Building a relationship with the body and food – a personal story

Building a relationship with the body and food

Building a relationship with the body and food – a personal story

Life and diet before the Ageless Wisdom

Rowena: I can still remember the first meal Jonathan made for me – a celeriac, carrot and sultana coleslaw for lunch. It was a very striking moment for me, meeting a man who was interested in making and eating healthy food, a stark contrast to my habitual self-neglect. It left an indelible mark in many ways and this simple meal was a key turning point in my life.

In 1997 I was 32 years old, malnourished and borderline anorexic with a bodyweight of 7½ stone (47 kilos). I was completely addicted to chocolate and in denial about the quality of a lot of the foods I ate. Although I ate fruit, vegetables and home cooked food, I indulged in a lot of sugary things, which I now understand was a bid to smother a huge amount of unresolved anger and depression. At one point I stopped smoking cigarettes but then switched to alcohol as a way to bury all the stress that was bottled up inside me.

Having just left a long-term abusive relationship, my body was exhausted and I was a nervous wreck. I suffered from headaches, migraines and nausea on a regular basis. I never once considered that my health problems had anything to do with what I was eating.

Living with Jonathan my diet improved somewhat, as he is a keen cook and introduced me to a lot of delicious, exotic foods. However, when left to my own devices I would still resort to the easy options – lunch would often consist of a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps.

At the time I would have said my diet was very healthy, with lots of fresh ingredients, including all the so-called healthy food groups; despite this my weight kept increasing. I blamed it on giving up smoking.

On reaching 11 stone (about 70 kilos) I realised I was pre-diabetic, so I removed carbohydrates from my diet and lost a few pounds. My severe blood sugar dips stabilised, but I still indulged my sweet tooth and kept up a ‘healthy’ intake of red wine and chocolate, the Friday night tradition that rewarded a hard week’s work. At 5 foot 3 inches (162cm) I felt very heavy, depressed and uncomfortable in my body. As my weight resolutely stuck at 10 and a half stone, I resigned myself to being this way for the rest of my life, stuck in a negative feedback loop of depression, comfort eating and self-loathing.

Jonathan: When I met Rowena in 1997 I was 46 years old. I was a keen lover of chocolate, red wine and whisky and believed that I had a healthy lifestyle, even though I was overweight. My approach to food and drink has now totally changed.

I cooked from an early age, but I began to take a real interest in food when I spent time in America at university, where I was introduced to a spectrum of foods that I had not experienced before such as Italian, Mexican, Jewish and of course junk food. Later I moved to a multi-cultural area of Birmingham (UK), where I was surrounded by friends from diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as a plethora of Asian and some Caribbean supermarkets. I learned to cook with a wide variety of spices, herbs and vegetables.

In my thirties I went vegetarian, initially out of convenience, to join my then partner who was pregnant, but later for perceived health benefits, taking an interest in food for health reasons too, rather than just enjoyment. I later met Rowena and after a few years of being with her, I began to eat meat again.

Throughout this time my choice of foods was based on flavour, satisfaction and a theoretical belief in the health benefits based on knowledge from a variety of popular sources.

After training as a massage and kinesiology practitioner I became increasingly reliant on the kinesiology system of muscle testing to guide my food choices. Kinesiology uses muscle responses to supposedly determine what is or is not beneficial for one’s body, including food and drink.

By my late forties, as an established kinesiology practitioner, I was perceived as a person with knowledge and understanding of what it was to be healthy. Yet throughout this time I was in complete denial of how my own body was responding to the way I was living. Occasionally I would catch my reflection in a shop window or see a photograph of myself and be shocked at what I saw. I was in my early fifties and had put on over 4½ stone (63lbs /28kg). I did not address what I was seeing. I would instead deny and ignore it. Somehow, I managed to blank out what I saw.

Introduction to The Way of The Livingness – Feeling the effect of food on the body

When we were first introduced to The Way of The Livingness we were offered an opportunity to see foods and drinks in a way where we could observe why we were drawn to have them and what their effects were upon the body. We began experimenting with what we ate and how it made us feel: "Did we feel sleepy, dull, racy, bloated; or energised and fulfilled by what we had just consumed?”

So began a period of ongoing real scientific exploration. We began to practise the Gentle Breath Meditation®™ which supported us to connect with our physical bodies, and with this body awareness we began to feel the effects different foods had on our physiology. Our relationship with food went to a new level that has yielded some truly astounding results.

Rowena: With observation, I discovered that sugar caused my legs to feel itchy and painful; salty foods made my blood race around my veins; chocolate was the source of severe headaches; coffee and alcohol had a very detrimental effect on how I behaved. The more I observed the effect of different foods the more I began to realise just how disregarding and pernicious my previous food regimes had been.

Foods and beverages that were considered a 'comfort' or a reward, while delicious to consume at the time, were in fact the source of a great deal of delayed suffering.

The negative feedback loop was broken. In its place a robust positive feedback loop was emerging, one of feeling extremely well, losing weight without trying and learning how to truly deal with the root of the distress that previously dominated my life and my eating habits.

Jonathan: Not really feeling how what I ate affected me, I found it challenging to relinquish some foods and drinks. Initially I would observe the benefits in others and the changes in their bodies and then I would have a go myself. What greatly supported me was appreciating and understanding how this way of eating supports the wellbeing of the whole body, not just its physical function.

I have learnt that when we have foods which either stimulate, such as salt and caffeine, or dull, such as dairy and gluten, the body has to expend extra energy to bring the body systems back into balance. This is not a one-off event, rather a constant ongoing process of refinement as the body adjusts to our lifestyle choices.

It is only recently that I can feel my body’s responses to what I consume, as I steadily become more connected with myself. I appreciate the changes made in my dietary habits that leave me feeling so much lighter on all levels.

The Way of The Livingness 14 Years On – A new relationship with body and food

Our general approach to changing what we ate was not to go ‘cold-turkey’ with everything, but rather do a bit at a time, introducing substitutes such as rice milk and rooibos tea to gently allow ourselves time to feel, refine and make new choices. There were no hard and fast rules about this process, just eating, feeling and adjusting according to our bodily outcomes.

Over the years some foods drifted away until we no longer consume them because there is no need for them. It is not uncommon for people to ask if we miss the foods we no longer eat. The simple answer is, ‘no’. We do not feel we have given up anything, in fact just the reverse.

Today we eat to support our health and vitality instead of choosing the short-term pleasures that always come with negative side effects.

With The Way of the Livingness Jonathan let go of 4 ½ stone of excess weight, without even trying, and he has maintained the same bodyweight since. At the age of 69, Jonathan says, “I feel so much more vital, energetic and joyful. My sleep has improved, and I engage in life with a joy and purpose that I never had before.”

As for me, Rowena, since choosing to implement The Way of The Livingness, I understand that how I used to eat traumatised my body in so many ways. Gone are the frequent headaches and bouts of nausea, the underlying lethargy of dairy intolerance, the gluten gut ache and persistent constipation. Once I relinquished dairy, my weight began to gently and steadily drop away, a side effect that had not been anticipated, but one I was very appreciative of.

Today my weight has settled at 8½ stone (53 kilos), which post menopause feels absolutely great for my body. At 55 I feel more alive, fit and healthy than I have ever felt before. To my surprise I had a smooth transition through menopause and now face the next phase of my life with a light-hearted joy. At long last I know how to truly cherish and care for my body by listening very carefully to, and honouring, all the messages it sends me.

Together we had little notion that developing such a relationship with the body and the food we ate would reap such abundant health, clarity and wellbeing, coupled with a natural balancing of our body weight.

It has given rise to a genuine love of nourishing ourselves and everyone in our life with simple, tasty, natural foods that really do nurture the body, making it easier to connect with and reclaim the essence of what we naturally are: a quality that was there all along underneath the junk food, exhaustion and depression!

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  • By Rowena Stewart, Hospitality and Retail Manager

  • By Jonathan Stewart

  • Photography: Rebecca W., UK, Photographer

    I am a tender and sensitive woman who is inspired by the playfulness of children and the beauty of nature. I love photographing people and capturing magical and joyful moments on my camera.