As a student of Nutrition Therapy Institute a few years ago, I read a lot of books about a lot of different diets. I learned a lot of facts about nutrients and anatomy. But I also read this book, Nourishing Wisdom, that was different from the rest. Instead of citing research papers and touting scientific evidence for this or that, the author explored the psychology behind eating. He discussed the mind-body connection to nourishment, and reflected on the experience we humans have as eaters.
Well, years have passed and I had pretty much forgotten about the book. But, thanks to a recent reel posted by @qest4.co on instagram, I was reminded of its existence, and decided to pull it out for another read.
It was definitely thought-provoking, as was the intention of the author, and I think you might enjoy some of the soul searching it prompted.
So, let us now review Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David!
First, a word on the format of the book. It comprises 16 chapters, each focusing on a specific aspect of the eater’s experience. At the end of each chapter is a list of key points to remember, and then several questions you could ask yourself as guided reflections on what was discussed. These would be great for personal pondering, journaling, or discussing with a friend or a group.
Next, the title and purpose of the book. I think the author clearly explains it when he says, “I am deliberately staying away from nutritional advice and guidelines for now because you can find nutritional information almost anywhere. Nutritional wisdom, though, is rare.” (page 20)
“Of course, it is important to explore the best foods for one’s body and the nutritional philosophies that seem most suited for one’s way of thinking. But without a spiritual foundation, nutritional knowledge can go only so far. Science can tell us what to eat, but it cannot pronounce upon the meaning of eating. We need something more to help us understand the richness, drama, emotions, sensuousness, and psychological significance of eating.” (page 5)
And that is exactly what he sets out to do! Throughout the book, he explores the deeper connections between our approach and view of food and the way we process life in general. He focuses not on what we can see of individual nutrients, but what we feel on the inside as we are nourished by life and by food.
This book is an easy read, both intellectually and in its organization. The chapters are short and relatively independent of one another, so you are free to stop and start and pick and choose as you like.
With that, let’s jump into a few of the bits of wisdom he shares. If any of it resonates with you, I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Or you can get ahold of your own copy and explore these topics (and many more I will not be including) in greater depth on your own time.
Choosing food means choosing life
“Each time you eat, know that you are feeding more than just a body. You are feeding the soul’s longing for life, its timeless desire to learn the lessons of earthly existence.”
Throughout the book, David shares many similar sentiments to the one above. Food is not simply about nutrients! It is a manifestation of the promise to live and to experience life.
He shares about a research study where scientists were looking for compact, simple food for astronauts to eat in space. They had study participants get all their nutritional requirements in chemical form – that is, they did not eat food, but they still got carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc. that are necessary for life. It did not turn out well. They suffered from bone loss, internal bleeding, immune dysfunction, digestive disorders, and mental health challenges. Their bodies supposedly had nutrition, but they were still not nourished.
Real food is alive and feeds our real body and soul – something that individual, chemical nutrients could never do.
“Food is meant to nourish us, not merely provide nutrients.”
Let go of labeling food as good or bad
David suggests that one of his most important points in the book is, “There is no such thing as a good food or a bad food. I am not saying that different foods do not have either positive or negative effects on health. I am saying that no food is morally good or morally corrupt.”
Food is neutral! When we label a food as bad, we can inadvertently give it more power over us and in our lives than it naturally would on its own.
Unfortunately, when we moralize food, we moralize the people (including ourselves) who eat that food. We feel guilty and judge ourselves when we give in to a “temptation” and we are critical of others who eat that food.
Moreover, when we tell someone not to eat something because it is bad, what they hear is they are bad because they are eating that bad thing.
“Health comes not only from eating good foods, but from thinking good thoughts and having a ‘healthy’ attitude.”
Perhaps we would all benefit from taking a step back and seeing food for what it truly is. Let’s engage with our attitude about food and release unneeded judgements we’ve been holding onto.
How we eat is a reflection of how we live
“Our hurrying through life is reflected in hurrying through meals. Our fear of emotional emptiness is seen in our overeating. Our need for certainty and control is mirrored in strict dietary rules. Our looking for love in all the wrong places is symbolized in our use of food as a substitute for love.”
I found this whole concept very fascinating. I have just completed a year of very strict plant-based eating in an attempt to “cure myself of asthma.” While I have definitely seen some significant improvements in my health, I can tell I would benefit from a deeper reflection on my attitude and overall approach.
As I have been very rigid about the food I am eating, I’ve been seeing food as medicine. I have missed out on a lot of the community and the joy of togetherness that is felt when people come together for a meal. Instead, I am isolated and very controlled in what I consume and let in.
All the while, I can’t breathe. The breath of life is elusive to me! I cannot take it all in. It is very restricted and tight.
Fortunately, David says we are all disordered eaters in some way – that’s part of the process! We can choose to learn and change, and to honor the process and experience of being an eater.
Whole Body Eating
One of the most applicable chapters was about Whole Body Eating. The author promises that if you practice the steps outlined for even one week, your relationship with food will be transformed. You will also notice benefits in other areas of your life as well. Here is how you do it:
- Make a conscious choice to eat.
- Ask your body what it wants.
- Eat with awareness.
- Listen for feedback.
- Release the meal.
He explains each step in detail, with a specific exercise to try. I will highlight step 3 here, but I highly recommend reading this entire chapter on your own.
David says eating with awareness is the heart of whole body eating. “Be there when you eat. Achieve the fullest experience of your food. Taste it. Savor it. Pay attention to it. Rejoice in it. See how it makes your body feel. Take in all the sensations.”
When we miss these experiences, we will remain unfulfilled.
Obviously you can’t be slow and deliberate with all your food all the time, but dedicating a certain number of meals each week, or a certain number of minutes each meal to the practice of eating with awareness will do the trick.
If you try this, I would love to hear how it goes for you! It is definitely not natural for me to do, and I have noticed how often I just eat on the go from one activity to the next. I’m excited to see how this practice changes my experience with eating and contributes to a healthier relationship with food.
Overall, it was a good book. I find the process of self-examination on any topic to be beneficial, but there’s nothing more pertinent to life than food!
I’ll leave you with one final quote: “Nourishment is not only nutrition. It is the experience of that nutrition – the heartiness, the sentiments, and the soul intention on which our eating is based. What nourishes is our relationship to food, our participation in the ongoing exploration of eating, the wonder, the joy, the confusion, the change, the uncertainty, the pain, the aliveness, the theories, the disputes, the shopping, the cooking, the sharing, the ripe watermelon, the over-cooked spaghetti, the healthy foods, the forbidden sweets, and the knowing that when a meal is finished, we will return for another and another and another.”
About the author
Hey! My name is Brittan and I live in Utah with my husband and one adorable toddler. I love finding holistic and natural ways to care for myself and my family. I particularly enjoy learning about nutrition, herbal medicine, the emotional, spiritual, and energetic aspects of health, and anything else that contributes to complete wellness. Thanks for joining me!
I am not a doctor. Everything I write about is from my personal experience and perspective. Consult a physician if you have questions specific to your health.