Body: Revelations About Food

I love food. I always have, and no matter how poor we were growing up, we always had food on the table, even if it was only bologna sandwiches. My mom is a wonderful cook and baker, and her food was always such a comfort.

Because of my love of food, I’ve struggled with my weight, and growing up, I was a bit chubby. Then as I hit adolescence and then adulthood, my weight fluctuated up and down like a yo-yo as I lost and gained weight. Needless to say, I have a few self-esteem issues related to my body and my weight, and a lot of my emotional baggage is tied up in body image and food.

So, I’ve come to understand that many people, myself included, use food not as fuel for the body, but as an emotional release or as a way to fill a void. We use food for so many reasons other than to fuel our bodies. We use it to celebrate. We use it to mourn. We use it to offer our condolences. We use it as a welcome to the neighborhood. We use it as an antidepressant. We use for comfort and satisfaction. And we self medicate with food as we try to fill our emotional emptiness.

For me, food has always equated to comfort, and as I have struggled with my emotional baggage, it has been a constant source of comfort in my life. But it’s a nasty cycle. I would eat to feel comforted, to feel satisfied, and then be disgusted with all that I ate cursing my body and the excess weight. I would wallow in the self pity that I didn’t have the will power - that I couldn’t maintain the lost weight. And I would eat more, gain more weight. Feel worse. At some point, I would lose some of the weight, feel better about myself, but then fall back into bad eating habits as life got unbalanced and more stressful. And the weight would come back, and I’d feel bad about myself again. My life has been a lot of self-sabotage.

As I struggle now to bring positive and sustainable change to my life. I need to free myself of the emotional hold food has on me and use food for fuel not comfort.

As I kid, I loved sugary cereal for breakfast, and as an adult, I lived off bagels. Both of which are mighty tasty, but not very nutritional - high in carbs, low in fat, but also low in protein. Not the best way to fuel up at the beginning of the day.

Since I’ve switched to a more whole-food, plant-based diet, I start my day in a much better way. I still eat cereal, but it’s of my own making, and it’s packed with a lot of nutrition including protein. Using old fashioned rolled oats as a base, I add some nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit that I top with a little agave nectar, cinnamon, and vanilla soy milk for a chewy, sweet yet yummy and hearty cold cereal. I mix a big batch of the oats, nuts and seeds in a resealable container and cut up the fresh fruits each morning - blueberries and strawberries are my favorite.

Here’s my basic cereal recipe:

8-10 cups of old fashioned rolled oats
approx. 2 cups of sliced almonds
approx. 2 cups of chopped walnuts
approx. 1 cup of raw sunflower seeds
approx. 1/4 cup of golden flax seeds
occasionally I’ll add some sesame seeds as well

Body: Inhabit the Body

I often move through this world without much thought or notice. My mind is preoccupied with so many thoughts that I often enter a room without remembering the reason for going in it. I often and spontaneously change my direction as I walk as I remember something that I have forgotten or get distracted by something along the way. I am constantly running into corners and doorways as I try to cut them short, and I often can’t remember doing many of the small, routine things that I do everyday. All of these things are because I rarely inhabit my body, and the motion of my body through space is an unconscious act. My mind twists and turns with so many thoughts that I’m not conscious of my body and give it very little to no thought.

I need to be more conscious of my body and it’s movement through the world. I need to be cognizant of it’s positions, postures, and motion. I need to be much more aware.

How do I inhabit my body? How do I become more present with how my body occupies space?

A thought from some Buddhist reading has stuck with me over the last few years. I remember reading some instructions on how to meditate, and it said something along the lines that everything has its proper posture, not just meditation. This makes me think of my horrific posture, the way I slouch, lean, slump, and hunch. No wonder my back and shoulders constantly ache. So, I’ve been thinking about what the proper posture would be for sitting, standing, walking, relaxing, making art, driving, and all those other daily activities and motions. That poor posture is a sure way to keep my body out of balance and invite in those ache and pains. Proper posture brings balance and centeredness, and invited in a feeling of being grounded.

Over the last few days, I have been trying to be more conscious of my body and catch myself slouching, hunching, and slumping. I’ve been stopping several times during the day to see that my spine is more straight, my shoulders are level and slightly rolled back, and my feet are firmly planted on the ground. And, it’s difficult. I’m combatting 30+ years of bad posture. Along with the occasional body check, I need to start some core-strengthening exercises and stretches.

My goals are to become present in my body, to be more deliberate and aware in my actions and motions, and to become more physically grounded.

Body: A Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet

I don’t know about you, but my body speaks to me. It tells me all sorts of things, especially when I neglect and mistreat it. My sore muscles and joints tell me when I over do the yard work and that I’m not really in the kind of shape for such physical exertion. My upset stomach and aching head tell me when I have enjoyed a night out with friends just a little too much. My aching back tells me when I have spent too long hunched over artwork, and my body tells me when I have been over indulging and eating and drinking a lot of junk because I feel full, heavy, lethargic, and just plain blah.

Food is fuel for the body, and here lately I’ve been fueling up with a lot of junk.

I am vegan, but a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. (I’ll let my chunkiness speak to that.) There are a lot of heavily refined and processed foods that are made as vegan substitutes for meat like Tofurky and Bocca, and there are a lot of foods, especially junk food, that are vegan by accident - potato chips and Oreos are just a couple. It is very easy to rely on convenience and throw a couple of Bocca burgers in the over, serve them with a side of chips, and finish it up with a dessert of Oreo cookies. And though it's not terribly unhealthy, it's not the healthiest, and I’ve been resorting to too much of this kind of eating lately.

As a first step in what I am dubbing The Change Initiative, I am rededicating myself to a whole-food, plant-based diet. I first got into this type of diet a year ago when I saw the wonderful documentary “Forks Over Knives”. You can visit the website here. I had been vegetarian for nearly 9 years at the time, but had constantly been struggling with my weight. Given these weight issues and the fact that I have a family history of cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, the movie spoke to me.

The key point of the film is summed up in its opening quote by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine.” It goes on to cite the careers of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and their research on the effects of diet and nutrition on cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. I won’t go into the details, and I strongly encourage everyone to watch the film - it’s even streaming on Netflix. Citing a lot of research, the movie draws the conclusion that a whole-food, plant-based diet is the best treatment for combating these common diseases, and often can completely reverse some of these conditions. It recommends removing animal proteins and the heavily processed foods from one’s diet and switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet.

I left the movie theater, and immediately began eating a primarily whole-food, plant-based diet cutting out all dairy, eggs, refined sugars, oils, and prepackaged or processed foods. For several months, I ate only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and whole grain breads and pastas. I felt great, and I lost about 15 lbs. I had more energy, felt lighter, and got so much accomplished.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to maintain that diet as travel and convenience have interceded. The junk food has regained its hold on me, and I’ve gained some weight back and feel just really blah. I am ready to change back to the whole-food, plant-based diet.

Now eating in this fashion is much more work with the actual preparing and cooking of food, but I have discovered and developed some very quick, easy, and tasty recipes. The best part is eating the leftovers the next day for lunch. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of these recipes.

Today, I’ll share one of my favorites, and it is one of the simplest (see the above picture). It takes about 15 minutes. It’s a simple pasta and vegetable dish using whole grain pasta and frozen vegetables.

Boil the pasta according to the package.
Throw a bunch of frozen veggies in a pot. I love corn, peas, carrots, and broccoli. Cover with water and bring to a boil while the pasta boils.
Drain the pasta when it’s done.
Combine the the pasta and veggies in bowl, season to taste. I usually use salt, pepper, and some italian seasoning.

Notice there’s no oil and no butter or margarine (not even vegan margarine), so the vegetables taste fresh and crisp.

I would love if more people turned to a more whole-food, plant-based diet and embraced a vegan lifestyle. I understand the realities though, and if I can get people to eat more fruits and veggies and limit their intake of meat, eggs, and dairy, I'll consider it a small victory. Also, I'm not a doctor or nutritionist, so please consult your physician before undertaking any radical lifestyle change. But I hope that some of you will consider some small changes in your diet that will lead to better health and well being.