The people who live on the Mediterranean Island of Crete taught me some long lasting lessons about how to eat. When I told them that I was from America and that I was in Crete to learn about the Mediterranean Diet they smiled widely, sometimes they would laugh. “You Americans, so concerned with your health, counting your calories, watching your waistlines”. They would then have me to their homes for dinner, invite their family and friends and celebrate. Every meal felt like a celebration whether it was a feast to break a religious fast or a Sunday dinner or just lunch on a Monday. It always felt sacred, deeply spiritual; meals eaten slowly, sometimes for hours, sometimes for the whole day.
Drinks are also sipped slowly, mostly wine and raki (a drink that enters you like battery acid and becomes enjoyable over time), so slowly in fact, that you don’t know you are drunk until hours of conversation and imbibing have passed.
The conversation is often philosophical: love, politics, and sometimes quietly raunchy.
Somewhere under all this is a specialness, a feeling that every moment counts, every bite and every drink means something.
There is also a keen awareness that everything that is being eaten and everything that is being drunk has a purpose. The purpose is good health and longevity. Everyone knows why they are eating greens from the mountains drizzled with olive oil or drinking herbal teas or why they are eating this fruit or that one for dessert. Health envelops everyone, but it doesn’t dominate, it is not a worry. The people of Crete eat to celebrate and they eat to live. Every morsel is sacred, every moment is special.
Moving towards “Eat to Live, Eat to Celebrate”
We may not be able to live exactly as they do in Crete or other parts of the Mediterranean, but there are certainly steps we can take to move that way.
1) Stop counting calories. When we count calories, we are no longer paying attention to what we are eating. We are only seeing numbers and creating fear about what those numbers mean.
2) Stop dieting. If we can give up the dieting mentality and go back to eating what feels right and what feels healthy we will often reach our health goals much quicker than if we are depriving ourselves.
3) Slow down. Magical things happen when we slow down enough: We start to really enjoy what we are eating, we notice when we are full, we begin to crave healthier foods, and we notice foods that are hurting us. Slowing down is the first step of noticing and coming back to life.
4) Make eating special again. Do we really need to be stuffing our faces while we are driving or sitting at our desks or standing up next to the refrigerator? Is it possible to slow down and cover the table with a cloth, set the silverware, and maybe even light a candle. Eating is one of the most important things we do during the day, start to make it special again.
5) Eat Local. Where I live, there are farms where you can buy a year’s share of vegetables. You get to know the farmers, you know what fruits and vegetables are in season and you even pick some of your own vegetables. Eating local is not only environmentally more sound it is also a way to reconnect with your neighbors and with the earth.
6) Eat with friends, eat with family. What matters more than your friends and family? Why do we push them to the wayside as we rush around our busy days? Schedule some meals with your friends, have a Mediterranean potluck, go out to an Italian restaurant. Ask them if they want to join you in your quest to eat healthier and to enjoy your eating. They are a big part of what will make your new Mediterranean lifestyle special.
7) Celebrate every meal you eat. Once you begin to slow down and treat every meal as special, you will begin to have an attitude of celebration and sacredness. You may begin to see that what you have been chasing after has been right in front of you all along. What you may begin to experience is love. Love of family, love of friends, love of how you feel and love of the whole eating experience. Pull up a chair, sit down, and enjoy.