Our diet, our eating habits, intolerances, allergies, eating disorders, fad diets, fasting, where our food comes from, how many air miles it travelled, what is in it (horsemeat, hormones, water and/or sawdust), what our food eats and how it lives, what it costs, and how much time it takes to cook/obtain, how we digest it… Food – just talking about it is quite frankly a minefield. But as this blog focuses on my personal journey, with yoga now firmly guiding my life, I shall limit (or seek to) my thoughts to that perspective. But it’s hard not to pass judgement especially for an ex-lawyer who still loves to be ‘right’…
Next week I will proudly co-host an Indian Summer Satsang combining my two loves – yoga and food. We are offering our guests a traditional Indian dining experience – a vegetarian Thali along with lassis (fresh fruit yogurt drink) and Indian sweet treats. Our aim is to offer the residents of Southport a sampler of the Indian cultural experience which both Mayuri and I share in our lives. Mayuri is of Indian heritage, a Hindu, a vegetarian, and a wonderful cook. I have travelled to India for holidays and I qualified as a yoga teacher in Rishikesh, India – the home of Yoga. During that time I became a vegetarian (something I have carried on since returning to the UK) and gorged myself on curry and other Indian delights travelling around India to the Tibetan inhabited mountains of Dharamshala and the golden sands and shores of Goa.
I am a foodie. I love cooking and eating, especially the eating part. When I stayed in a silent Buddhist meditation retreat, in Chang Mai, Thailand, I was rather disturbed when they informed us that food is not a pleasure and that we over-attach to food in seeking pleasure and beauty from it. I tried not to recall my Michelin starred dining extravaganza at Restaurant Story in London. With its plant pot brioche, and its beautifully shaped and decorated 5 courses of food with wine to match. And I managed not to choke over this message each time we recited it in prayer before eating (yes smart arses (i.e. my Dad) that bit was not in silence).
I used to devour steak and seafood and never imagined I could give it all up. Living in London was a dream from an international food sampling perspective. I honestly ate some of the best Vietnamese food in East London and I have been all the way to Vietnam! Going vegetarian has changed my enjoyment of dining out partly due to the fact that I no longer live in London with the array of edible plant based options. Southport will offer me a veggie burger, a veggie lasagne, the odd falafel and even halloumi but to be honest it’s not the most exciting place to eat out and for note, you can keep your mushroom risotto! To add salt to my salad wounds, Pret has just opened a pop up Veggie Pret in London. To Londoners Pret is nowt special but I am sorely tempted to pay a small fortune on trains just to get down there and stuff myself silly…
Speaking of binging, I have had digestive issues since I can remember and they mainly relate to stress, anxiety and overindulgence. My best mate reminded me that I used to get a nervous tum before our nights out at the age of 16 – I think it must have been the pressure of getting in to drinking establishments under-age, of meeting boys, and getting home in time to turn my dad’s alarm off. NB my younger sister never had to go through that palaver. Bitter? Hold grudges? What, me?
One nasty side effect of my more recent stress issues was acid reflux. I’m not just talking about indigestion but constant bile and burn. It put me off my food and even put me off drinking wine. Before buying shares in Gaviscon I took myself off to the GP realising that enough was enough! In India, I then had my dosha assessed (in Ayurveda your dosha is your body constitution and there are three – Vata (air), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Water)). Guess what I am? Yep – fire – Pitta predominately, and when I am unbalanced I will be more bile-y. The evidence speaks for itself.
You may think that now I do yoga, speak yoga, breathe yoga and eat veggies that I am in perfect health. Well, I currently have tennis elbow (not from tennis but ‘lugging bolsters and yoga mats elbow’ just increases the word count), and my yoga teacher who is also an acupuncturist (Chinese medical treatment) told me that I have bile issues which is why I feel discomfort in side stretches. This apparently comes from too much sugar… guilty, I love a raisin. And a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. Part of the issue is that I teach in the evenings when I would normally eat dinner so I’ll grab a ‘healthy’ fruit bar to keep me going. I’ve also been monitoring my dairy intake recently to see how addicted to cheese I really am so it appears that following this latest sugar/bile revelation I shall mostly be eating nuts. And lettuce.
Being healthy is not easy. It’s about finding balance within your daily diet which can be as tricky as finding your balance in Tree pose on the yoga mat. Some days you just fall over and land gob open on a Dairy Milk.
I do now, to some extent, believe that food is not consumed for pleasure. That first and foremost it is fuel for the body and that we should eat more consciously and mindfully. I don’t eat meat for various reasons including the fact that meat takes longer to digest and I always felt uncomfortable after eating a steak or Spaghetti Bolognese. After working on a legal case objecting to an intensive Dairy farm I know more about the use of antibiotics, the conditions the animals are kept in and that we already have genetically modified cows in the UK so what else is going on? What’s next? I do not believe we really know what is in our meat and I don’t think we care enough about ourselves, never mind the animals, to find out more. We’re busy, we’re stressed, we are too tired and the information isn’t on the packaging.
Our obesity crisis in the West is so widely known about these days that it’s now accepted as the status quo and therefore easier to ignore. We focus on shape, size and calorie intake rather than nutrition and compassion. And if we’re honest we are all addicted to some form of ‘fast food’ whether it’s McDonalds, a chocolate bar, a bottle of wine, M&S dine in meals or a smug vegan health ball because that’s how we are used to consuming everything. Demand, eat, over-eat, repeat. It just displays itself more obviously in some people than in others.
So before I go off to forage for my lettuce and nuts, I offer you this morsel to chew over – don’t fuss about the latest diet your mate is on, the portion size of chips your restaurant neighbour just demolished, or the cheese plate your Partner ordered when they should be on a ‘diet’. Just slow down and look at your own plate and take a moment to consider what you are eating and why. And if you decide to eat something you ‘shouldn’t’ then for gawd’s sake enjoy it. Guilt is also damaging to your health.