I have always associated the word nourishment with food—and eating. The word nourish actually means to provide food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition; to promote growth needed for nourishment (including spiritual nourishment); and to maintain/ support/strengthen. What is interesting about the definition is that it makes the distinction among the ways that we nourish ourselves, i.e. our whole selves — mind, body and spirit.
Understanding this concept—of nourishing one’s whole self—is so important for people in recovery because the minute we put down drugs and alcohol, we pick up food. It is a rite of passage for many of us in recovery. But it often leads to months—if not years—of weight gain, shame, and self-hatred.
This conception is so prevalent in a society focused heavily on the material: we are a generation of consumers. We are positively encouraged by marketers to overeat — with stores catering to our every whim, offering every possible snack, dessert, or anything else we desire. Would you like to super-size that?! we’re asked with practically every food order.
While I am not intending to be a killjoy — in fact, I encourage you to savor and enjoy your favorite foods — I think we might benefit from being more mindful around eating generally. My experience has been that if I am not consciously eating, I will emotionally overeat and start a cycle of self-hatred and further binging. Just by taking a moment to be mindful of food’s real purpose, and the true meaning of nourishing ourselves, we might actually tap into what our body really needs to be nourished.
So often when I am tempted to reach into the fridge, I am not attuned to what my body is truly hungry for. If I take a moment to ask myself, what are you really hungry for right now? I frequently find it isn’t food — I’m tired, overworked, stressed. In those moments, I benefit from nourishing my mind, heart, and spirit, not my stomach. Neglecting my whole self and all of my needs makes my hunger so loud that I can obsess over food, leading to frequent overeating, feeling emotionally drained, and feeling exhausted. That is no way to spend my days.
I was so stressed out recently — about my trip back home for the holidays, seeing everyone for the first time in a year when I feel like a completely different woman — that my shoulders had become so tense they caused a terrible headache. Around the same time that day, my landlord decided it was a good time to use a pneumatic drill to dig up the pavement. I nearly had a meltdown. This is a time I would typically go to the fridge. Instead, I booked a massage. Afterwards, I sat in the steam room and I felt that fulfilment I’d been seeking — my mind needed time out to restore, to rest. And because I did that, my carb cravings that I’d had all week completely dissipated.
It’s my experience that if we look after our body holistically — listening to our entire body’s needs — then we’re more likely to be present, engage in healthy and helpful behaviors. We’ll feel nourished.
I’d encourage you to start the new year with a little reflection practice. Have a look at the question and reflect for a few moments, then write your answers down. It may be a more powerful exercise if you wrote the answers and stuck them to your desk wall, or on the fridge — anywhere that makes you pause, and gain a few moments of mindfulness before reaching into the fridge.
Consider all the ways that you can nourish your whole self — for example, massage, journaling, walking in nature, or reading a book. Make a list on your phone or a notepad that you can keep handy. Then, at some point when you feel an overwhelming craving, I encourage you to speak to your hunger and ask it, what are you really hungry for?
This question/answer exercise is designed to give you the time to pause and reflect; to get in touch with what your whole self is asking. When we listen to our bodies, when we feel more in tune with what is happening within us, we’re much more likely to choose nourishment (in all senses of the word), over harmful and addictive behaviors. Try taking a few moments out — your body will thank you for it.
Olivia Pennelle is a writer who believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her site, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery.