"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
Let's first think about how we use the word "treat" in relation to food. "Treat" is short for treatment. Is chocolate cake a "treatment"? Food is medicine and we can honor that if make intentional choices and eat mindfully.
Maybe the chocolate cake is a sort of "treatment" on a particular day. If you feel joy while eating it and experience it mindfully, it very well can be.
However, a candy bar while driving isn't really a "treatment."
This leads us to why our bodies don't always absorb all the nutrients from the foods we eat.
In general, when we aren't eating with joy, our bodies aren't absorbing nutrients optimally. There is a fascinating study that shows that iron absorption is significantly lower when a person eats a favorite dish that has been mashed up in a blender (making it gross mush) compared to when they eat the exact same meal prepared in its traditional way.
The French eat a high-fat diet, but they sit down to eat, making it a pleasurable event, and they have portion control. Eating with pleasure allows their bodies to process food differently because of this. Their heart disease rates are significantly lower than the American rates.
Here is a study that makes the connection between cultural attitudes about food and health in America, Japan, Belgium, and France.
Why bother eating something at all if it's not fun and your body doesn't get the nutrients?
What are the things stopping us from creating a joyful experience when we eat?
1) Rushing - Instead of scarfing your meal down, schedule at least ten minutes to sit down and eat slowly. If this is unrealistic, see if you can work in one meal a day that you can eat while seated and without rush.
2) Ugly presentation - If we have a plateful of orange mushy food, it's ugly. We can garnish, bringing greens and reds to the plate. You will be surprised how quickly you can elevate a dish and make it beautiful with a sprinkle of nuts, herbs, or brightly colored vegetables. If you don't have anything like that on hand, see if you have paprika, tumeric, pepper, or a dried green spice in your cabinet.
3) Eating on the go - I've done it many times myself, but eating in the car or while walking isn't ideal. We aren't fully able to taste or see the food, the opposite of mindful eating.
4) Stress eating - When we are anxious, stressed, or angry, our sympathetic nervous system is active and our digestive operations are shut down.
5) Terrible taste - This is one of the most obvious reasons. If it tastes horrible, of course we won't enjoy it and our body could reject it either by causing "indigestion" of all sorts (diarrhea, vomiting, gas, constipation, reflux) or not absorbing all the possible nutrients.
6) Distraction - Watching TV or reading while eating isn't ideal and will distract you from the food's beauty, its taste, and smell.
7) Fear that it's "unhealthy" - Taken in moderation, very few foods are outright dangerous or fundamentally unhealthy. In our culture, we've gone through phases of vilifying things like sugar, fat, and carbs. There was the low-fat, no-fat craze, then the no sugar craze, the low-carb phase, and the gluten-free fad that we're still in. I highly encourage you to watch the Netflix series Cooked. It's four gorgeous episodes and I promise you will see all foods as beautiful treasures after watching it.
On a personal note, I spent most of my life fearful of food, bingeing and purging it, definitely not enjoying it to its fullest. It really was't until my love, someone who relishes the joy of cooking and eating, and I started cooking together, that I began feeling joy while eating. He taught me to take the time to garnish, to think about the colors and textures on the plate, to balance the acidity, and to sit down with ample time to eat. When I take bites of this food either he makes for me or we make together, I actually moan with delight at how deeply delicious it is. I hope that you can experience this pleasure as well.
Click below to try one of my favorite vegan meals that brings pleasure no matter the season. :)