The Spiritual Practice of Eating

Yesterday we talked about the spiritual practice of sleeping and what we can learn by listening to our bodies.  Today, I want to continue that topic with a new subject: eating.

It’s no secret that fasting is a spiritual discipline.  Especially as Lent has just passed us by, we are more acutely aware of the relationship between denying the body and preparing the soul.  But what about eating? How does indulging in the “desires of the flesh” promote spiritual pursuits?

I have never been a breakfast person.  Perhaps it has something to do with being a night owl and an insomniac, but I just can’t seem to digest anything right after I wake up in the morning (or the afternoon).  Say what you will about the “most important meal of the day,” but even the thought of consuming food in the morning is enough to turn my stomach.

In high school, I used to force myself to eat the lunch I brought with me every day because I was afraid I would be accused of having an eating disorder if I didn’t present at least an effort at eating.  I developed a habit of eating as fast as possible in order to finish my lunch before my body had time to realize what was happening and complain.

In college, I actually passed out once after going more than 48 hours without food while studying for midterms. I had been so busy holed up in my room that I didn’t even realize I hadn’t visited the dining hall in two days.

I’m still not a good eater.  I forget to eat all the time, and when I do remember, I am either too busy or too tired to eat well or even at all.  But along with my Lenten fast from being awake, I have been making a concerted effort toward listening to my body to find out when it’s hungry.  Here’s what I’ve been learning about the spiritual discipline of eating:

  1. Eating is a good and necessary aspect of human living. It is not something to be despised or beaten into submission but something to be cultivated.
  2. When I ignore my body’s messages about being hungry, it stops telling me what I need.
  3. I have to re-teach my body to experience hunger by providing consistent food. I am teaching my body to trust me again.
  4. Just eating isn’t enough. My body needs a healthy and varied diet.
  5. When I eat properly, I actually lose weight because my body is no longer in starvation mode.
  6. My body learns unhealthy habits like craving chips and chocolate just as quickly as it learns healthy habits like craving fresh salads and fruit.
  7. Not all my body’s messages are healthy.  I have to discern the difference between being hungry and just having a craving for junk food.
  8. When I listen to my body and give it healthy food on a consistent basis, my digestive issues magically disappear.  Imagine that.
  9. It’s also easier to go to sleep and stay asleep when I am eating well.
  10. Eating isn’t about gaining or losing weight; it’s about making healthy choices to help bring wholeness and balance to my body.
  11. Making the time to eat, and taking the care to choose the best food rather than whatever is easiest or quickest, is like making time for God.

When I am able to make healthy, balanced choices for my body and discern among the messages my body sends which ones are necessary and which are not, then I am better prepared to live my life in a healthy, balanced way. Learning to listen to my body is teaching me to be more discerning, more conscious, and more intentional about my daily living.

The spiritual practice of eating is hard work, and I’m not always very good at it.  I tire easily and fall back on ignoring my body or feeding it with whatever is easiest.  But I know that learning to make good choices and put more effort into what I put into my body is teaching me the value of intentional living.

How are you living your life on purpose? What are you intentional about?

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on April 18, 2012, in Physicality, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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