rides on an ancient wooden trailer pulled by tractor, driven by either my uncle or one of my cousins, drawing Easter pictures (crucifixions, bunnies, easter eggs…) with my cousin at the dining room table or on the lounge floor, scavenging for treasures on the nearby farm dump (hoping for an antique glass bottle or piece of china), bottle-feeding orphaned lambs who were housed in the barn, target shooting at tin cans with an air rifle, and lots and lots of delicious food (I get my love of cooking and baking from my aunts – both formidable cooks)…

I do remember those early, mysterious feelings of guilt for over-indulging, the discomfort of eating too much, AND simultaneously the immense pleasure that was to be found in the kneading of bread dough, the smells from the kitchen, the tastes at the table, the hospitality and generosity of my aunt and uncle, being included in adult conversation at the big dining room table, the being together with family.

And this is how that hot-cross bun nourished my soul this morning. I am thankfully in lockdown with my husband and grown children, but I am unable to see my parents and my siblings. I ate my hot cross bun slowly and consciously (as I do), appreciating the sweetness, the spiciness and the fruitiness of this traditional Easter treat, filled with happy memories, in gratitude, and in loving memory of my aunt and uncle who have since both passed away.

Food is more than nutrients. Food nourishes us on many levels – mind, body and soul.

 

Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash

 

The Pleasure of Eating – a Mindful Experience

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I sit down at the dining room table. I look out at the garden, and I notice the morning sun just touching the buttery frangipani flowers on the tree outside. In front of me on the table is a beautiful hand-made bowl with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, a tumble of shiny, plump purple and red summer berries, and a soft white dollop of coconut cream. Next to the bowl, the steam is rising from my coffee cup.

Yes, I am having “ice cream” for breakfast! It’s basically a frozen smoothie and it has some healthy stuff in it (my recipe is at the bottom of this page), although it could have been anything else I fancied this morning, or it could have been any other meal…

I scoop a bit of ice cream and a cherry onto my spoon and put it in my mouth. I feel how the ice cream melts. The cherry bursts as I bite down on it and it tastes tart against the sweet, creaminess of the ice cream. I chew, then swallow this cool juiciness. Next I take a sip of my black coffee. The warm liquid is such a contrast after the cold ice cream. The taste left behind after I swallow the coffee, is a rich combination of sweet, sour and bitter.

I savour each bite, aware of the taste, texture, smell, sound and look of this meal. This is an experience in mindful eating*.

I didn’t always eat like this. Like many other people, I used to wolf down my meals mindlessly – whether sitting down or on the run – maybe noticing the first bite and recognising it as delicious, but then before I knew it: poof – the meal had gone! And I was sometimes left dissatisfied and wanting more, but often feeling uncomfortable because I’d eaten too much.

I have since learned that taking time to involve the senses and the conscious mind in the eating experience not only increases the pleasure of a meal, but it also aids digestion and helps us avoid overeating! The cephalic (or head) phase of digestion is a vital and quite substantial component of our entire digestion process. Digestion starts when we see, smell and think about food. So involving the senses in a mindful way prompts or encourages the full digestive response. Because we are consciously aware of our eating experience, we are also more likely to notice when we are full. This means that we will feel satisfied with what we have eaten, and we tend not to want more (unless we truly need more) or eat too much. This is the body’s natural appetite regulator!

When I explain the science part of eating more mindfully to clients, they find it quite acceptable, but talking about the “pleasure” part can actually be quite scary. Pleasure is not a safe idea for people who have been doing battle with food and their bodies for a long time. I used an exercise called “Mindfulness and the Art of Chocolate Eating” (watch a video about it here or find a script for the exercise here) with a Mind Body Food group I was working with last year. The exercise involves handing each participant a small piece of good quality chocolate in a wrapper, and guiding them through a meditative process of unwrapping and eating the piece of chocolate in a mindful way, through the conscious engagement of the senses. It is interesting to notice the mix of emotions that come up for people when they are given permission (and a new way) to appreciate something that is commonly thought of as naughty, forbidden, or bad.

As humans we are designed to experience pleasure, and the science part tells us that if we allow ourselves to experience the pleasure we are wanting from food consciously, then our brain and body are more likely to be satisfied and we are less likely to want more than we need. Pleasure, therefore, is a necessary and healthy component of digestion, and allowing ourselves to experience the pleasure of eating can be an important step towards healing our relationship with our body and with food.

 

Beakfast Ice Cream

Serves 1

  • one banana, peeled and cut into pieces, and frozen overnight
  • 1 Tbs ground flax seeds or protein powder
  • 1 Tbs peanut- or other nut butter
  • 1 Tbs cocoa (optional),
  • 1 tsp vanilla and/or flavouring of your choice, eg coffee granules, cinnamon, chai spice…
  • just a splash of almond milk

Process all of these together in a food processor until smooth. Scoop into a container and freeze until needed (you may need to thaw it slightly before serving).

 

* There are many authors and practitioners who write about this practice. I suggest you google Mindful Eating if you’d like to learn more.

 

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

Listening to your body and remembering the joy of moving.

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Something I ask my clients to do is to listen to their bodies. This is not an uncommon phrase – Listen to Your Body. In the Mind Body Eating context, questions to ask of the body might be: What kind of nourishment does it need? How does it want to move? Now I know many people will say to me, only half-joking: “my body needs cake” or “my body doesn’t want to move”. And these answers may not be wrong!

Of course what is really meant by “listening to the body”, is to tune in, to be present IN the body or to be “embodied” as Marc David from the IPE* would say, to notice over time what works or doesn’t work for it. We are only really able to sustain changes or new habits that truly work for us. This is the reason why radical diets and punishing exercise plans seldom last long enough for us to see long-term results.

I started running nearly two years ago. I’d been walking for ages, but I felt that my body needed to move differently. I used a running app to help me get from not being able to run at all to running 5km. There was no timeframe. Although the app promised me I’d go from couch to 5K in 8 weeks, I took my time, repeated days on the program until I felt good and ready to move on. Slow and Steady is my personal motto, so it felt appropriate that it took me a year to be able to run 5km without stopping.

Once I had achieved this goal, I just wanted to settle into it, do it a few times a week until it felt easy. I had no ambition to run further or to enter into running events. I worked a little on improving my time, and generally I enjoyed my runs.

Over the past few months, however, I started finding it more and more difficult to complete 5km without some intermittent walking. There was no physical problem I could put my finger on. My lungs felt fine, and I had no pain, but my body (or was it my mind?) just felt fatigued. I thought that getting plenty of rest during the summer holidays might sort me out, but it just got worse – I started walking more and more in between joyless minutes of running.

A few days ago I noticed all the other people who were running (not walking) along the coastal path here where I’m holidaying. I realised that I had been comparing myself to them over these last few weeks, and also over the past months to friends and acquaintances who run marathons! And instead of getting motivated or inspired, I just felt so inferior for struggling with my “little” 5km run.

Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and in this moment I agreed. Some people challenge this idea, explaining that we can actually find our humanity and gratitude through comparison (here, for example). I agree that it can. And I have also seen the damage comparison can do when it comes from a place of low self-esteem, when it can lead to feeling “less-than”, not good enough. I had not been enJOYing my running, even though I like exercise, because I was trying to do exercise like someone else, instead of doing what my own body wants. Comparison had indeed stolen my joy.

Listening to my body two years ago about how it needed to move lead me to running, but then I got caught up in the measuring and pushing that running culture sometimes encourages. And I stopped listening!

So when a few days ago I wondered how I could get back to loving exercise instead of dreading my run, I asked myself these questions:

Why do you exercise? Answer: for the health of my body and my mind, and for the joy of moving.

What do you want from your work-out? Answer: to keep my heart rate up and to keep breathing.

Are you training for a marathon? Answer: No.

What is wrong with intermittent running and walking? Answer: nothing!

Today I had the best workout I’ve had in ages. I did my own thing. I walked and I ran. I didn’t care what everyone else were doing. I was present in my body, breathing and sweating, and loving the music in my ears, the smell of the ocean, and the glorious feeling of the sun and the sea breeze on my skin!

 

* IPE – Institute for the Psychology of Eating
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash