Let food be thy medicine...
I’m an integrative therapist, and I work with art and a range of creative media in therapy. I have long been fascinated by the power of art to heal. I have always had an interest in food and over the last year I have discovered something interesting. I have discovered that food as art, can be a powerful healer.
Our relationship with food starts even before birth when a foetus can develop a taste for certain foods that are eaten by a woman during pregnancy. Our relationship with food is shaped by many things, from the first time we are breast or bottle fed as babies, to being rewarded with a bar of chocolate for being good. From birth food is intrinsically connected to our feelings, and when we eat, we are often expressing how we feel and not simply satisfying physical hunger. That emotion and eating are connected can be clearly seen in depression where both not wanting to eat, and eating too much can both be a sign of being depressed.
There is growing evidence which shows that food contributes not only to our physical health but also to our mental health. What we eat plays an important role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Our relationship to food is cultural and even spiritual. Many religions and spiritual paths have rituals and rules related to food and eating. One of these is fasting which is often believed to increase spiritual awareness and purify both mind and body. In fact the current trend for juice fasts, and detoxing could be seen as a contemporary version of ancient purification techniques.
Criticism of current ‘clean eating’ as a cult where the “ high priestesses of this new religion … amass hundreds of thousands of followers online”, highlights a potentially darker side, and the danger of ‘orthorexia’, an unhealthy obsession with eating only healthy foods. Whilst others feel that clean eating simply means enjoying more wholefoods and limiting processed and refined food.
Amidst this debate I discovered smoothie bowls. Smoothie bowls are made by blending fruit and vegetables often with other ingredients, and then decorating them. All you need to do is browse through social media sites such as Instagram to see that smoothie bowls and smoothie jars have become an art form in their own right.
I began to make time in the morning to create a little piece of art for breakfast, which I would then photograph, before sitting down to slowly, and mindfully eat my creation. I noticed that doing this was not only enjoyable, but that it also seemed to be really good for me on a number of levels. In my therapeutic work, I offered the task of creating healthy smoothie bowls as homework to Molly, an 18 year old eating disordered client.
Molly’s dad died just before she was born, and Molly’s mother described feeling unable to bond with Molly from birth. Molly felt the pain of her mother’s rejection acutely. Initially Molly loved creating beautiful bowls but struggled to eat them. Over time she became able to enjoy eating her creations, and slowly she began to improve her self-esteem, and developed a healthier eating pattern.
I also suggested the same homework with another client, Kelly. Kelly, in her late 30’s was single, over-weight, suffering from depression and emotionally detached from her body as a consequence of an earlier violent rape. We had been working for a number of weeks with art in sessions. Kelly loved art therapy and was excited to try making smoothie bowls. She found this enjoyable, and quickly experienced an improvement to her mood. She began to lose weight and her self-esteem and feeling of wellbeing improved.
There is no way to know whether the improvements are a positive consequence of the smoothie bowl work or co-incidental, but I tend to suspect a connection. Smoothie bowls in effect are mandalas, a circular design that has ancient roots and symbolism. Many cultures believe that mandalas have spiritual meaning. In psychology Carl Jung described his practice of drawing daily mandalas as transformational and believed the mandala to be “a representation of the unconscious self.”.
Art therapy is a powerful and effective therapy, and prescribing art as treatment was known as early as the 1950s. Simply creating art in smoothie bowls as an expressive form of therapy may have a beneficial effect.
There is also I feel, the potential for healing at a deep level from the process itself. Creating a smoothie bowl from healthy ingredients, requires investing time, energy and intention on creating something of beauty and value. This in effect is a gift to the self, an act that expresses caring, respect and love for the self. In doing so this elevates the experience of eating, using Maslow's hierarchy of needs to illustrate, from a simply physiological one, to one of love, and esteem.
Taking the time to eat and enjoy the food can also create a space for calmness, and calm eating can help you learn to look at food and yourself in a positive light.
Investing energy in nourishing yourself in this way may even help heal past experiences of a lack of nurture, or negative messages around food, by healing your relationship with yourself through art and food. What I am discovering is that that eating beautiful, nourishing food that is prepared with love can heal and nourish on many levels.
But I have also discovered that creating smoothie bowls is playful and fun...and so I encourage you all to get out your blender, google a recipe and let yourself play, create a smoothie bowl and enjoy!
October 1, 2016
Ani de la Prida MA, MBACP, PCATA
I am an integrative therapist and I work with art, creative materials and play as well as talking therapy. I work with children, young people, adults, groups, and couples. I am also a lecturer, writer and researcher. I am fascinated by the process of change and healing, and my current research interest is digital media in therapy. I am also a little obsessed with food!
Article reproduced from The Counsellors Cafe
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