Food as Medicine

I’ve been listening to Michael Pollan read his book, “Cooked” on recorded CD. So much of what he writes about is right up my ally in regards to health, wellbeing, slowing down, and getting back to basics. “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much” Pollan write in, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. He says exactly what I experience to be truth—the best way to know if something is true and real and right is by the way it feels in your body–and his research is also backed up by top-notch professionals. 

An excerpt from the summary of Cooked states,“Investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us.” Find the rest here.

We all know what it feel like connect with others, and in contract, we also know the experience of being disconnected, from self and others.

I love Pollan’s writing because to me, he takes his research beyond the paper, and the mind, and into the body. In his book, Cooked, Michael Pollan includes much about the process of cooking and goes to great lengths to uncover the truth behind food—both the act of making food as well as the social, cultural, and political structures around what and how we consume food. I never would have guessed that cooking my own food was an act of revolution!

Yet it is, especially in today’s culture where consumer mentality runs rampant.

Cooking is something that I’ve always loved to do, and now more than ever, as I dive head first into the concepts of “Food as medicine,” and “Food as fuel.”

I first came upon these ideas when I was studying to be a yoga teacher in college. I was reading texts about yoga philosophy and the Yamas and Niyamas (codes of conduct and moral observances) from the eight limbs of yoga, which lays out a rough guildine for practicing yoga asana on an empty stomach and then primarily eating a vegetarian diet.

I’m not a vegetarian but I also don’t eat a lot of meat. (We can get into why in another episode if you want.)

Having been a dancer for all my life, I knew the yogis were doing something differently around food, because if you’ve ever had a few too many late-night glasses of wine or had a big steak dinner and then woke up and attempted to do some deep backbends or twists (or really any pose for that matter) the next morning, you’re f*$^%! Said another way, you’re guaranteed to feel like crap and question your mode of operation—talk about disconnect! (Trust me, I only tell true stories).

At 23 I was becoming aware that if I wanted to live a more integrated and connected lifestyle, I was going to have to adapt some of the habits of the yogis. Let me explain—

And now I have to back up a little more here—you’ll see why if you keep reading. I come from a professional dance background (I started dance class when I was three years old) and ever since I can remember I wanted to be just like all my ballerina heroes who performed in the New York City Ballet, and Broadway and went to Juillliard. It was well known that most dancers at that time fuled themselves on a diet starvation, cigarettes, and coffee—dancers go to great lengths so preserve their physique and maintain a quality of “lightness.” (We have George Balanchine to blame for that, but that’s another story altogether.)

What I began to see, as an adult who wanted to be a ballerina but couldn’t afford to pay the price of extreme malnutrition and pushing the body to burnout, was mental collapse, stress, and flash-in-the-pan fame that was not only unsustainable but didn’t look graceful on aging bodies—(everyone knows if you’re a professional ballerina your career is over at age 25.)

I wanted the glamour but I wasn’t willing to pay the price for the “normal” body abuse of performing on stage.

I plastered black and white photographs and magazine clippings of my favorite dance heroes all over my bedroom walls AND I began to think about others ways to be in relationship with my body and with food.

There are two more pieces to the story that I’d like to share with you before I get back on track with food as medicine.

There have been two pivotal moments in my life, already, that I remember consciously choosing a different path than most—the first, at age 9, when I was so sick everyone thought I would die. And the second at age 17 when I had such bad acne all over my face that I wanted to die. Both of these situations catalyzed my personal research into healing my own body with my body. I wanted to be in control of my health, and know what was going on underneath the skin.

What I realized at age 9 when I was bed-ridden for almost a full year, was the power of intuition and choice—I knew that if I wanted to get better I needed to make a shift. So I did. I chose to stop taking all medication and medicine (both allopathic and natural) and within days color and life flooded back into my skin and my bones.

Full recovery took almost 10 years but I didn’t let that stop me from traveling the world and embracing early adulthood with arms wide open. That pivotal moment was the start of knowing that I could make choices in alignment with where I wanted to be headed without having to ruin my body over it.

The next piece came at age 17 when I started experimenting with DIY home facials and remedies to soothe my sever acne. Other kids where smoking pot and I was practicing my French and whipping up herbal concoction in my mother’s kitchen (oh, and taking more dance classes, this time hip-hop and Flamenco).

Putting mixtures of real food and natural products on my face was the only thing that worked to soothe my acne. (*Note: I’d already tried all sorts hormone creams and injections, pills, and laser therapy.) Part of it was vanity, but part of it was my inquisitive nature into why I had light skin and bad acne and why my sister had olive skin and never suffered from one pimple, not even one! (Find out more of what I’m learning about Ayurvedic constitutions here)—this catalyzed my research further, into the area of food, health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Back to FOOD AS MEDICINE—

What I’ve come to realize from first, my rebellion against ballerina body (because I didn’t want to end my career at 25 with knee and hip replacements), and second from knowing that I had the power to heal myself, and third, experimenting with natural remedies on my skin, was that food is medicine.

Food is the one way I can nourish and heal my body—it’s cheap, it’s fresh, it’s simple to prepare well, and it does a whole lot more than fuel my yoga and dance practice.

Like Michael Pollan advocates, food is, and especially cooking, connects us not only to each other but to ourselves. When we eat in the context of food as medicine or food as fuel, we loose the need to count calories or even take supplements. We can begin to have a more natural approach to food and develop our own connection with the natural world—food, farmer, and nature’s cycles.

Food as medicine is an on-going topic of research for me because I refuse to let the diseases of my ancestors run the show—I don’t want to burn out before I’m 40. I want to age gracefully. I knew, from a very early age, that I have the resources that nature gave me—right here in my own skin and right outside my back door (eat your weeds!) and I have the capacity to move beyond our cultural’s consumer mentality that “fast is better” and “skinny is beautiful” and start to adapt a new outlook—food is medicine and strong is sexy.

My two questions to you are:

What’s in your kitchen that is actually medicine?

  • H2O
  • leafy green things!
  • carrots, celery, cucumbers
  • fresh fruit
  • turmeric
  • sourkrout
  • raw honey
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • black pepper
  • oilve oil

What’s in your back yard that you can eat today to fuel your body for a life time?

  • dandelion
  • yarrow
  • parslaine
  • tumbleweed
  • thistle
  • sunlight

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use your kitchen as a place to heal and fuel your body with real food consider joining the next 10-Week Coaching Series with me! where together, we dive deep into the fundamental practices of Ayurveda and learn what the yogis knew all along—we need to be more conscious with what we’re putting down our pie hole. Schedule your curiosity conversation here. 

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