"God is great, God is good. God, we thank thee for this food. Amen."
Whether you grew up at St. Johns, or St Lucy's; attend Roxborough Presbyterian or First Baptist, you probably prayed something like this before dinner as a child.
But blessing food is not just a Christian tradition. The concept is actually found in every religion, and every form of spiritual thought. So is it just a nice ditty to bless food, or could there actually be something profoundly real about it?
If you speak to a yoga instructor at Yoga on Main, an acupuncturist at Lyceum Wellness Center, a Pranic Energy Healer, a Buddhist, or a Hindi, they will probably all say that the blessing actually carries weight; it cleanses negative energy, or enhances the good qualities, or adds positive energy to the food. And, way back when, Christians and Jews believed this too.
So why do I bring up this concept of blessing food? Well, whether we are giving thanks to God for his provision, or calling upon the energy of the universe to cleanse the food we are about to eat, or calling upon higher power(s) to make the food nursing and our bodies receptive to the nutrients, it occurred to me that in our culture, our relationship to food has become really dysfunctional, and perhaps implementing the idea of blessing food could help us to begin to heal our relationship with it.
How do you eat? Do you usually eat breakfast in the car, lunch at your desk, and dinner in five minutes? Do you eat massive amounts and hardly remember what it was you ate?
Or, do you enjoy your food, savoring every bite? Do you eat slowly, chewing your food, enjoying conversation with those people with whom you are sharing a meal?
Do you eat slowly enough so that small portions make you full? The French seem to have this down to a science. They are satisfied with small portions because they savor every bite. Since it takes 20 minutes for the food in your stomach to stimulate a response in your brain, then if you eat slowly, you'll eat less. Its a proven fact.
So a couple of weeks ago, when I attended a wellness event at the Lyceum Wellness Center, one of the practitioners brought up the concept of blessing food. Then it occurred to me, if I was conscientious enough to stop before I begin to eat, and take the time to give thanks for the food, or bless it in one of the many ways that world religions teach, it might change my 'relationship' with food.
My life is lived at a manic pace. I over-pack my schedule and run at 60 miles per hour from one thing to the next. So, when I finally 'sit down' for dinner with my family, I am often still in 60 mile per hour mode.
Then, I eat a plate full of food while asking my kids about their days, and am done before I've even tasted a bite. Often, it is not until I'm about to eat my last bite that I realize that I missed out on my dinner and try to salvage at least a morsel of pleasure from my food before its gone.
Then I feel bad that I didn't taste any of the food, so I go for seconds, which I eat with more awareness. The problem is that now I've had two plates of food instead of one, and I wonder why I can't loose weight. This is an all-too-common scenario. Eating on-the-go is another similar habit to which many people fall prey.
Food should be eaten for nourishment, for energy, and for pleasure–yes pleasure. As Americans, our quest for pleasure has become the gluttonous sort. Everything is super-sized, or we take seconds.
We eat fast. Even though many of us think we are eating for pleasure, we are actually eating glutinously, and we find a twisted pleasure in the act of eating or devouring, not in the food itself.
We eat to satisfy cravings that have nothing to do with food. We eat to relieve boredom, to dull sadness, or to appease stress. This is a bad relationship with food. Instead, we ought to enjoy the food itself. Enjoy the scent, the texture, the flavor. Be grateful for the nutrition. Be conscious of the life energy that the food is delivering to our bodies.
So how does one change one's relationship with food? Well, some people need a lot of counseling on that issue, but many of us can start with one or two simple practices.
First, presentation. If you present food for yourself or for those you serve, that is slopped onto a plate; you (and they) will likely not pay much attention to it while you eat it.
However, if you take a few moments to make it look special–close your eyes and pretend you are a chef at Derek's, Bourbon Blue, or Munk & Nun–you can ask yourself how can you arrange the plate to look as if you are going to serve it at one of those restaurants even if it's merely a hot dog.
If you make it look appealing, you and those you serve will be more likely to stop and enjoy, instead of shovel.
Second, say a blessing before you eat. Perhaps you say something like the traditional Jewish prayer, "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth"
Or, this Christian prayer from India, "Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all your mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Christ our Lord."
Or, practice blessing the food as the Hindi tradition teaches, where one focuses good and happy thoughts (energy/prana) or good intention onto the food before eating it, and thanking the Supreme Being for the provision of food.
No matter how you do it, it is a good practice to begin, whether an actually blessing befalls our food, a cleansing occurs, or we are simply slowed down while we show gratefulness to God or the person(s) who prepared the food for us, (even if it was yourself). This simple act will help you to eat more conscientiously, instead of shoveling in the food and finishing before you've even tasted a bite.
Science has proven that when we eat more slowly, we eat less. And, when we eat slowly, we have greater pleasure. And, when we have greater pleasure, (instead of stress), then good endorphins are released into our bloodstream instead of cortisol, which keeps the pounds packed on, especially in the belly.
So give it a try–whether for genuine faith reasons, or vainity. Either way, the practice of prayer or blessings before a meal has only been shown to be beneficial. You've got nothing to lose except stress and inches.