SPOILER ALERT: The following is not a piece of erotic writing about lesbians or contortionists.
It is, however, a description of the way I have been eating for the last several months,as part of an overall shift towards increased mindfulness and simplification in my inner and outer life. I call it “Me-gan,” because it is intensely personal, as I think a person’s relationship with food ought to be. After all, eating is where we meet the world in the most intimate possible way; we take it into ourselves and it becomes us.
The hallmark of Me-ganism is flexibility. There are no absolute rules, no morality of “good” and “bad” foods, no program and no manual. Its guiding principle is that eating should be good for you at every stage of the process: before you eat it, while you eat it, and after you eat it. In other words, you should enjoy planning and preparing it, you should enjoy the sensations and emotions that go along with eating it, and you should benefit both physically and mentally from having eaten it.
This approach to food and eating requires cultivating self-awareness and learning to interpret internal messages with discernment and compassion. It does not require obscure tools, specialized knowledge or an expensive and exotic pantry. There is no guarantee that it will improve health or reduce weight. As of today, Me-ganism has exactly one practitioner, me. I’m not a dietician or a doctor, although I consider myself a well-educated layperson when it comes to nutrition and wellness.
Besides the guiding principle listed above, there are a handful of other ideas that have shaped and continue to shape the way I eat and relate to food:
If it doesn’t taste good, or makes you feel bad, don’t eat it. Life is too short to waste precious time making yourself miserable. You’re way more likely to make and stick with positive changes if they make you feel, well…positive!
Remember your roots. Long before supermarkets, we ate what we could grow, hunt or find. Bring your food home in as close to its natural state as you can, as free from chemicals and as locally-grown as you can comfortably manage. God won’t strike you down if you eat conventionally-grown produce (I do, often) or pop open a can of beans or tomatoes on occasion. Just do the best you can.
Start with vegetables and fruits. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of them in your produce section (or your farmer’s market or maybe even your garden). They cover a huge spectrum of flavors and textures from sweet apples to bitter collards to creamy sweet potatoes. They require only simple cooking like roasting or steaming to bring out their flavors and of course many of them are delicious eaten raw. Many of them contain surprisingly high amounts of protein. Don’t forget mushrooms and fresh herbs, which add richness of flavor wherever they go. And don’t forget the olive oil, the best quality you can muster. The good stuff really does taste better.
Build a foundation of whole grains and legumes. Our bodies need carbohydrates for fuel, but they need them in a form that’s slow-release and rich in supporting nutrients to regulate metabolism. Enter whole grains and beans. Low in fat, high in protein and fiber, these are the workhorses of Me-ganism. Relatively neutral in flavor by themselves, they form the foundations of glorious breads, scrumptious soups and stews and hearty casseroles. They fill you up for hours and help your body recognize when it’s full, freeing your mind for long periods of focused attention.
Treat animal foods as treats rather than the norm. Our bodies don’t need animal foods every day, so make them a central part of feasts and celebrations rather than an everyday occurrence. Skip buying hamburger for two weeks and splurge on really great steaks at the end of it. Put PB or hummus or leftover grilled vegetables in your weekday sandwiches instead of meat and cheese for a few days, then bake a Brie on the weekend or crank up the blender and binge on Eggs Benedict. Forget your mom saying you need meat and milk and eggs to be healthy. That’s yesterday’s news. These foods are parties in your mouth, worth waiting and saving for and then going all out. These are the ones that provide the most pleasure before and during eating, but can disagree with you afterwards both short-term and long-term if consumed frequently.
Be compassionate with yourself about food. We all have issues about food and eating, and most of us judge our own eating habits harshly and negatively. Enough of that already. Me-ganism is about starting over, about building a new relationship with food and eating and ourselves based on what we really like and want. It’s about experimenting and evaluating, not judging. It’s about learning and comparing and observing how our bodies and our hearts respond to what we eat, and then using our new knowledge to nurture and respect ourselves. Everyone’s Me-ganism is going to look different, not only from other people’s but from his or her own from year to year.
Here’s what works for me, today. I don’t eat animal foods at home, because I’ve found I have more energy and feel healthier when my daily diet is animal-free. I drink wine and beer, one daily and occasionally two. I eat fast food on road trips and when I eat out I sometimes have meat and fish and usually cheese. I take a cheap daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement with extra calcium and Vitamin D, and I make my own soymilk so I can eat my beloved oatmeal and bake. I use an app/website called MyFitnessPal (www.myfitnesspal.com) to track my eating (both the eating I’m proud of and the eating I’m not) so that I have real data to learn from as well as my subjective responses.
I wouldn’t expect my version of Me-ganism to work for everyone. It works for me because it was built that way. You can build your own for you. Food is supposed to be a pleasure and a fulfillment as well as a necessity, a gift to yourself from yourself. Give it a whirl and see what happens.
©Mary Braden 2013