Food in retirement…......really? Is this topic worthy of a separate discourse? Weren’t we eating daily in our work lives? Of course! However, in retirement, food can take on a very different priority. Previously, rushing through a busy life, food was a means to an end: satisfying hunger or satisfying emotional needs. At the slower pace of retirement, food can be viewed equally as medicine, a hobby, or as a rebalancing.
What was your Pre-Retirement Style?
Many of us have been operating on a slanted platform. This is known as the “excess/ deficiency”model. I was in the cohort which was too busy to eat, unless I noticed physical sensations. The other cohort rarely notices physical sensations, but is well aware of emotional sensations which needed to be satisfied. Retirement is the perfect time to come to the “middle way.” This concept, sometimes referred to as “The Golden Mean,” has been described by philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. It is also valued in Buddhism and Confucianism. It is the desirable middle between two extremes. One food illustration, is my former personal practice of not eating enough and then having to take Extra Strength Zantac to remediate this behavior. At the other end of the scale would be a dinner plate sized order of french fries I recently requested by mistake at a local hamburger joint. Those of you who ate lunch “al desko” instead of “alfresco” everyday provide another negative food example.
The Middle Way
The essence of finding the middle way lies in the practice of mindful eating. Previously, why did it seem like the process of nourishing oneself came in fits and starts? There was always the last minute morning chase through the frig for lunch items. There were the “I deserve this” rewards of fried, sweet and calorie laden foods. Mindfulness often did not play a role in the after work beer or glass of wine: it was a default setting after a stressful day. Your new world order will contain some of these radical concepts: listening to your body, eating at a nicely set table at specific times of the day, eliminating the distractions of your phone and printed materials, and eating slowly enough to really taste your food.
Taking Charge of Your Food
Changing your eating life requires explicit planning and a commitment to a new set of
values. Do you deserve to feel healthier? Do you deserve to eat higher quality food on a regular basis? Do you consider your older body worth the investment of your time and effort? If so, planning what you eat will become an important part of your day.
I have a beloved source which moved me from the “deficient” to the Golden Mean Sisterhood: How to Eat, by Thich Nhat Hanh. The author is the famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk who helped bring Eastern philosophy to the West. This lovely, little pocket-sized publication has mini essays which encourage the reader to eat mindfully by eating alone or with others, to enjoy our food by slowing down, and to appreciate the connection of our food to the earth. After reading this book at just the right time in my life, I use my nicest tableware, remove all distractions, and bring all the lovely elements of my meal to the table, in advance, whether I eat alone or with others.
Some Introductory Exercises
An excellent way to begin mindful eating is with the clementine meditation. Sit down at the table, which is clear of all extraneous materials. Take a lovely, little clementine and slowly peel off the skin. Next, slowly separate the first segment. As you take a bite, notice the burst of juice and the exquisite flavor. Repeat. Chew each segment slowly.
Of course, you will not be eating this way on a daily basis, but the novelty of the experience will definitely tune you into your food, encourage you to slow down and really appreciate the flavors. This practice encourages you to use all of your senses while eating: noticing the orange color and the little strands of pulp, the fragrance, and of course the taste: citrusy, acidic, yet sweet. All foods benefit from a similar treatment.
Another technique to elevate your awareness is checking in with your hunger scale. I was introduced to this technique after my divorce, when I was not interested in eating much of anything. Picture a scale of 1 to 10. One means you are ravenous and ten means you are too full to eat. If you’ve been out of touch with your body sensations, decide where you fall on the scale when you are thinking about eating. My nutritionist taught me that it was best to live around the middle (5,6), not on either extreme. Both one and ten mean you haven’t been paying attention to your body.
Other Culinary Goodies
My repurposed Polish pottery plates, which were previously reserved for special occasions, and a more practical arrangement of my cookbook library have also brought me into this new slower, more purposeful world of food.
Visits to local orchards, international markets, produce stores, and a rotating schedule of local supermarkets provide something fun to do during the day, and variety to the meals I make. As for recipes, my main source is the New York Times, which offers an e-subscription to cooking ideas. Lately, I’ve taken to choosing one cookbook and highlighting recipes during a given week. I also finally consult the other excellent cookbooks I’ve been accruing for decades. The real secret to making weeknight meals memorable is to choose about three new or excellent recycled recipes on Sunday, and add the ingredients to the weekly shopping list.
Cooking and eating mindfully, is not only a gift to the self. It is a loving gift to those in your home. Your people will certainly take notice of the novel, healthy dishes appearing on your table. I sometimes feel selfish when my husband makes a comment like “this is really restaurant quality,” because I didn’t prepare this meal just with him in mind. For the first time in my life, I’ve learned to nurture myself through food.