Bad weather brings out the survivor in us, doesn’t it? Threats to our electricity, our ability to drive (with all the inherent loss of access to food and other stuff), ability to do our job, and our plans in general, are indeed very upsetting threats. Some of us bring in the outdoor furniture or delicate plants, some of us check the batteries in the flashlights, some of us buy lots of bread and milk, some of us check the firewood, blankets and maybe even fuel supply for the generator.
It is a giant step in our culture to go from: “You deserve a break today….. Treat yourself….. A moment for you…… You deserve the best…… Because you’re worth it” and all the other attempts by advertisers to get us to reward ourselves by purchasing their products to: “Batten down the hatches!” We don’t have to batten down very often, do we? Left to our own devices and the influence of Madison Avenue we’ve become quite accustomed to having our favorite food or at least something we genuinely like when we eat. Every time we eat. Why not? Who wouldn’t choose what they like over what they dislike? Restaurants, convenience stores, vending machines and the center aisles of the grocery store are all too happy to provide our favorites, with plenty of questionable additives to keep them from spoiling and to make them easy to prepare.
My fellow nurses and I marvel over the number of patients who will say, “I can’t eat that”, or “I don’t eat that” when offered hospital food, not because of allergies or being vegetarian, or gluten-free, but simply because they don’t like it, or it’s not what they are used to or not the way they usually fix it. Why should the nurses be surprised? Nurses are surprised because nursing is a fast-paced ‘batten down the hatches’ kind of job. With far too many tasks to complete in far too little time, we are in survival – and patient survival! – mode. As a result, we just don’t always understand that patients who are recovering or depressed or feeling lousy but not in danger, continue to behave within the rules of this culture. “You deserve something that you like, why not your favorite?” And so when the patient complains about the food, we ask them what they want, call the fine people in nutritional services, get the patient’s request filled if at all possible, (no matter if it’s not terribly healthy), and then make jokes in the nurses station about how we work in a spa rather than a hospital. (Some of the high cost of American health care, this spa mentality, but we won’t go there today).
I am not trying to say these patients’ behavior is bad or wrong, it is our culture and it is what it is, but it does offer some insight into the difficulty of improving eating habits and trying to maintain a healthy weight in this American culture. How is a person supposed to feel satisfied by a meal or a snack if that meal or snack represents less than what one likes, or is less than is ‘deserved,’ or somehow less than what society says is good, best or one’s right?
I believe that part of the battle for creating a healthy lifestyle is identifying what nourishes you. Taste buds are not the only players in the satisfaction game. A nourishing meal or experience is satisfying because you have been nourished, i.e., your body, mind or spirit has been strengthened, guided, fed, nurtured, sustained, encouraged, cultivated, supported, fostered, developed and/or promoted. I’d like to see a McDonald’s french fry do that all by itself. Mind you, a McDonald’s french fry eaten with friends….. or after basketball practice….. or on a date…… or any other physically, emotionally or spiritually fulfilling activity is another story. So, it’s not always the french fry that satisfied you, but the company or the circumstances in which you ate that fry.
Baby Step #14: Add Some Nourishment
What Nourishes You?
To add some nourishment, you have to figure out what nourishes you. Consider the following:
- What makes you feel good for a prolonged period of time? What do you talk or think about a day, a week, or a year later? I bet it’s not the french fry.
- Why do you find unhealthy food (pick your fave) satisfying? Is it the convenience? Is it buying something? Is it the restaurant atmosphere or sneaking something once the kids have gone to bed? Is it the taste, the texture? Is it having someone make something for you? Does it represent a break from an activity that you find difficult or draining?
- Do you plan nourishing activities to feed yourself and possibly your family in body, mind and spirit?
If you can recognize some truths about what nourishes you, it might be easier to get more nourishment and less ‘processed food Ka-Pow sugar/fat and salt taste’ into your life.
Check your self-worth.
In order to add some nourishment, you must believe that you are worth nourishing. It is easier to believe that you are worth nourishing when you are well nourished. “Them that’s got, shall get,” right? Kind of twisted, but I believe it’s true. It’s like smiling at yourself in the mirror when you don’t feel very up. It makes you feel better. Steve Martin says you can’t play a sad song on the banjo. It’s also hard to be sad when you are smiling. It’s also hard to choose unhealthy food once you have experienced nourishment. But you have to pay attention. You can’t attribute feelings, behavior and choices to feelings, behavior and choices unless you are paying attention.
So again, ask yourself:
“Why do I choose what I choose?”
“Am I trying to nourish myself?” – remember all of those wonderful meanings of nourished: strengthened, guided, fed, nurtured, sustained, encouraged, cultivated, supported, fostered, developed and/or promoted.”
“What nourishes me?”
“How do I get more of what nourishes me in my life?”
Sometimes after work when I’ve been out of the house for 14 hours and running around for about 11 of those I get home and feel ravenously hungry. If I don’t pay attention I will overeat and sometimes choose the least healthy option in the house before realizing that I’m full and not running and my feet hurt less and I can slow down and take care of myself. I just caught myself doing it again last night, so I’m going to pack one last healthy item in my lunch bag to eat on the way home. That will take the edge off of feeling ravenous and allow me to come into the house and nourish myself by sitting down, relaxing and catching up with my husband and son. They nourish me (when I spend time with them!!). Allowing myself to be still after a very busy day nourishes me. Reading nourishes me. Making things nourishes me. Meditating/Praying nourishes me. So many things other than a quick fix of a Ka-Pow dose of sugar, fat or salt nourish me. And it is lovely when I pay attention and care for myself enough to seek out nourishment over satisfaction.
Practice and Experiment with Conscious Choices
I am not suggesting that you should not choose to eat what you like to eat, but I am suggesting that consciousness about your choices may make you aware of more choices, both food and non-food, available to you. If they are nourishing choices, you may ultimately find them to be more satisfying than what you currently choose. I often use Lent as a time to remind myself of what a certain indulgence means in my life. When I give it up, I either miss it terribly or find that it was not so important to me after all. That is how I was able to reduce my sugar intake. I found that after 40 days of nothing sweet I found most sweets unappetizingly sweet and by the end I didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would. Giving up fiction did not have the same result. I missed it very much and appreciated it more when I returned to it. In fact, I think I chose my books more carefully because I wanted to read really good books. Since those days of Lenten deprivation I have found it very helpful to ADD something for Lent – some devotional practice or amount of quiet time or time spent to help others and I find that to be very nourishing. What could you give up or add to challenge your conscious decision-making?
Baby Step #14 is really a life-long journey, but even long journeys can be taken in baby steps. I certainly have made steps forward and backwards in learning what, and then pursuing, what nourishes me. ‘Batten down the hatches’ can take us to survival mode when we know what is important to basic survival. Finding and pursuing what nourishes us in body, mind and spirit can help us survive and grow with grace and with respect for ourselves and for others. It’s not easy. I have to remind myself that like all of the baby steps, a baby step forward is still a step forward. In fact it nourishes me to attempt, to succeed, to fail, and to try again. I remember and treasure this process long after the memory of tasty treats has faded.
I encourage you to figure out what nourishes you and to add some more nourishment to your life.