Image for “Food and freedom”, Finding Your Bliss

My favorite hefty orange pot simmers on the stove, and the fireplace burns with a slow and steady flame. Our house fills with the soothing aromas of roasted peppers and pungent garlic.

Every so often I walk by the stove and reach for my wooden spoon to stir the stew and taste the flavors commingling in the broth. Our long wooden dinner table is set with my favorite Balinese place mats, colorful plates and bowls, and hearty wrought-iron utensils. A candle flickers in the center, surrounded by a collection of crystals my kids have gifted me over the years. A simple and savory one-pot meal feeds a full table, and sitting down together can feel so nourishing.

Indeed, we are fed not just by the food on our plates but by the many other aspects of our lives. Our food is so much more than what we find on our plates. Our food is the feeling of comfort and safety we cultivate in our bodies and our homes. Our food is the body-based wisdom always available to us, when we listen. Our food is the connection we share with ourselves and our loved ones as we gather around the table. Our food is in the savoring of the pleasures of life. Our food is all that satiates our souls.

This book, like my table, is a place for you to be well-fed, inspired, and unconditionally loved. There is a place set for you here — a place to nourish your body, settle your mind, inspire your heart, and soothe your soul; most important, it is a space for you to show up however you are. To rest in reclaiming you, all of you, whatever you are hungry for in your wild and wise wholeness.

The truest path to food and freedom comes from your inner homecoming, where you can return to your true nature. Your inner world is the most powerful aspect of you, the place where you will find safety, gain agency with the intelligence of your body, nourish your nervous system, and learn to trust your inner organic wisdom with how you eat and how you live. When we come home to ourselves, we reclaim our sovereignty and become our own greatest ally.

Food and Freedom is about your relationship to food and your relationship to life. These pages are a gateway for you to navigate life from your body’s wisdom, to free yourself from some of the social constructs that are dragging you (and all of us) down, and most important, to bring your whole self to the table so you can celebrate all of you!

All hunger starts in your head

We are hungry for food. We are hungry for life. We are hungry for more. How we eat is a metaphor for how we live.

Physically, your hunger and fullness hormones (ghrelin and leptin) originate in your hypothalamus, a small region of your brain close to your pituitary gland. Via the gut-brain axis, ghrelin and leptin are your navigation system for your hunger and satiation cycles (we will explore this dynamic in greater depth later on). If you ignore this inner navigation, your eating can become the most challenging aspect of your daily life. When you learn to listen to this inner compass, you will find your way to a more natural state of ease with your eating.

Metaphorically, your hunger for life — your desires, inspirations, and all you yearn for — are often said to first be a seed of mind, the thoughts you give your attention to. This hunger guides you in supporting your own fulfillment.

While these two perspectives may seem vastly different, they have a potent common denominator, because how we eat is how we live. When your eating is wrought with strife, you likely find yourself swirling with many negative thought patterns, your mind running amok. When your daily life is challenging, food is an easy reach to quell your anxious thoughts, regulate your nervous system, and soothe the stressors of daily life. Further, when you live in the perpetual busyness of our world — flying through your days trying to keep up with your to-do lists, driving the kids to baseball, and still making it home in time to cook a dinner inspired by your favorite influencer on TikTok — it is even more challenging to be present, to track your bodily cues, and to be in touch with the deepest parts of you. After all, if we are fully immersed in the busyness of life, how can we be absorbed in the beauty, wisdom, and pleasure of each moment?

Food is never just about the food. How we relate to food provides important insights into other aspects of our lives that are beckoning for our attention. When you partner wholeheartedly with your true self in food and life, you will soon elevate your freedom and joy with how you eat, think, and live. This is where you have access to your greatest vitality, your greatest power and wisdom, and all you need to show up fully in your life.

The standard for beauty set by the media has made it impossible for most women to feel at peace with their plates and their bodies. For centuries patriarchal messaging has informed how we manipulate our appetite, our eating, and our bodies’ shape — from diets to trendy eating styles, from corsets to skinny jeans. Consequently, our self-esteem, our confidence in the world, and the ways in which we love and value ourselves are in dire straits. Sadly, this means that most women are at odds with how they eat and unhappy with how they look. Together we need to overturn the cultural paradigms that tell us how we need to look and eat, to be seen as beautiful, worthy of love, and valued. It is time to take the patriarchy off our plates and out of our mirrors. We are the ones we need to rewrite our stories — for ourselves and for all women.

While there is work to be done before many of us can trust ourselves in a room alone with one of those ridiculous flourless chocolate cakes, most of us would agree that there is even more inner work needed to love ourselves, no matter the outcome.

When Sara, a longtime client of mine, tearfully walked into my office with her bathroom scale in her hands, I wasn’t surprised. For weeks she had been telling me that her happiness on any given day was inversely related to the number on her scale. A higher number meant she was fraught with anxiety, guilt, and self-loathing. A lower number boded some temporary relief — higher self-worth and confidence for the day, but for that day only. A lower number also foretold new and unreasonable (and stressful) self-imposed standards for the days to come.

Sara asked me to babysit her scale so that it could be out of her sight. I gladly accepted. Would anything change for her with no scary scale in her bathroom staring back at her each morning just moments after she woke up?  If she stopped letting her daily happiness and ability to love herself be dictated by the number on the scale? Unfortunately, tainted by our unwieldy thoughts, we tend to find many other ways to self-loathe in the absence of a scale.

In the following pages I share my own story and those of the many women who have shared with me over the past two decades on the women’s wellness and yoga retreats I lead and in my private practice, Boulder Nutrition, where I specialize in functional nutrition, food psychology, and integrative health. I have distilled the eight foundational ingredients that have guided me — and them — home. In this book we will explore these ingredients one by one.

The food and freedom formula

The eight chapters (or “ingredients,” as I call them in this book) we will explore together around the table are both practical and intuitive. And as with any recipe, you will be guided to taste-test along the way and cook up what is just right for you. This book is a loving exploration of the many aspects of you. While I share my own stories and those of my clients, you will also see that there is plenty of data and science to support your journey, as well as many opportunities for you to practice intentional self-study, self-care, and self-nourishment (there will be recipes!) of your own.

Page by page, you will find that your relationship with food is a porthole that will bring you closer to you, housing the most intimate expression of your true self, healing your individual and collective story, exploring the social constructs that influence your well-being, and unpacking the belief systems and cultural indoctrinations you have taken on as your own. When we simmer with ourselves, in our spacious inner kitchens, we gain vital insights.

Food is a common ground for all people, and these pages are a safe space for you, and for all women, to satisfy all we hunger for. This includes a deep honoring and respect for all our differences — those of race, gender, religion, and sexual identity — and all the cultural nuances that make you you.

Food and Freedom will help you transform how you eat, think, and live while guiding you home to your wholeness. When I see women repressing who they truly are, being overwhelmed with how to eat and live authentically, and (because of it) missing out on some of life’s most pleasurable and joyful moments, my heart hurts. I know we all deserve more. I hope for us all to make the most of this precious life, living well-nourished, abundant, peaceful, and free.

I know that if we were to miss out on your brilliance because you were consumed by your stress over food and your body, it would be a huge disservice to this world. We need you and all you are here to be and share. You are the only person who has your gifts, and only you can share yourself with the world. This is the deepest and most heartfelt mission of my work. Food and Freedom is here to support you in unleashing your authentic power and true nature and to satiate all of you so you can walk through your doorway to freedom.

Some things you will need

As we dive in together, plan to cultivate some sacred space for yourself, an extra dash of patience, and some consistent practice to elevate your spiritual fitness. Here are some implements you will need along the way:

A journal

Writing by hand, pen to paper, slows us down and prompts us to enter into a deeper conversation with ourselves. Journaling has been shown to be an effective tool for minimizing mental distress, increasing well-being, and healing trauma, and we will frequently use this wonderful reflective tool in our time together. Find a journal that inspires an open conversation with yourself and that will get you into the habit of putting your thoughts into words. Ooh, and grab a really great pen while you are at it. A good pen makes all the difference.

A sacred space

Maybe you already have a space you call your own, a meditation corner, your favorite chair, or a place you can go to find a snippet of solace. But if not, start small with a spot just for you — a spot to go and reflect (no need to get fancy). Then take out your calendar and block out a bit of time each day or week to ensure you don’t overlook the precious space needed to engage in these practices.

An open mind

An open mind cultivates new thoughts and challenges old beliefs. You may have heard the well-known quote by the late Wayne Dyer: “Change the way you see things and the things you see will change.” I invite you to use this opportunity to craft some new perspectives.

The transformation tenets

Before we continue, here are a few gentle guidelines and affirmations that will make your inward journey gentle and smooth. Read the tenets below and try on the affirmations as daily reminders to stay steady, believe in yourself, and open yourself to new possibilities.

Take it slow and steady

When we seek to make long-term changes, it can be tempting to try to rush the process — yet robust inner work is deep, timeless, and enduring. When we rush we only skim the surface. Taking on too much at once often overloads our system, catapults us into overwhelm, and triggers the same patterns we are yearning to amend. Integrating the practices I offer you slowly and over time ensures you are working in partnership with your inner guidance system along the way. A slow-and-steady approach creates sustainable change. 

I will take my time, savor each baby step on my path, pause and breathe often, and cultivate patience and persistence.

Add in to crowd out

The human psyche does better with adding in than with taking away. When we add in the ingredients that support our healing and transformation, the old ways that do not align tend to fall away. All the good stuff we are adding in crowds out the outdated behaviors that no longer serve our intentions and who we are becoming. As you traverse your healing path, selectively and mindfully add in what will support your highest good. 

I will choose new daily habits and practices to add into my life — those that inspire me, strengthen me, build resiliency, and sculpt my days to become supportive and nourishing.

Forgive yourself

As you peel back the layers of your relationship with food you will likely find a few skeletons in your closet (we all have ‘em!): shame that makes you feel stuck, guilt that you can’t shake, and old ways of being you would rather sweep under the rug. As the wise Brené Brown says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” Airing out our past and forgiving ourselves allows us to focus on the present rather than expending our energy dwelling on something we can’t change. Our old ways of being were the coping skills we relied on when things felt hard. We know more now. We are wiser, more experienced, stronger, and more resourced now than we were then. 

I will do the best I can until I know better. Then, as I know better, I will do better.

Before we dive in, let’s set the table for this precious time together. I will be by your side every step of the way. There is always a seat at my table, and I am so glad you are here.

Excerpted from the book Food and Freedom: Discover Your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think, and Live Well ©2024 by Sue Van Raes. Printed with permission from New World Library —

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