Our relationship to eating has nothing to do with food.

Many spiritual practices will involve food, meal, preparation, eating into the sacred rituals.

Whether it’s to actually eat or not eat (to fast), the activities around food preparations is something important.

In Ayurveda it’s even essential since “we are what we digest”. When I look into the suggestions around meal time, this science suggests several things in order to eat consciously. Most of the recommendations will seem obvious to us, like setting an intention before food (or like saying a prayer/saying grace), to chew a certain number of times, to not be distracted by other things while eating etc. When I say “obvious”, what I mean is not that we all do it but instead that we are all aware of these recommendations.

Even as a child in kindergarten, I remember the teachers saying the typical “let the food silence your mouth” (or as we said in Sweden “låt maten tysta mun”).

Yet, when we look at our own behaviour and when we look around us, we rarely see anyone doing this. I spoke to a friend about it who said he always needs to watch something while eating. It’s gone to the point where it’s an automation. You get your food onto a plate and you don’t start until your Netflix show begins.

We go out for meals together, with other people. It’s a social situation. Why is it a social situation?

Because it’s a moment where we all are settled around a table and so it’s the perfect moment to socialise. We could however see each other outside of the dinner table too. And what happens is that we often eat rather unconsciously since we are in conversation with others.

When you choose a holistic approach to life, you become an adept to the idea that we receive energy not only through the food we put into our mouth but actually through our five senses. An easy way to prove my point is to remember when you have felt low on energy and gone out for a walk in nature. It is up lifting. This means that in times when we feel a need to refill, there are other options than eating something. But if we take the holistic approach, it means that we can use our five senses to get energy from the meal, not only through taste. Hence the idea of eating in a quiet place so that you can actually use all your sense organs for it.

So I gave it a go and here’s what I noticed. Sitting down on your own, no distractions and in a nice environment. Taking three deep breaths where the exhalation deepens a little more each time and then simply setting an intention in my mind of “be here now”. Making myself eat slowly (this is the hardest part for many of us. My whole life I have practiced the art of throwing the food down my throat) and so counting even the times I chew so to not fall back into habitual patterns. One thing that happened was that I ate so much less than I would usually do. So here’s to over eating – my favourite habit around meals!

And as you can imagine, there were all these fabulous benefits from having a conscious meal in the spirit of Ayurveda.

But I wanted to talk about the other part of it. The restlessness, the frustration, the void that comes up.

Because we all know we should eat this way, yet we don’t. And so, why don’t we?

When you get used to eating this way, it becomes a habit and it feels really good. But while you’re just trying, it is hard work.

Why do we have this impression?

Why are we unweary when we have to eat in silence without talking, without watching, without reading?

Because we have a strange relationship to food.

Maybe we had really uncomfortable meal times as a child. It could have been a source of conflict, the whole family sitting down at the table.

We could also imagine that we saw eating as an interruption to whatever else we were doing. But more so, the unsolved stuff we have with parents, siblings, loved ones in general would be there with us as well. Without being dealt with.

When I did my experiment of truly eating consciously, I noticed that I felt stressed by the situation, as if I just wanted to be done with it and go on to the next. I also have a vivid memory of being told that I didn’t eat enough or too much or some other comment which had me wanting to be done with the situation fast as well.

If I look at how I have always eaten, it is the same thing. I eat very fast and I want to hurry to the next thing.

Many of the people I receive in therapy have issues with eating. It’s either restricting themselves from eating all together or not feeling as ease with a full stomach so they make themselves throw up as soon as they have finished a meal. It’s using food to fill the void they experience, not feeling loved, feeling bored, lonely.

I believe that one of the major factors in our ambivalent relationship to food is the fact that we all associate eating with love. With belonging and kinship.

To underline this hypothesis, I want to share the words of my patient. She cannot help herself to over eat and she will eat even if she’s not hungry. She then feels depleted and frustrated over her lack of willpower. And that frustration will actually invite her to indulge again (“ah well, it’s ruined so I might as well eat the second pizza”).

As we began to practice doing things with awareness and read the emotional signals that would pop up when she came to craving food, she burst out “actually my weight problem has nothing to do with food!!”

Yeah. Isn’t that funny?

Her difficulties to lose weight was a matter of distrust in her own capacities to take action, to change direction, to simply KNOW what is best for herself.

How many of us has had the idea that our parents know what is best for us ingrained in their minds since childhood do you think?

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞