Well Now Autumn 2020

Live zoom session Mondays  07:00 – 8.30pm.https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85804373584

Meeting ID: 858 0437 3584 Passcode: 078019

 
Email questions for live session: lucy.aphramor@gmail.com
 

Activity One

Why We Eat What We Eat

It’s time to find another paper plate! You’ll need a pen too. 

We’re exploring reasons for eating. In other words, why do you eat what you eat? Do you eat similar things every day? Are there foods you have at the weekend that you don’t have in the week? Why did you eat what you last ate? Same things all year or different? Think about what influences people’s eating in general, beyond your own life too if you like: why does anyone eat what they eat?

Food for Thought Dinner Plate

Use the plate to write your answers on. This is stage one of the activity.

If you want to open the topic further you can sit with the idea of identity and food choice. If you weren’t able to eat as you wish, would this impact your sense of self in any way? What does it mean to you to eat like you do? Identity can be around anything that’s important to who you are, such as class, gender, faith, heritage, and much more.

We’ll do stage two together in the live session ~ please have your plate with notes handy!

Activity Two

Making Sense of Nutrition and Heart Health

Have you heard the phrase ‘Mediterranean Diet’? It’s often used in connection with heart health. People living across an area of Europe referred to by nutritionists as ‘the Mediterranean’ have relatively low rates of heart disease in the population as compared to people living in other areas of Europe. The difference is attributed to diet.

Lucy walking away from camera in Mediterranean wood

 

The ‘Mediterranean’ as the geographical area under study includes countries like Spain and Italy.

The questions that follow are designed to help you spot misleading gaps and assumptions in standard nutrition information.

  1. Can you guess, or remember, what the conventional explanation is for the benefits of the Mediterranean diet? In other words, what foods are thought to account for the improved heart health? Are there specific nutrients within these foods that can explain their impact? Are there any ‘missing’ foods whose absence also improves heart health?

2. What do you know about attitudes to food in Mediterranean countries? What is valued? 

cobbled street and pink flowers in pots

Could this influence wellbeing?

3. Is the cultural approach to meals and eating the same in ‘the Mediterranean’ and the UK, for example? If not, what’s different? Could this be relevant to wellbeing?

4. There’s a high demand for the export of olive oil because of purported benefits for heart health.  What are some wider consequences of this? 

5. Is there anything else about the land, beliefs, culture, diet of people living in the Mediterranean that could be contributing to enhanced heart health as compared to non-Mediterranean countries?

6. Can ‘the Mediterranean diet’ exist in a meaningful way outside of the Mediterranean?

Activity Three

“Follow the Pleasure” 

This needs the reverse side of your paper plate  and coloured pens if you have them.

  • think of a meal or food that you have really enjoyed
  • spend a little while imagining yourself anticipating this, and then imagining yourself eating it
  • draw the meal or food in the centre of the plate
  • can you name what made it enjoyable? write these words around the circumference
  • you may have written down terms that relate to place, occasion and company. Great!
  • you may also have written down terms that relate to the actual food. If so, how are you making sense of the actual food? what are these words describing? I’ll give you a clue to the answer I’m thinking of – there’s five key categories.
  • what messages have you incorporated around pleasure? do you have feel for how these messages about pleasure influence how you currently connect with the world  – and hence food – through your senses?

red admiral butterfly on yellow flower group of young adults smiling

Activity Four

Ways of Knowing 

Inevitably, we are shaped by the worldview (or cosmovision) of the society we are born into.

In my case, growing up in England I was taught that in nutrition the only valid way to know anything of importance was through standard Western science. 

At university I learnt that ‘science’ was value-free, that good science was free from bias and could be applied universally.

Later on I learnt that new, more useful ways of thinking about science existed. And I also learnt that there are many ways of knowing things aside from science.

I learnt that when my lecturers had been talking about science, they had actually been talking about just one particular way of doing and framing Western science (called reductionist science).

In the same way, all too often, we hear the term ‘philosophy’ being used as if it is synonymous with scholarship from Western philosophy. If we talk about ‘philosophy’ this way we exclude other philosophical traditions such as those from African, Latinx and Indigenous scholars. This is how power works to keep dominant opinions dominant and devalue marginalised opinions, even when personally we don’t intend this to happen.

Reductionist science studies nutrients in isolation from the body and then pieces things back together to understand nutrition and health.

Nowadays I think this is unhelpful. It doesn’t help people make sense of their eating distress and it doesn’t honour non-western people or respect the earth. In Well Now I’m interested in approaching nutrition through connections. This has helped me and others make peace with food and it invites us to link personal healing with wider issues of justice and wellbeing. 

This activity demonstrates some differences between the two approaches. It can be interesting to think about the broader implications of how we present science and how we teach nutrition. What style of science is best suited to help us recognise each other’s humanity? Does how we present ‘facts’ matter? Is it ever possible to erase bias?  

For instance, can we really hope to explain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet by profiling its nutrient content? This mindset exaggerates the role of nutrients in human wellbeing (in a concept called healthism) and it strips away culture and relationships (one consequence of capitalist values). 

Knowledge is being created all around us. The Caribbean poet Grace Nicols passes on her knowledge of nutrition in this short poem Like  a Beacon . It’s about a fat black  woman who goes shopping in London.

Here’s some questions if you’d like to explore the topic further:

  • A plantain is a type of banana. Is this a high fat, high protein or high carbohydrate food?
  • Let’s say there were no plantains left but the shopkeeper offered Grace some fresh pasta instead – on special offer! Would that make a good substitute?
  • Plantains and pasta are both high carbohydrate foods. In a scientific way of making sense of nutrition they are quite similar. What gets missed?
  • What does the poet evoke when she talks of food?
  • What happens if we reduce food to nutrients?
  • How does this shape attitudes to eating, and our overall wellbeing?

In case you’re curious…

A Few Notes on Reductionism or the Mechanistic World View

Conventional western science seeks to understand and explain things by breaking them down into separate parts. This works pretty well for cars and machines. But not so well when applied living bodies.

When we’re taught as if this is the only way of thinking we inevitably end up using it,  so it structures the world we live in and create. What do you think of the way this shapes healthcare services?

By asking ourselves questions like this we have started critiquing (thinking about from several different view points) the underlying model of reductionism. Reductionism takes things separately from one another – so it would consider plantain and pasta interchangeable in the poem by isolating the foods as ‘starchy staples’ out of the context of the poet’s life. Instead of reductionism we can understand things be considering interconnection, not isolation. 

The belief that there is one valid way of ordering reality is called universalism.

In fact, plenty of cultures recognise there are a multiplicity of ways we can know about the world, called pluriversalism. How we order beliefs influences how we understand personal, global and planetary wellbeing.

Are pleasure, memory, and sense of connection valid reasons for deciding what to eat?

What does it feel like if you think of eating something for pleasure? 

Activity Five

More on Body Signals and Sensations

When I asked you to conjure a meal you really enjoyed, I suspect you described it in sensory terms i.e. taste, texture, temperature, smell, appearance. You might have also added who you were with, an occasion, and other details.
 
In previous lessons I’ve suggested it can be helpful checking in with our bodies and naming emotions and sensations. Here’s a list of  body sensations to complement the earlier list of body feelings (that were mainly emotions).
 
Practising noticing and naming sensations can help us figure out the many layers of our body story. You might want to add words to the list over time. 
 
It can be interesting to listen out for body metaphors too – such as butterflies in the stomach, ‘they’re a headache to deal with’, cold shouldered and so on.
 
In a cultural thought system based on separation (like reductionism, and binary thinking) we learn that body sensations arise ‘purely’ from the body. We can then treat them as uncontaminated absolute truth. This makes it tricky to know how to interpret  body signals to binge, or body signals related to a trauma response, for instance.
 
Body signals count. What you feel is important. The body is a source of vital information for you to understand what’s happening for you. At the same time, we feel what we feel because of our life histories and because of what we have learnt in our cultural upbringing. Our bodies are never separate from society, our bodies are never separate from our minds. Body signals are not ‘pure’, useful yes – and also open to scrutiny, but not a reliable source of some ultimate inner wisdom.
 
Some really strong sensations and emotions are misplaced, such as shame. Body shame is always misplaced. As is any shame from thinking in diet logic, or wishing our body was different.  
 
What we feel is shaped by circumstances. (Another way of saying this is body signals are a social construct.) Knowing this can help open up new ways of finding meaning and understanding. 
 
Sensations link to heaps of areas including sensuality, feeling safe in our skin, feeling safe with touch, needs, sexuality, desire, appetite and more.  It can be helpful to be aware of this and explore anything that feels relevant when it feels useful to do so.
 
Understanding body sensations can be hugely helpful in navigating trauma symptoms and responses too. 
 
Body awareness also enables us to experience feelings of connection in other ways, such as connection to the land, or a lineage.
 
One activity that brings these ideas together is drawing an outline of your body, or a general silhouette if that feels safer, and exploring what sensations, and metaphors, you associate with different areas. Of course you can do all of the things if you like, but  these are suggestions not prescriptions and you might like to return to them for continuing post-course inquiry.
 
Here’s a poem that links some of these themes. TW: it covers a difficult time and mentions anorexia.

Activity Six

The Physiology of Values or “Cosmovisions”

hamburger with Japanese flag above it, sushi with USA flag above it

In this activity I talk about cultural values in an over-simplified way. There is a risk of caricature or romanticising when talking about cultural values at the best of times. Please take this into consideration! 

Some of the key differences between a traditional Japanese worldview and a normative USA worldview hinge around the responsibility of the individual.  In Japanese culture team-work is important. Children are taught omoiyari (to notice and think of others).

In normative USA culture a rugged individualism is valued. This encourages people to do what they have to in order to rise up the ladder of success.

Like I say, over-simplified.

Imagine a group of people who move from Japan to USA.

Within this group, a number of people maintain a traditional Japanese belief system but swap traditional Japanese food for popular USA meals.

A second sub-group of people adopt a USA belief system but retain their taste for Japanese foods.

Individualism and sushi. Team work and burgers. Which group has better heart-health outcomes?

 . . .a Japanese belief system has a stronger impact                                                                                                     on wellbeing than the Japanese diet . . . 

 

This is an example of where universalism falls down. Instead there is a Japanese way or ordering reality, or cosmovision, and a USA way of ordering reality. 

 

Activity Seven

Recap Video and Teach Sheet  from Live Session 

I briefly covered two activities in the live session and said I’d upload a long powerpoint (written for practitioners) for anyone who missed it. Good news! I found an old short video that covers the activities. Phew.

Here’s the teach-sheet too.

Activity Eight

A Repeat Reminder to Go Gently – And a New Timely Message

This short poem by the late Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen is included as an invocation to all that is life affirming in the exploration of appetite. It seemed timely, what with Covid, the US election and Brexit. I hope there’s something you connect with in her words.


Remember, some of these questions might land deeply and feel unsettling. It’s fine to be unsettled – we need this for change to happen. It’s also true that there’s a point at which we can be too unsettled to engage with learning, which clearly isn’t helpful. We need a steady place in ourselves to return to (the body awareness exercises will help with this) as we adjust to new ways of being with food, emotions, knowledge and so on. small cat sat showing belly facing forward on sofa

The most important thing for the learning and healing that’s happening here is that you explore your feelings and beliefs. This means being able to engage, and this means pacing yourself.  Don’t worry about doing everything that’s suggested, amount doesn’t matter. It’s more important that you can be present with whatever you do, even for a short time and even for a tiny amount.

Last question, what are you looking forward to? Have you got any treats planned? If not,  now is a great time to put something in your diary!

See you soon ~