Each day, as I prepare for work, I appreciate having a job I not only love, but consider integral to my life. As part of my personal practice, each spring I undertake an Ayurvedic detox diet, which means eating Mung Bean Dahl for roughly ten days, based around a fasting day. This is an opportunity to observe my current relationship with food, whilst giving my digestive system a supportive break, and an invigorating spring clean!
Regular research is also part of the job, so finding a therapeutic podcast - This Jungian Life - to listen to whilst I walk my hound, works a treat. I was intrigued to find their episode ‘Food Purity and Dietary Restriction’ synchronised with this cleanse programme. Their discussion helped focus my sense of purpose and exploration during this quiet time, and offered a reassuring sense of inter-connection.
‘Eating clean’ as I hear it referred to, is the latest health kick, and appears to be a great idea. However, as with all the discussions in this area - ‘food and mood’, weight loss etc, the focus remains on the food (the object) itself. The vital significance of how it gets there, the background preparation, we too often ignore, avoid or take for granted. This leaves us with a gnawing void, unable to get enough of what we don’t need…
As a kitchen therapist, it is what the food means and how it is made that is the primary focus. Clearly, as this cleanse diet shows, the physical nutrition is crucial, but I am aware that it’s not just what I eat, but how I make it that will address my needs. The quality of my attention, the nature of my intentions in the cooking choices I make and the stories they tell, are the crucial ingredients in providing a complete, fulfilling meal. If you have seen the effect of Tita’s food in the terrific tale “Like Water for Chocolate” (And if you haven’t - allow me to recommend it), you will know the significance of the emotional ingredient in our cooking. My Ayurvedic cooking teacher explained that when a mother makes her children’s breakfast, she infuses the ‘porridge’ with her loving protection for the day. The food we eat tastes of the attention that went into the making, which can last throughout the day, the week or even a lifetime. (Think for a moment about one of the most special, memorable meals you have eaten. What is it about that made it so significant for you? What feelings arise in you, who is there with you…? These stories are packed with emotional sustenance.)
Although I am fond of the nutrition packed, cleansing mung dahl, after a few days, its healthy charm can wane… That’s when I focus in on the nurture I receive from this dish, which is the ultimate in self care diets. I take time to chop and prepare all the ingredients, paying close attention to their sensory delights. I spend a little extra time using my pestle and mortar, which brings me in touch with my thoughtful energy and the traditional methods, passed down over millennia for making this dahl. I notice a warm feeling of security as I connect psychologically to this ancient healing recipe, grateful for the time and trouble I am feeding into myself. Primal, wise and active self care.
I first took on this Ayurvedic detox diet 10 years ago, and it marked a key moment in Kitchen Therapy’s genesis. At the time, I was suffering with allergies and knew I needed to take more responsibility for what was happening in my body, to care for myself and address some unhelpful, outdated habits around how I was (or was not) supporting myself. I would never have believed how easy this detox was. On reflection, I knew this to be due to the powerful nurturing message I received from the Ayurvedic doctor who guided me through the process. She tapped into my latent ability to care for and parent myself, which inspired the confidence to make changes in my approach not just to my diet, but to my life.
It is true that the mung bean is profoundly nutritious, supplying all we need on a physical level. It is also true that the spices and herbs that go into the dahl are warmly satisfying, with an ability to quieten the craving mind’s quest for food thrills. However, having experimented with this diet several times over the years, I know that the key to success will be in the preparation on a psychological level - orientating myself towards a period of restoration rather than restriction. The care and attention I cook with, the mindful observation I practice, will be vital ingredients in the efficacy of the cleanse.
When we inadvertently, or blatantly place the power solely in the food itself to support and supply our needs, we are left insecure and empty, with the source of satisfaction left outside of ourselves. In response, Kitchen Therapy explores the internal relationship between what and how we feed ourselves. Whilst this approach helps to reveal our patterns, its most important revelation is in how we can find the power to nourish ourselves from within.