Less Is Always More (Let's Talk About Food)

As humans living in a modern Western culture, we tend to think that more is always better. Why wouldn’t it be? And because we want it all, but we always want to get a deal, too, we have created all-you-can-eat buffets, burger chains that offer ten burgers for $4.99, coupons, 99-cent stores, and two-for-one discounts in order to get more of what we want. Then there are people who feel so guilty for having so much that they can’t even enjoy it. Or they feel obligated to finish everything on their plate, even if it’s enough to feed three people, because it is not good to waste. The list goes on and on.

One of the most terrifying fears for most people is, what if there is not enough for me?

You can see this at buffets and potlucks when guests are lining up around the table, or maybe you’ve even seen someone sneaking samples before dinner is officially served. For many of us, the behavior is because of some memory of our childhood when we may have lacked food. Just one clear memory of a lack can shape our habits around food for the rest of our lives. A dear friend of mine has a memory of traveling in Italy when he was young, and his mother did not have money, so they ended up eating from garbage cans behind restaurants at the end of the night. To this day, I see him at parties or gatherings going to the food table when it is still being set up and picking things out of the bowls. One time I asked him why he was doing it. After initially being defensive about me asking, he shared the above story with me, and was able to bring awareness to a habit that he had been unconscious of.

Next time you sit down for a meal, give yourself a smaller amount of food than you are used to. Notice what comes up when you have less. Write down any emotions or reactions you have before, during, or after, and also note if you feel still hungry after your meal. Repeat this during your next meal. Take notes. The idea is to start creating awareness about your eating habits. No change is possible without it. Writing it down instead of just thinking about it increases your commitment to change, and allows you to make deeper connections between the things you notice.

As a European, I’m used to smaller servings. When I first arrived in the United States, I was blown away by the portion sizes in restaurants. Even after many years living in the States, I still believe less is more. Why? Because it looks more beautiful. And when I have less on my plate, I remain present. I savor each bite. I take my time. I am able to notice when I am actually full, which usually is sooner than if I had a huge meal in front of me that I was rushing down my throat. I have to admit that I can eat a lot of food, and I sometimes have a huge appetite. I allow myself that, but each time I do, I make sure I understand why it is so. Understanding my cravings brings awareness to my choices, which helps me to remain present in my body, without making this craving into an unconscious habit.

Recently, I started making an oven pancake called pannukakku that my grandmother used to make me (and still does when I visit her back in Finland), and the experience of eating it has been so emotionally rich and beautiful that I have stretched my stomach to its max. What I have noticed, though, is that because of its “medicinal” quality for me, it never messes me up. Normally I can’t tolerate dairy or white flour, and this dish is mainly made of milk and white flour. But because it feeds me on so many levels, it burns away quicker and really hits the spot.

Food has nutritional value that comes from the actual ingredients, but as I have mentioned before, nourishment comes in many forms: we can feel nourished by our spiritual practice, intimacy, positive emotions, friendships, touch, massage, memories, love, creativity, and so on. So in many cases, when we get more fulfilled in these areas in our life, we end up needing less actual food. In this case, my eating too much pannukakku, which contains some ingredients that I normally can’t tolerate, got “neutralized” by the positive effect it had on my emotional/feeling body. So it works both ways.

When we learn to see our body as a multidimensional being, rather than just a physical body, we cultivate the sensitivity to feed ourselves in a new, richer and more creative way that will support our aligned action and purpose in the world.

During this holiday season, find or prepare a dish that you have not had for a long time, maybe since you were a child. Enjoy the process by making it special, whatever that means for you. Perhaps say a prayer before you start making the food and express your gratitude to your ancestors and the person who used to make this particular food for you as a child. When you sit down to eat this food, really pay attention to your body, your feelings, your heart, your mind, and your posture. Notice what shifts within you. Do your best to make the connection between your physical body and your emotional body. Do you find yourself wanting to eat more, or less, than usual? Are you laughing, or crying, or feeling the need to do so? Do you find yourself wanting to talk more? Or be more quiet?

The purpose of this exercise is to simply experience the multiple functions food has in our lives. It is not only fuel for our body, but also fuel for our dreams, our potential, our purpose. Next time we feel like we are drifting away from our passion and purpose, let’s take a look at our plates and ask ourselves, what is no longer working? What foods need to go, and what foods do I need more of? Or, when we are gaining weight and our body feels stagnant and heavy, let’s ask ourselves, do I have enough play in my life? Have I been feeding my creativity enough? Have I moved my body the way it wants to be moved?

Food is energy, and so are you. Master it, and you will master your reality.

Riikka Rajamaki