Every religion, whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Islamic or even non-religious humanists have a form of a Grace prayer. I was brought up in a non-practicing Catholic household. A picture of Jesus on the wall and a crucifix here and there, church on some holidays; is a pretty common theme where I’m from. Saying Grace before dinner is something I never did or even had been present at the table during until my late twenties. Although, being told to be grateful for the food I ate or scorned for how ungrateful I may have acted at times was common language.
The acts of saying a prayer before a meal, in most religions, is to offer thanks for the food you have been given. This brief moment that is taken in silence before a meal is a tool that is also used in Dr. Epel’s study relating stress with eating habits.
The biological effects of stress cause us to unmindfully choose the sugary, salty fatty foods. One key way to relieving this stress is, of course, exercise (I say, get some Crossfit in your life). But what caught my attention about her approach are the meditation practices throughout the day and especially before meals. Epel emphasizes using these brief moments of mindfulness and awareness to become in tune with the body’s needs and eating based on caloric need NOT emotional need. This means taking a minute to observe the food you are going to eat with all of your senses; its sight, smell, origin and more importantly, what its nutritional content is going to do for your body.
Can the meaning and purpose of saying Grace evolve to also include this awareness? I feel it is such a widely known ritual so many are comfortable with and could easily be the relative starting point for this very beneficial tool.
Is having a constant consciousness a life skill that could benefit many people struggling with bad eating habits, especially those in the restaurant industry that are constantly picking at whatever is around? I remember the first time I decided to do a fruit and vegetable fast. I had hit a plateau in my force feeding habits in hopes of gaining weight and decided to give my body a break and try to get my appetite and taste buds back. Talk about being mindful. I was literally pulling my hands from my mouth as they were instinctually trying to feed me bits of chicken salad and tortilla chips. I never had to be mindful of what I was eating on that level. That fast and a few more soon after brought the discipline I needed to break any long standing eating habits I had formed and become aware of my body’s needs.
I picture the traditional thought process while saying Grace to be about gratitude, maybe some humility and love for those around you, and that is great. It is also something that is dwindling with time as is the amount of people attending church and synagogue. In fact, studies show that a big percentage of people are lying about attending services.
My opinion is that if taking that moment before meals and throughout the day was meant to bring awareness to what you are consuming and your body’s needs and not synonymous with a religious saying or action, it would be more widely accepted and utilized to prevent bad eating habits. Maybe there is no words said and it is that silent few minutes of just listening and feeling your body’s needs and acknowledging your cravings for different nutrients. Give it a shot. Try a fruit and vegetable fast if you have never and gain that discipline we all need. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley (1826-1893) from The Conduct of Life