What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had? Think back to that experience. What made it so memorable? Where were you? Did you prepare the meal yourself? Who were you with? Can you remember any conversations from the meal? How long did you spend eating? Did you leave feeling full?
For some people, their most memorable meal depends on what food was prepared. For others, a noteworthy meal depends more on the company. Neither option is more correct than the other—in essence, the experience of eating involves two things: the meal itself and the people you share it with.
TheSpirituality of Eating
Eating can be a spiritual experience. In fact, we argue that it should be a spiritual experience. Several religions incorporate rituals or health codes surrounding eating (or not eating). For thousands of years, people have gathered to share meals with one another. Many people choose to pray before they eat. Others see cooking as sacred, personal time to enjoy. Most (if not all) holidays involve the consumption of specific foods. Humans recognize the power that food has to bring us together and bring us to God. The foods we choose to eat, whether in a family or faith traditions or in our day-to-day lives, have great significance.
Then why is it that so often, you’re shoving a granola bar in your mouth on your way to work? Choosing a fast food drive-thru for dinner because you need something cheap and quick? In our day-to-day lives, we don’t put food first. A lot of the time, it’s an afterthought, only to be realized when our bodies scream at us in hunger after hours of forgetting to eat. We think there’s no time for it. If that’s truly the case, then maybe we need to rethink our priorities. There’s a saying that goes, “Eat like your life depends on it, because it does.” This is true for your spiritual life, too.
Norman Wirzba, author of Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, writes: “Food is a gift of God given to all creatures for the purposes of life’s nurture, sharing, and celebration.When it is done in the name of God, eating is the earthly realization of God’s eternal communion-building love.” Eating is a daily opportunity to connect with your higher power. In this article, we’ll outline two ways to make your meals more spiritual: eating intuitively and eating mindfully. But first, we’ll discuss why a healthy diet is essential for your spiritual development.
A Healthy Diet
The body and the spirit are inseparably connected. When one suffers, the other does, too. For example, people with mental illnesses sometimes struggle to find meaning in life, which is a key element of spirituality. Or if your physical body is ill, it’s hard to maintain your spiritual wellness practice. Because your physical health is influenced by nutrition, and your spirituality is influenced by your physical health, therefore, your spirituality is influenced by nutrition. When you incorporate spirituality into your eating habits, you can discover more of your spiritual nature.
A healthy diet is the foundation for spiritual eating. “Diet” here refers to the general food that you ingest on a regular basis. It does not mean the restrictions and limitations that “going on a diet” often entails. A healthy diet isn’t about losing weight or getting your body to look a certain way. Instead, it’s about choosing foods that will nourish your body, foods that come from the earth. Spirituality is about the interconnectedness of all things. Unfortunately, humans have disconnected ourselves from everything, even each other. Being deliberate about eating food that comes from the earth can rebuild that connectedness.
A good way to reconnect with the earth is to eat more plants as well as responsibly sourced meat and other animal products. People also foster connection through eating is by shopping locally. When you buy local produce, meat, and dairy, not only are you supporting the farmers in your area but also you are grounding yourself to your community (people and nature). The produce you eat will also be in season where you live, which can remind you of the abundance the earth gives us.Unfortunately, shopping locally is something that not all of us can afford, as it’s usually more expensive. If that’s the case for you, then just try to focus on eating more fresh produce.
Two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, created the concept of intuitive eating in 1995 and defined it as “a self-care eating framework which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought.” When you eat intuitively, you listen and respond to your body’s hunger cues. Have you ever noticed that after a difficult hike, you crave a burger and fries? Or after you’ve had the stomach flu, you only want saltines and soup for a day or two? Listen to those cues! Your body knows it needs protein, carbs, and fats after a hike, and that it can’t handle heavy foods when it’s still queasy. Sometimes, you’re simply not in the mood for a salad, and that’s okay. Tribole and Resch identified ten principles of intuitive eating:
1. Reject the diet mentality, which is the belief in quick fixes for losing weight permanently.
2. Honor your hunger, listening to your body’s signals that it needs food.
3. Make peace with food, because it is not your enemy.
4. Challenge the food police, which are people who claim certain foods are “bad” foods.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor, meaning enjoy the experience of eating.
6. Feel your fullness, listening to your body to know when to stop eating.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness, recognizing that food won’t fix them.
8. Respect your body by eating foods to feel good rather than to look good.
9. Movement—feel the difference between punishing yourself with exercise and moving in ways you enjoy.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition, which is the understanding that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy.
What makes intuitive eating a spiritual practice is the awareness you gain of your body. Instead of trying to control your body with your mind (by not allowing or forcing yourself to eat certain foods), your body and mind work together inharmony. This creates an environment where your spirit can thrive.
Eating mindfully is a practice to help you appreciate and enjoy food—all the flavors, textures, and scents that make up a delicious dish. The Skylight app has a brief audio exercise called “Eating Mindfully” designed to help you try mindful eating for the first time. You’ll have step-by-step cues for what to notice and what to think about during your meal. When you eat mindfully, you eat with gratitude, slowness, and no distractions:
● Gratitude. With mindful eating, you create space to thank your higher power for the food in front of you. This connects you not just to God but also to the earth. Think of the farmer who grew the food, or the animal who has died to nourish you. It’s hard to appreciate food unless you pause to express gratitude. But even that simple act of meditation or prayer can transform your eating experience.
● Slowness. A lot of the time, we try to eat as quickly as possible. When you take your time, you have more opportunities to enjoy your food. One simple exercise is to count the number of chews you take before swallowing. Then try doubling that number of chews, and see what happens.
● No distractions. Even if you do take a longtime to finish a meal, you may tend to eat while you’re doing something else.Whether you’re watching TV, scrolling through Twitter, listening to a podcast, or driving, your food always takes second place to whatever else you’re doing.Mindful eating shows you that there’s no need for distraction—your food can be the main event.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, today, the share of disposable personal income spent on food in the UnitedStates is the smallest it’s ever been.In 1960, the average American household spent 17 percent of their disposable income on food. In 2020, that number was split in half, a mere 8.5 percent. Of course, there are other factors to consider in those numbers (like the fact that the standard of living today is higher than it was 60 years ago), but still: Americans are spending a lot less money on food than they used to.
What does this tell us? It means we’re buying more food for less money, which isn’t always a bad thing. However, perhaps it means you have more room in your budget for healthy food than you think you do. Maybe you could spend less on online shopping or you could cancel a couple subscriptions you’ve forgotten about.
Take a look at your eating habits. Choose just one way to make them more of a spiritual experience—maybe share a meal with a friend once a week, or eat lunch at the table instead of on the couch. You don’t have to do anything drastic right now; take small steps for improvement. In time, perhaps you’ll find that eating doesn’t have to be something you rush through just to satiate your hunger. It can be something you look forward to.