It is important to become aware of the effect on the body of what we eat, and how foods affect how we feel.
The most beneficial change is to cut out 'extreme foods', foods that seem to have the most dramatic effect on the body. These often are, unfortunately, eaten in large quantities. The extreme effect of such foods is no longer acknowledged by the body since it becomes an accepted way of feeling for many people.
An example is that of drinking strong coffee. This creates a stress-like response in the body -- shaking hands, heart palpitations, dilated pupils, poor digestion, and sweating. These symptoms are often accepted as 'normal', because they are continuously present in some people to a greater or lesser degree.
Stimulants Create a Strain on the Body
These symptoms may be a background discomfort that can be tolerated, but stimulants create a strain on the body. It is not healthy to have a system that is constantly on the alert and under stress.
By taking regular stimulants such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, the body cannot relax properly. This can be a contributory factor in many stress related disorders such as ulcers, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, and asthma. Too many stimulants alter the mind state, thus preventing real clarity.
Foods That Depress the System
There are also foods that have the opposite effect, that of depressing the system. These are mainly animal foods, particularly red meat, heavy dairy foods (butter, cheese, mayonnaise, ice cream, cream), and salt. They appear to slow down the digestive system, taking a long time to pass through it.
This sluggishness gives rise to constipation, bowel disorders, and other symptoms such as acne, low energy, low motivation, and depression. A lot of red meat slows down the body and mind. Dairy foods are also often a contributory factor in the build up of mucus in the body, particularly in the respiratory tract, the sinuses, the ears, and the female reproductive organs.
Recommendations for a More Balanced and Nutritious Diet
In most spiritual disciplines originating from the East, there is little emphasis on animal foods, with a tendency toward vegetarianism instead.
Basic recommendations for a more balanced and nutritious diet are as follows:
Foods to Cut Down
oils (except olive oil)
tea, coffee, and alcohol
Foods to Increase
whole grains (brown rice,
Initial "Negative" Reactions to Dietary Changes
When some dietary changes are made there can be a reaction in the body that may seem negative. If caffeine has been taken in large quantities over a number of years, the body will experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and nausea. These will pass within a couple of days -- be patient!
If you have been used to eating a lot of animal products, and either cut them down or give them up, you may get symptoms of detoxification. Your skin may temporarily become blotchy or spotty, and you may feel tired. It is worth persevering.
If you give up animal food altogether, you will have to find your protein from vegetable sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Soybean products are a fine way to get protein, and include tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy sausages, and burgers. You may wish just to cut down consumption of red meat to start with, and still eat chicken and fish. Take care not to overdose on chicken unless it is free range; there can be toxic residues in it. Fish is a good source of fatty acids, calcium, and protein, but do not eat it too often since it may be contaminated.
To give up all sugar can be very difficult because there are hidden sugars in so many refined products -- even salty ones. Beware of foods that say they are sugar free; their manufacturers often have a different way of presenting sugar, such as sucrose, maltose, dextrose, saccharin, or aspartame. Some people think that honey is a good substitute for sugar, but it contains a high percentage of sugar, only some of which is naturally occurring.
Basic Rules of Eating
- Eat in moderation, and chew your food well.
- Try not to eat when stressed.
If you are anxious about something, take a few long slow breaths before you start your meal. If you do this, you will eat in a more relaxed way and your digestive system will function better.
See how much of your eating is done consciously and how much is done mindlessly, anxiously, and out of a need for comfort. Food should be used to nourish the physical body, not as an emotional crutch.
About The Author
Catherine Sutton runs a private shiatsu clinic in Dublin, Ireland. She studied Shiatsu (acupuncture without needles) in London and worked as a Shiatsu therapist for many years and co- founded the Irish School of Shiatsu in 1991. She is also co-founder of Slainte Pobal – an organisation bringing health education to women in areas of disadvantage in Dublin. Catherine has had a keen interest in meditation for almost 30 years. Over the years she has done many retreats in silence, both with groups and alone, and has experienced great benefit from these. Since 2006, Catherine has been facilitating Mindfulness courses – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) - for groups and individuals. Visit her website at http://www.everydaymindfulness.ie