Healthy eating is generally framed as having a purely biological impact on us. We are often motivated to eat healthily so we can lose weight, avoid developing diseases and be in good shape to take part in sports or other activities. We may see healthy eating as something that’s nice to do if we have the time and energy, but not something to worry too much about when we aren’t able to prioritise it – unless we have a health scare, that is.
But the impact of healthy eating ranges far beyond the physical, to the mental, emotional and even spiritual. The latter is what I want to take a look at today.
Healthy eating as self-love
For me, compassion is what spirituality is all about – that, and joy. And the key thing here is that compassion is not exclusive. To grow spiritually, we must extend it to everyone and everything, without reservation. That includes ourselves.
The food we eat literally becomes us; the nutrients we take in are used to build our very cells. These days, what we choose to eat may be seen as no big deal, but in reality it is highly significant.
So loving ourselves means giving our bodies the best raw materials possible. If we fill our bodies with foods that clog our arteries, cause chronic disease and are deficient in nutrients, then what does that say about how we think of ourselves?
Not everyone is able to eat very healthily at every meal, but having compassion for ourselves means being conscious of what we put into our bodies and doing the best we can with what we have.
Eating healthily to benefit others
Most of us have the mindset that what we put in our bodies is our business – it doesn’t affect anyone else, right? But real life is rarely that simple. Almost all our actions spill over to affect those around us.
In terms of eating habits, the most obvious example is when they make us sick, meaning others have to take care of us. Many illnesses which are often seen as inevitable consequences of aging – heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, dementia, type 2 diabetes and so forth – are actually strongly linked to diet. We owe it to those who care about us to do all we can to preserve our health. Otherwise, they may have to endure the heartbreak of watching us suffer and deteriorate later on. It may also put them under a lot of stress if they have to take care of us. One of the most compassionate things we can do for our loved ones is to take care of ourselves.
Our eating habits also influence those around us in other ways. For parents, it’s especially important to set a good example. Kids are very perceptive, and will mimic their parents’ actions. Telling your children about the benefits of healthy eating won’t do much good if your habits send the opposite message. Our health is the most precious thing we have, and the most important thing we can pass on to our children. Eating habits established in childhood can affect us our whole lives – even what people eat whilst pregnant may be significant. That should give us pause.
But those around us may also be affected in more subtle ways. When people see us eating healthily and thriving, it may influence them to do the same. My parents have vastly reduced their intake of dairy, for example, in large part because I introduced them to alternatives. They have both seen health improvements as a result. In fact, their diets have just generally shifted to become more plant-based, and the benefits have been clear. So eating healthily can be a form of showing compassion to others as well as ourselves.
Find more on plant-based diets and spirituality here.
Health is vital for serving others
Many spiritual people believe their purpose in life is to serve others. In order to do this to the best of our abilities, we need abundant energy, and we also need to feel joyful and at peace with the world. This is difficult to do if we are ill, or if the foods we are eating make us feel heavy and sluggish.
Some people believe that eating fresh, whole foods raises our vibrations, making us more peaceful, compassionate and joyful. This concept may help you, if it resonates with you.
Can focusing on healthy eating ever be a bad thing?
Making the best food choices possible can rarely be said to be a bad thing! But sometimes, the desire to eat healthily becomes more like an obsession. We may start to become stressed when we aren’t in a position to make healthy food choices, or feel guilty about having the occasional less healthy treat. At this point, healthy eating can become a source of stress. This is bad news, because being stressed causes health problems in its own right! So it’s really important to find balance, and to do the best we can without beating ourselves up when we can’t eat as well as we’d like to.
It’s not just food!
If we accept that healthy eating is a spiritual action, then there are other things which must be spiritual by extension. These include other ways of looking after our bodies, such as keeping fit and staying hydrated. Taking care of our mental health is really important too, as is learning skills that allow us to live and communicate harmoniously with others. So more and more, I’m coming to see self-improvement as a spiritual process. If nothing else, the more peaceful and joyful we are, the more pleasant it is for everyone around us!
With regards to food, I’ll leave you with one final thought: if we don’t nourish our bodies, then how can we expect to nourish our souls?
Feel free to leave your thoughts below.