Eating For A Healthier Mind

What three months living in a hut taught me about eating?

When we think of eating we automatically think about our bodies, but does what we eat and the way we eat affect our minds just as much? I spent three months living in a small, wooden hut in the forests of a Monastery, or what I prefer to call a practice centre.

Eating here for three months taught me a few things. One - how good it feels to eat a diet largely consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables. Two - how enjoyable food can be when you take the time to actually eat it slowly. Three - how much impatience I had built up inside me.

Down the hill from the practice centre was a small farm, where a large range of organic vegetables and fruits are grown for consumption each and every day. When at home it is the norm that when an apple reaches your mouth there is the potential that it took a long six months to get there, after freezing and the other tricks of the trade. When you bite into a tomato straight off the vine you get a burst of fresh juiciness that you just don’t get from your local supermarket. You are getting maximum quality not only in flavour but in nutrition too. When you eat this quality and freshness every day for three months your body and mind starts to transform.

My body was accustomed to a diet of meat at least four nights each week, a diet which also contained processed foods and sugars. It was surprising how quickly not only my body but my mind reacted to the change to a simpler and cleaner eating pattern. For breakfast I would eat porridge with banana, orange and almonds. For a morning tea snack I would grab a plum off a tree and do the same for a fig. At lunch I would grab a bowl of fresh vegetables for a salad direct from the farm; tomato, lettuce, spinach, pumpkin. There was eggplant, carrot, herbs, and a whole lot more. Dinner would be much of the same.

It was largely simple food like the way it was intended, food without preservatives and salts and sugars. There was plenty of tea to enjoy throughout the day, fruit everywhere you look and grains and nuts to boot.

Let thy food be thy medicine
— Hippocrates

The whole combination of solitude, peace and quiet and plenty of time to do nothing, teamed with good, clean and simple food gave my body the detoxification and revitalisation it so badly needed. The new energy didn’t just end with my body; it meant a more positive and refreshed mind too. It was a big step on bringing my mind and body together.

Another key component I learnt here was our habit of rushing which affects how we eat and in turn our health in both body and mind. So built up in the west of rushing we tend to get used to rushing through our meal too. We eat our lunch fast so we can rush off back to work, or we eat dinner quickly so we can race to get the train to meet friends. Not before long these habits become so well entrenched in our everyday lives that doing anything differently is a big struggle.

I found this out the hard way. At the practice centre you wait until your group arrives and the bell to sound to start eating, while this felt strange to me at first and a tad restrictive I came to really appreciate what it was trying to achieve. I was initially so impatient that sitting there waiting for others to eat was tough. Breaking old habits even as simple as they may be is a difficult conquest.

Then came the actual eating part; we are told to eat slowly but we don't ever reach anything close to the recommended 42 chews. Eating slowly and intentionally helps you enjoy your food but this was foreign to me and a very challenging task.

After a period of time I found myself getting accustomed to this and no longer was I sneaking a little bite before anyone arrived and no longer was I finishing my meal 15 minutes before anyone else had either. I wasn’t becoming impatient waiting in line either to be fed and I wasn’t rushing off to get to the front of the line either. It might not sound like much but something as simple as being patient, eating slowly, learning how to recalibrate our system of always rushing and getting to the next placeis a big stage in our overall growth and development and a vital step for our health and happiness. Again not just for our body, but for our mind too.

A lot of the time we just eat because it’s the time we normally eat, we are so busy thinking of something else that we don’t even enjoy the flavours and the textures of what we are eating. We just race through it to get to the next more important part of our lives. I was a daily over – eater, I would eat to I was full and then some more. I would over indulge on a regular basis but eating at a slower pace and being more conscious of how I was eating helped to overcome this issue, an issue that is far too common in the western world. 

Eating in a group and not talking was an interesting experience, but liberating. It allowed me to just focus on eating the food, the one and only thing I was doing in my life at that stage, and just eat. Not worrying about uncomfortable silences or starting conversation with the person next to you. It’s refreshing to hear the crunch of a piece lettuce or the snap of a carrot without the noise of a television, music or conversation. It helps to quiet the mind in other areas of life and only when you have a quiet mind can you know what you are feeling. This progressed from lunch and dinner to simply drinking a cup of tea. Drinking tea so slowly was strange at first but when I finally could drink a cup of tea without wanting to finish it or force conversation it was a liberating experience.

I found that eating and drinking, two very simple things, are great opportunities to find more peace and happiness in our lives. 

Evan Sutter