Today I had an amazing opportunity to meet with a group of colleagues to discuss The Spirituality of Eating. One specific aspect of our curriculum at Bauman College, the Eating For Health model’s “Four Levels of Eating,” offers a look at the range of motivating factors for eating. This topic has been on my mind regularly as a result of 40 Days of Yoga. Part of our food journaling requires us to think about what is motivating our hunger. Is it physical hunger? Are we trying to fill an emotional need? Are we eating out of boredom or anxiety? Understanding what is motivating your hunger is the first step in learning how to eat mindfully, and in accordance with our teachings at Bauman College, it is the key to unlocking Eating for Health.
In the “Four Levels of Eating”, a Level One relationship with food, Eating for Pleasure, is characterized by a desire for instant gratification and is often marked by impulsive and overeating of refined foods. A Level Two relationship, Eating for Energy, is where a person’s food choices are dictated by blood sugar and take little into account of nutritional value and environmental impact. Eating for Recovery, Level Three, is a more mature approach dictated by a specific health goal but can result in a dogmatic or even judgmental approach to food. What we aspire to teach our students is how to achieve a Level Four relationship, Eating for Health, where one will enjoy health-supportive foods in moderation that offer optimal nutrition and provide the individual with a sense of appreciation and connection to their community.
The goal behind the conversation I participated in today was to discover what can be introduced after Level Four that has greater meaning. Dr. Ed Bauman led a discussion on what he sees as the next level, Spiritual Eating. We believe there is something beyond understanding and appreciating food as an instrument of personal healing and sharing within the community. What better way to discover what the Spirituality of Eating means to a group of holistic chefs than to sit down and have a dialogue about it over a bountiful table of seasonal fruit and spiced tea? (We had kumquats, blueberries, almonds, and herbal tea with chai spices, marshmallow root, carob and sarsaparilla, if you’re curious.)
I very much look forward to sharing the transcript of this conversation when it becomes available. It beautifully aligned with all the things I’ve been exploring through my practice of mindful eating: taking into consideration the journey the food has made to get to my plate, showing gratitude for the forces that converged to make it possible for me to be nourished and satiated by its offering, accepting the food with grace, sharing it with kindness and enlivening it with spirit.
The Spirituality of Eating will mean something different to each person because spirituality is different for each person. I believe that whatever elements accompany your spiritual relationship with food, though, it will likely include mindful presence, gratitude, and peace. I feel that once you’ve moved past the first Four Levels of Eating, what you ultimately arrive at is a very simple way of relating to your food, something born of the innate wisdom that exists within you. It’s as though you had to travel full circle in order to arrive at the place you began, where you were one with nature, one with the world, one with God or Buddha or Krsna or simply one with You. In those moments we experience something complete, something that lacks for nothing. Just remember to show yourself compassion along the way. Whatever level you are on today or may be on tomorrow, the act of showing interest in the journey and taking responsibility for your own spiritual growth counts for more than you can know.
Eat and be well.