Healing Secrets of Food
by Deborah Kesten, MPH
Out of the Dark Ages
The truth shall set you free, the Bible tells us. Each time you
implement the nutritional truths in this book, you'll be set free from the
tyranny of dieting, obsessing about food, and worrying about the best way
to eat. When you familiarize yourself with the healing secrets of food
spelled out in this chapter, confusion will turn to clarity. Although your
interest in food and nutrition may be to "eat well," to reduce the risk of
illness, or to pursue the "perfect" diet or body, for many, food has become
something that creates both physi-cal and emotional havoc. We go on
diets, overanalyze and obsess about food, turn to it as an enemy or friend,
eat too much, eat too little, worry about it, avoid it, crave it, revere it, or
believe that a particular nutrient will magically halt heart disease or cure
cancer. Yet even with such conscientious attention to food, we've
become the fattest people in the world (along with the Pacific Islanders).
I am disheartened and dismayed that in the face of this daunting statistic,
we continue to pursue the "magic diet," the miracle supplement, the
special, secret elixir that will keep us thin and heal us - effortlessly.
Our Magical Mystery Tour
The unrealistic, unrewarding, and frustrating way in which many of
us relate to food can be illuminated by one of my favorite movies, The
Wizard of Oz, and its many meaningful messages. When we think of this
classic, beloved fantasy film, we remember Dorothy's attempt to return
home "to her own backyard" and the companions she meets along the
way: the indecisive scarecrow who needs "smarts," the cognitive tin man
who hopes for a heart, and the meek lion who seeks courage. Much of
the story is about the challenges they meet as they make their way to the
Emerald City, believing the wizard will magically solve their physical and
In our ongoing quest for magical results from fad diets and our
willingness to believe claims about substances (such as diet products)
that are often aggrandized beyond what they are capable of delivering,
are we not like Dorothy and her friends who sought to correct their
limitations by seeking help from an illusory savior? "If you were really
great and powerful, you would keep your promises," Dorothy admonished
the Wizard when he reneges on his promise to grant their wishes. Isn't
Dorothy's frustration similar to our own when yet another diet, another
pill, another potion doesn't deliver the promised results? Doesn't
Dorothy's sense of hopelessness about finding someone to solve her
problems remind us of our own hopelessness about finding the magic mix
of nutrients or the perfect diet to heal us?
The lessons in The Wizard of Oz suggest that the solution to our
search for the optimal way to eat lies within us and our rich dietary
heritage, that dietary wisdom and the best eating style have always been
in our own backyards, in the depths of our own cultural, spiri-tual, and
scientific traditions. In other words, food itself holds the answers for
which we've been searching, but we've been looking in every direction
except food and its timeless wisdom. Instead, some of us have turned to
diet books, while others have been looking for answers by going to
retreats and spas; still others have been pursuing practices such as
Regardless of our efforts, though, our trips to these various
"wizards" aren't working as well as we'd like in helping us tap into food's
healing powers. This is because we're trying to heal our body, mind, soul,
and connection to community piecemeal. All the while, we're ignoring the
solution in our own backyard: all six pieces of the healing secrets of food
puzzle discussed throughout this book.
Creating Conscious Connection
Because our food-related health problems are both ongoing and
worsening, it's a shame that we continue to walk down the same
well-trodden food path. What we fail to realize is that many of society's
problems stem from the fact that we are either physically isolated
(watching TV, working alone at the computer, dining alone) or
emotionally disconnected from one another, from the Divine, from the
earth - and often from ourselves.
This physical isolation and emotional disconnection is also evident in
our relationship to food. In our hurry-worry society, we no longer enjoy
meals at the table, in quiet settings, with people we love, with food that's
truly nourishing. After all, don't many of us eat while driving home, while
standing at the kitchen counter, while strolling in a shopping mall, quickly,
mindlessly? Aren't many of us focusing solely on flavor or nutrient
content or constantly dieting? In this way, we're neglecting our spirit, we
are destroying our souls.
Ultimately, our busyness and focusing solely on externals such as
weight keep us from seeing a simple yet profound truth: we must connect
with what we're eating, become one with its nourishing life force, or we
may not survive. Consider this poem about the spiritual consequences of
separation and disconnection from the primordial source of life, written
by Sufi mystic and poet Jelaluddin Rumi in the thirteenth century:
Listen to the story told by the reed
of being separated.
Since I was cut from the reed bed
I have made
this crying sound. Anyone
separated from someone he loves
understands what I say:
from a source
longs to go back
(The Illuminated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)
It's a tragedy that we've become separated from the eternal source,
the realm of ever-present love, the same primordial source from which
both we and food evolved. The good news is that because the healing
secrets of food have been with us for ages, we can relearn them and turn
to them to reconnect with what is meaningful about food (and all aspects
of life). After all, isn't this sense of connection to, and interconnection
with, food at the core of what we're searching for when we
window-shop for the best way to eat or pursue such popular spiritual
paths as yoga and meditation? Aren't many who participate in the New
Age movement trying to return to a place that people before us went to
each time they ate? We, too, can visit this same spiritual abode by
practicing the healing secrets whenever we're shopping for, cooking, or
Gleaned from insights derived from our evolutionary and spiritual
ancestors, much of my integrative eating approach evolved from lasting,
basic beliefs about food that have inspired and sustained humankind for
centuries. Without thinking about it, our ancestors turned each "food
moment" into a meaningful experience, a time to create conscious
connection to the mystery of life inherent in both food and in us. Once
you visit this wise, multifaceted culinary world, you may never want to
return to today's limited view of food. As a matter of fact, you'll find that
it's much easier to relearn the ancient food wisdom inherent in the healing
secrets and to flavor your meals with these timeless values than to
continue on the path of confusion and escalating isolation and illness.
The Six Healing Secrets
Because our current approach to nutrition isn't working well for so
many of us, as a nutrition researcher, educator, and health journalist, it
appalls me that so much of the literature in my field continues to focus
exclusively on only one of the six secrets: what to eat. If the dice in Las
Vegas casinos were fixed so that only the same side kept showing up
every time you rolled them, everyone would scream "cheat!"
We are being cheated nutritionally. Food constitutes a six-part gift,
but all we're hearing about is one thing. But this skewed perspective,
focusing solely on the physiological aspects of food, has become the
norm. I call our one-sided, limited view the Dark Ages of nutrition. We
think that nutritional science is at its pinnacle, but in fact, most of us are
still in the dark about what can most benefit us about food. This is
because we're ignoring the most important elements of food and nutrition
- the healing secrets of food - that have served humankind for centuries.
1.Unite with others through food.
2.Be aware of your feelings before, during, and after eating.
3.Bring moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness to each
aspect of the meal.
4.Appreciate food and its origins - from the heart.
5.Create union with the Divine by "flavoring" food with love.
6.Eat fresh, whole foods in their natural state as often as possible.
All these elements count - not just one or two in isolation. With this
book, I hope to expose the injustice and partisanship of this one-sided
view by insisting that the other sides of the "nutritional dice" get fair play.
I'll show you how to eat optimally by revealing all sides of the dice - the
healing secrets of food - the "nutrients" missing from the food charts.
From Secret to Celebration
As powerful as the healing secrets of food are, I am disappointed
that experts - from food writers to dietitians and religious leaders - don't
learn, practice, and teach what these secrets have to offer, emphasizing
their valuable health-giving properties and benefits every opportunity they
get. I am disappointed that we consider only what can be measured in
food, while we've forgotten that what is not so easily measured might be
much more valuable to our health. I am disappointed that society as a
whole isn't paying more attention to the healing secrets of food. Instead
we choose to ignore a powerful truth: food has the ability to heal us in
many ways - if we take the time to tap into its powerful healing
I'm concerned that the healing secrets of food will remain secrets
as long as we continue to insist that food is a two-dimensional issue:
satisfying taste buds, or meeting nutritional requirements. Instead of yet
another article about "fifty things you can do with Jell-O," we need to
celebrate the secrets. Women's magazines, health magazines, and food
and beauty magazines should all be touting the secrets, putting them on
their covers, broadcasting them. Instead, food editors would have you
believe that only pleasing your palate matters; many religious leaders
would have you think that your relationship with God doesn't count when
you eat, that it's present only when you're in formal prayer or devotion;
and nutrition and food experts would have you focus exclusively on
calories and nutrients. We're not seeing food's connection to others; its
connection to our feelings; its connection to nature; its connection to God;
and of course, its profound, multidimensional connection to ourselves.
The end result is that food isn't satisfying, because our relationship to it is
incomplete and disconnected from the whole of life.
Where, I wonder, is the meaning, the invisible satisfaction in our
food? The human connection? The pleasure? The delight? The soul
satisfaction? Where are the missing "secret ingredients," what
philosopher Huston Smith calls "forgotten truth" about food and its
meaning in our lives? Author Ken Wilbur articulates this dilemma of
objective scientific truth versus underlying meaning that cannot be
measured objectively. In his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he
writes, "Science is clearly one of the most profound methods that humans
have yet devised for discovering truth, while religion remains the single
greatest force for generating meaning."
Our ancient ancestors understood instinctively the significance of
putting meaning into meals. Throughout the centuries, people of many
religions and cultural traditions have infused food with meaning in ways
that are still evident today. For instance, devout Christians begin meals
with a prayer of thanks; Indians refer to bhoga, a collective term for any
food ingredient being used as an offering to God; with compassion for
food animals as a guideline, Jewish dietary laws specify prohibited and
acceptable food; and a reverence for, and connection to, nature and food
is an integral part of Native American Indian beliefs.
When the meaning in our meals is lost, what's left is a list of rules
and regulations that are not meaningful and therefore not motivating or
sustainable. This truth became evident as my mom and dad struggled to
overcome their heart problems. I knew they understood the heart-healthy
dietary information I'd given them, but in retrospect, I realize that the
underlying message was, "You should be eating differently. You should
stop eating familiar and comfortable foods. You should assess and
analyze what you're eating." Should. Surely what we should do or eat
isn't a great motivator (nor is it emotionally appetizing). Indeed, the
dictionary states that the word should implies obligation. Is this what food
is really about? Is it something we're obligated to eat, to analyze, to
weigh, to judge, to avoid, to crave, to overconsume, to underconsume, to
control, to love, to hate, to fear, or to revere?
When we assess the vast nutritional resources of our culinary
heritage and merge this wisdom with what modern nutritional science has
to tell us, our relationship to food becomes integrative and therefore
optimal. In lieu of being tossed around in a storm of nutrients and
numbers, you become empowered to actualize an eating style that holds
the potential not only to nourish your physical health but also to enhance
your emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Food becomes a
celebration of life.
The Main Course
With this book, I'm calling for a renaissance - a reflowering of the
way we view food and nutrition. This new view asks that we pay
attention to all the healing secrets - and to demystifying, understanding,
and practicing them every day. I'm especially thrilled to tell you about
these long-lost healing secrets - not only because of their timeless
wisdom, but because they contain the answers we've been looking for -
but in all the wrong places.
Ultimately, their message is simple: the healing gifts of food are
available to us each time we eat. As a matter of fact, every time you
shop for, prepare, and eat food you have the opportunity to connect with
the life-giving, life-containing mystery inherent in food. These activities
are also opportunities to connect with loved ones, with the earth, with life
itself. In this way, you can heal not only yourself but, ultimately, the
by permission from Healing Secrets of Food. Copyright © 2001 by New World Library.
Deborah Kesten, MPH, is an award-winning author who has also been a research nutritionist, nutrition educator, and health journalist for more than 15 years. Originally from New York City, Kesten developed an expertise in nutrition while obtaining her master’s degree in public health (MPH) from the University of Texas, and bachelor’s in the health sciences (BS) from the University of Houston, where she graduated magna cum laude.
While in graduate school, Kesten worked as the nutrition specialist with pioneering physician Dean Ornish, MD, on his first clinical trial for reversing heart disease. The results of the study, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were the first to suggest that heart disease could be reversed through lifestyle changes (plant-based diet; stress management (yoga and meditation); exercise; and group support) alone—without drugs or surgery.
Kesten is author of the award-winning book, FEEDING THE BODY, NOURISHING THE SOUL
(Conari Press, 1997). With a foreword by Harvard University’s Herbert Benson, MD, the book won the prestigious 1998 Independent Publishers’ Book Award/Spirituality Category. Her latest book, THE HEALING SECRETS OF FOOD (New World Library, 2001), is the first book about the multidimensional power of food to heal—not only physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
During her career in health journalism, Kesten has been an editor for the California Medical Association; an editor/writer for Krames Communications, an international medical publishing firm that merges graphics with text; and a contributing writer for Veggie Life and Yoga Journal magazines. To date, Kesten has published more than 80 articles on a multitude of nutrition, health, and prevention topics, ranging from food and nutrition, addiction, and diabetes to preventing breast cancer and reversing heart disease.