Our's is one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. Inspite of humans having lived here on the Indian subcontinent for as long as 57000 years, to this day we stand an incredibly young country, where we speak more than 25 languages and close to 1000 different dialects. Like a wise old great grandmother, she has witnessed and nurtured countless traditions and legends.
Food has always remained at the centre of this bustling backdrop. Imagine the magic aroma of secret recipes guarded by families and communities transcending generations at a time when there was no Internet for cooking videos or tv or electricity.
One of the most ancient manuscripts on Vedic cooking was written in India - Pakadarpanam, was written by Nala Pandava who was believed to have had the siddha of cooking without fire. Its believed that the Pakadarpanam was written by Nala atleast 3000 years before the Ayurvedic texts, Sushrusha Samhita and the Charaka Samhita (the very foundational textbook for Ayurveda.) were written.
The Indian philosophy ( as is clearly described in the Samhita by the Master Clinician - the Father of Medicine, Charaka ) recommends viewing food as a path towards leading a healthy and happy life v/s a solution for hunger and cravings.
Food was about mindfulness.
So how do we understand “mindfulness” against the more familiar feelings of frequently visiting hunger pangs and the easiest options available with pulling out packaged meals from a microwave or dishing out ready-to-cook mixes from a packet while closing a business call on the phone? Fear and guilt or shame are emotions that we end up dealing with daily when it comes to food. Can mindfulness help us keep such negative forces at bay? Absolutely.
It’s time we made peace with food.
It’s time we quit being at war with our own likes and happiness and abandon the “drastic diet-culture” which has proven to be ineffective to achieve ‘sustained’ weight loss and wellbeing. Aren’t we long tired of having a stressful and unpleasant relationship with food?
So what does it mean to being mindful?
Mindful is being 'aware’.
Mindful eating should thus mean making food choices by listening to your body’s own internal wisdom from a place of non-judgment and kindness. To be aware of what foods you like and the ones you dislike. To be aware of how hungry you feel and eating just enough – not more, not less. To be able to make food a happy experience, peaceful and replenishing. It is about reducing or eliminating distractions during eating and making meal times more about intention and purpose. So in that sense, mindful eating is not just about our physical or mental health but it presents beautiful results in the form of a much more balanced life and an elevated sense of well-being.
To be mindful about food, every time we eat is a deep practice.
We wanted to present a detailed and clearer perspective on mindful eating through this post. So, we reached out to Nutritionist and Fitness Coach, Amita Mishra for her views on practising mindful eating.
Amita Mishra writes :
“Indians have had a special bond with food since times immemorial. Right from the art of making it to preserving food, there are various techniques which are unique to each household that makes our food healthy, unique and something to learn from. Apart from that Indian food is known for its diversity. The food pattern keeps changing as per the season and the local produce. These traditional foods and our age old recipes contain nutrients that are lacking in a lot of urban and middle income communities these days. Needless to say we have become prey to a countless number of metabolic diseases and lifestyle disorders. The rising trend of these chronic non communicable diseases [Diabetes/ thyroid/ PCOS etc] are an alarming call to return back to the diets and eating patterns of our ancestors to regain lost nutrients and balance! Only when we shift to our traditional and local eating pattern, shall we be able to improve our relationship with the earth and restore human and environmental health.
However our traditional eating patterns are disrupted due to environmental degradation, the introduction of packaged and processed food in our kitchens, refined oils and fats, and processed simple carbs that are worsening our health everyday under the false claim made by these companies of being “healthy”.
These traditional foods and eating practices should be documented well so that we can promote healthier choices and prevent further degradation of our ecosystem and a decline in the production of nutrient-rich foodstuffs that could benefit all communities.
Some of the practices that are needed to be re-inculcated in our diets for weight management, enhancing immunity, reducing inflammation and maintaining hormonal balance are -
The use of ghee in our diets
Ghee popularly known as the “Villain” in the weight loss industry, however in the traditional concept ghee was considered to be sacred and was a symbol of auspiciousness, nourishment and healing. The Vedas have called ghee as the "first and the most essential of all foods‟. Talking of its nutrient composition, ghee is loaded with Vitamins A, K, E and Vit D. In order for these vitamins to be absorbed they need to combine with fat molecules as they are fat soluble. Apart from that ghee also boosts mental and physical strength and enhances immunity. Ghee also stimulates the digestive process [Or the digestive fire] thus aiding in weight loss. It also increases the good cholesterol in the body which helps in reducing inflammation and also helps metabolize fat. The point to be noted however is that we are talking about freshly made ghee and not the mass produced ones available in market these days which are loaded with preservative and coloring agents.
Homemade Pickles, Chutneys and Murabba
Just hear the word, and the mouth starts drooling right? Not only can they enhance the taste of any meal, but they have immense health benefits which are not marketed well. Homemade pickles are fermented using salt which promote the growth of good bacteria that keeps a control over the harmful gut bacteria thus improving the digestion and gut health. There are a lot of studies which have pointed out that eating fermented food like pickles; murabba etc. can help reduce the risk of asthma and auto immune disorders. Undoubtedly it's one of the best probiotic foods that anyone can have.
Opting for seasonal and wholesome varieties of cereals
Out goes your multigrain atta or store-bought bread and in comes the Jowar , Nachni, Indigenous Rice or the Khapli wheat. The best part of our indigenous food wisdom is the combination of our meals. Be it the Idli Dosa, or the Dal Rice or Dal Baati Churma, where the combinations help lower the glycemic index of our meals and enhance nutrient absorption. Moreover each cereal is specifically eaten in different months like the Bajra in winters, Jowar in summer and Rice and Wheat all around the year, as they retain more nutrients and provide the body with a host of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating seasonally is not only better for your health; it also promotes balance with both the earth‟s resources and its life forms. The changing of the seasons is a source of natural diversity that should be embraced rather than combated. In order to preserve food that is out of season, they are usually covered with preservatives and coating waxes etc. And the intake of this is a prime cause of various health implications. Moreover eating seasonally also helps support local farmers who chose to farm sustainable.
Choosing dietary diversity with Pulses
Pulses is the low carbon footprint food which helps the soil bacteria to draw nitrogen from the air. Not only is it a very water efficient source of protein but also they are great sources of iron, folate, calcium, zinc and magnesium. There are a lot of pulses among the 40000 variety of pulses that we have which are adapted to dry environments, making them well suited for the areas that are prone to drought. UNFAO had declared 2016 as the year of pulses to promote their diverse health benefits.
Adding a variety of pulses to the diet is the best of consuming essential proteins, fibre and micro minerals. They are an excellent source for managing cholesterol and improving gut health and hence needs to be an important part of everyday diet in combination with the right cereal and essential fats. Rely on your traditional ways of cooking it, like soaking or giving a tadka with methi seeds, hing, or ajwain etc, based on the recipe and the culture.
However apart from “what to eat”, I personally believe that what really needs attention and knowledge these days is “How to eat”. With the lifestyle these days we hardly pay attention to our food, and not even realize after finishing a tub of popcorn that its finished! We can finish that entire tub but would have hardly tasted it. We need to realize that food is not just for the physical body but it should have the quality to nourish our mind and soul. And for that it needs undivided attention. It also helps the body to prepare for digestion, because this mindful activity of the brain signals the stomach to prepare for the number of digestive activities it needs to perform and sets them in motion, right from salivation to releasing enzymes.
Mindful eating is not at all about a diet, or restricting yourself to set number of calories - its about making the most of your meals and connecting with your food, which has the power to make you, So next time you have your meals, sit on the floor, use your hands, and eat slowly, relishing every bite. Savor the taste, the colors, the texture and the flavor of each bite, and have your meals without indulging in a screen time.
Lamp eats darkness and produces [black] soot! What food (quality) [one] eats daily, so will [one] produce AKA we are what we eat!
About the Author
Amita has a Masters in Food Science and Nutrition, is a Qualified Yoga instructor, a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a Zumba lover. She recently received the award of being the Most Iconic Nutritionist - Midday Health and Wellness Icons Award 2019.
Having learnt Yoga she understands the role our food plays on both the body and the mind. She has worked with clients across the world for weight and health management and also has a celebrity clientele. Amita holds in-depth knowledge about the nutrition basics and exercise psychology and believes in educating and not restricting her clients when on a health program with her. When it comes to Health, the only concept she believes is – Sustainability, and thus propagates the same message through her blogs, posts and social handles. Amita may be reached at the below co-ordinates.
Website - amitamishra.com
Instagram-@amitamishra470 - https://www.instagram.com/amitamishra470/