The amount of time and energy I've spent thinking about what my next meal will be is incalculable: what to eat, what I just ate, how many calories or grams of fat it contains, how much exercise I'll need to do to burn it off, what if I don't work out, how long will it take to manifest as extra pounds, and on and on. Food has been on my mind a lot the past 30 years.
What I'm only now realizing, though, is that while I think about food so much and have used and abused it as a substitute for contentment, I've never been a conscious eater.
Oh, I've flirted with the idea of conscious eating—which for me, until recently, meant taking smaller portions, putting down the fork after every bite, not eating to fill emotional voids. But that is just one level of consciousness. Kathy Freston, in her book Quantum Wellness, struck a nerve for me by speaking of a higher level of awareness, what she calls "spiritual integrity."
The question she raises: How can we say we're striving to spiritually evolve without a thought about how the food we consume every day got to be on our plates?
I learned a lot about how animals are treated and mistreated before they get to our tables. It is appalling and beneath our humanity to allow the torture of animals for the sake of our gluttony. We've neglected basic human decency on such a large scale, and it really does bleed over into every other aspect of life.
So I spent 21 days on a vegan cleanse, as Kathy's book suggests, removing all sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, and animal products from my diet. The goal is to allow the body to rid itself of toxins, but Kathy's thoughts on the "health, environmental, and spiritual implications of the foods we choose to eat" got my attention too. (Had I not done the cleanse, I probably wouldn't have noticed Nicholas Kristof's July 31 column in The New York Times about the rights of livestock. That, too, hit a nerve; please take the time, if you can, to read it.)
For three weeks, I—a person who seldom eats eggs—obsessed over not being able to have an omelet. I craved cheese daily. But I also had some surprisingly delicious meals without a trace of flesh. Or dairy. I knew it was a new day when I heard myself asking for seconds on a jicama salad.
At the end of the 21 days, I could not declare myself vegan or even vegetarian. But I am, for sure, more mindful of my choices. I'm eating a far more plant-based diet. Less processed food. Thinking about sugar and fat consumption not in terms of calories but in terms of what happens to my well-being.
Kathy cautions that the way to full consciousness isn't to give up every poor choice at once. She says "Lean into it." Don't try to break a lifetime of bad habits overnight. I'm leaning.