Food as a Spiritual Practice
Other than air and water, food is the thing most critical to our survival.
Desires around it get imprinted on us from an early age.
As infants, our relationship with food is enmeshed with our parents. When the infant cries, mom pacifies baby at her bosom.
As a toddler, food is used as a lure or as a reward or punishment.
As growing children, many of us were shamed into eating everything on our plate because of the ‘starving children in Africa’.
Is it any wonder that we have such complex relationships with food?
Somewhere along the line the ‘essence’ of food gets lost and, in many cases, food becomes a crutch or a substitute for unmet needs. Food may insidiously become an addiction without us even being aware of it and it can be difficult to stay conscious around desires that are that powerful.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that lights up the pleasure centre in our brain when we do something that we enjoy. It cannot distinguish between ‘healthy’ vs ‘unhealthy’ pursuits. Therefore you can get the same kick out of running five kilometres as you would from eating a bar of chocolate.
The problem is that dopamine neurons are activated and produce dopamine when an action is more rewarding than we expect, but they remain at baseline activity when the reward matches our expectations and show depressed activity when we receive less reward than predicted. What this means is that, in order to get the same ‘high’, we now find ourselves having to eat two chocolate bars.
Food addiction differs from any other addiction as ALL OF US need to eat to survive.
When you are addicted to alcohol you can loosen the grip of the addiction by removing the wine from your environment, thereby putting distance between you and your addiction.
It’s almost impossible to separate yourself from food.
The culture in the 21st century revolves around food. Half the channels on TV are dedicated to cooking shows. There are thousands of magazines, books and blogs devoted to the art of cooking. Food is at the centre of social gatherings. It is used in religious traditions to symbolise an aspect of the faith, or to commemorate a festival. It becomes incredibly difficult to navigate this minefield with all of this temptation surrounding us.
Not only is food an addiction, it’s become an obsession, making it difficult to be objective about it.
If you have ever tried to lose weight and your focus is on getting thin, you’ll be obsessing all the time.
Even if you do lose the weight, you’ll be worried about putting it back on.
Despite our best intentions, it’s a proven fact that most diets fail because we fall back into our old eating habits.
Losing weight is a complex issue that involves a multi-level approach that requires a lot of willpower and discipline.
Redefine your relationship with food
The first step on this journey is to readdress our relationship with food. After all the years you’ve been eating for your pleasure, how much will it cost you to surrender a little of that pleasure into becoming mindful of the process of eating?
We have gone so far in sense gratification that our ability to even imagine using food sacredly, merely for survival and maintenance of the body, has almost vanished.
Part of our journey involves experimenting with each aspect of our lives for its potential as part of our awakening. Because we eat daily, food can be the most powerful tool to achieve awakening.
If you are into cooking and enjoy the exquisite subtleties of food there’s nothing wrong with any of that; it can be done as a Yoga as well.
The 10 Commandments for using food as spiritual practice
- The first step is to acknowledge that food is a part of our lives. The less you fight it, the less control it will have over you.
- Food is crucial to our survival and wellbeing. Surrender to that truth.
- The food you eat and your body are one and the same thing. Food becomes your body. You and the food are not separate from one other. There’s no duality.
- Eat with gratitude. Give thanks to the farmer who grew the vegetables or to the animal that offered up its life.
- Choose foods that nurture your body. Each time you put something in your mouth ask yourself how that food is impacting your body. Food that most resembles its original state is way better for you than processed food. Ask yourself is it nurturing, neutral or harmful?
- Keep a food journal. If you find that your food choices are mostly harmful, ask yourself why you are feeding yourself toxic things?
- Don’t eat more than you need. Stop eating when you are 80 per cent full. Your hormones need time to kick in. Trust that your body has the divine intelligence to do this.
- Offer the food that you’re eating to a higher power. Be that to God, the Universe, or your higher Self. You may have a choice in what you are feeding your body but you must surrender to the fact that you are not in control of the result of the action. The offering, the sacrifice – that becomes what eating is about for you and not how much weight you might lose!
- Your body isyour temple. Choose foods that maintain the temple, so that you can deepen your wisdom, so that you can increase your samadhi, so that you can get through your ego in order to come to God.
- Jewish dietary laws, Christian fasting at Lent, Muslim Ramadan, Hindu Ekadashi, are all familiar practices and are designed to reorient our relationship with food, to purify the body and mind and acquire divine Grace.
Once you have practised this and you’re no longer focused on a result and are not identified with being the eater, the food is just what it is and you’ll intuitively eat what you need to eat.
Most of us are totally unconscious surrounding the subject of food. If we pay attention to it at all, it’s usually to obsess.
However, when you become mindful of your eating, you will make better choices and will develop a higher level of consciousness around eating to live vs living to eat.
A clean vessel will let through more light than one clogged with debris and the best way of achieving this is by fasting.
Fasting for spirituality
Digestion requires an inordinate amount of energy. Unfortunately the body does not have a limitless supply. If we eat constantly, a lot of energy gets allocated to that process.
Our bodies repair and heal mainly when we are asleep. Old cells are broken down, damaged DNA is repaired, various proteins and hormones are manufactured and the immune system is fortified.
By forgoing a meal, we can extend the repair process by redirecting the energy that would have been used for digestion to cleaning out damaged cells and generating new, healthier cells.
Furthermore your body will switch to using a cleaner source of fuel called ketones which produce far less wasteful by-products than glucose. Ketones provide more energy per unit of oxygen used and the number of mitochondria (energy factories) in brain cells increases, thus brain function is heightened.
Once your body adapts to using ketones, insulin resistance improves and, as a result, blood sugar is stabilised, meaning less dependence on a constant supply of food. https://www.virtahealth.com/faq/ketogenic-diet-reduce-insulin-resistance
As mentioned previously, fasting has been a part of many religions.
Giving up food for religious reasons is a form of renunciation. Sacrificing something so inextricably linked to our existence demonstrates our level of devotion. Fasting purifies both body and mind and heightens spiritual connection.
It takes the body a few days to adapt to the absence of food after which it kicks into a different type of metabolism.
Fasting for extended periods of time is by far the most powerful way to stimulate autophagy mechanisms in the body. Autophagy is when the toxic, damaged and diseased cells are broken down and are reused to keep the body going.
Autophagy clears out the toxic build-up in the brain that leads to diminished mental function and neurodegeneration.
Cleaning out the cobwebs in the brain and nervous system results in a purer channel for accessing higher levels of consciousness.
The good news is that it is possible to stimulate a healthy level of autophagy through daily Intermittent Fasting (IF) whereby meals are restricted to an eight-hour or less window each day.
This would mean fasting for 16 hours without taking in any calories during that time. As an example, you could eat your meals between 12h00 – 20h00.
There are many fasting strategies you can try whereby you go anywhere from 12 to 36 hours without food. You can also do a supervised three- to five-day water fast.
Please consult your healthcare professional before embarking on extended fasts. For more information and to download your complimentary Guide to Fasting please visit:
Laura worked in the medical industry for 13 years, after which she practised as a nutritional and wellness coach. She established All About Health and developed a range of breakfast and snack solutions after identifying a need for nutritionally dense products that were free from preservatives and additives. Laura’s passion is in optimising physiological functions through nutrition. She has a keen interest in using clean living and fasting practices to combat disease and to access higher levels of consciousness.
Laura’s range caters for all dietary requirements and can be purchased at www.allaboutmuesli.co.za
Brahmārpañam: The Food Prayer
Sri Sathya Sai Baba
We should partake of food with a sathwic (pure, serene) mind. Our ancestors recommended the offering of food to God before partaking. Food so partaken becomes prasad (consecrated offering). Prayer cleanses the food of the three impurities caused by the absence of cleanliness of the vessel, cleanliness of the foodstuff and cleanliness in the process of cooking. It is necessary to get rid of these three impurities to purify the food, for pure food goes into the making of a pure mind. It is not possible to ensure the purity of the cooking process because we do not know what thoughts rage in the mind of the man who prepares the food. Similarly, we cannot ensure the cleanliness of the food ingredients because we do not know whether it was acquired in a righteous way by the person who sold it to us. Hence, it is essential on our part to offer food to God in the form of prayer so that these three impurities do not afflict our mind
Brahmārpañam Brahma Havir BrahmāgnauBrahmañāhutaṃ,
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam BrahmakarmāSamādhinah.
HarirDātāHarirBhoktā Harir Annam Prajāpatih
“The food thus offered to God is digested by ‘Vaishwanara’ in the digestive system. Since God exists in the form of fire as Vaishwanara, He digests the food along with the impurities. So, man will not be affected even if the impurities enter the food” Summer Showers in Brindavan, 1993