As with asana practice, my relationship with food, and more specifically dietary fat, has helped me to cultivate self-awareness, skillfulness, and greater liberation from suffering.
As my intimacy with dietary fat grew over the years, my mind-body transformed in ways I never could have imagined. I now dedicate a large part of my work (karma yoga) to spreading awareness about fat’s benefits for the mind-body.
For me, food was first a source of anxiety, a crutch, and a rigid ideology. I was inadvertently malnourished for several weeks when I was three months old and a traumatic event cause my mother to stop lactating. Later, I spent adolescence through my mid-twenties confused, and stuck in my head about what I should and shouldn’t eat to be healthy, and lose and maintain weight, as I forced my body to conform to nutritional ideals that looked good on paper. This approach paralleled my spiritual life, which aspired to a glorified asceticism, and strove to contain the body’s urges—to the point that they became unidentifiable.
I was a vegetarian and pescetarian for thirteen years of my life through my early 20s, including a brief bout as a vegan. During this time I was wary about fat in general, but gradually warmed up to the idea of “healthy” fats from plant foods like flax, avocados, almonds, olive oil, and those found in vegan mayonnaise, along with occasional fish when I was in pescetarian phases—all in moderation, of course.
For all intents and purposes, my diet back then would have been considered ideal for many vegetarians and vegans. Even so, I spent years feeling unsatisfied, plagued by cravings, sluggish, cold, only getting my period four to five times a year (though I PMS’d twelve times a year), and developed disordered eating habits that sent me into binges. My thyroid also became impaired until I stopped eating unfermented soy (read: a common supposedly “healthy” meat-substitute). By the latter part of these years, I occasionally resorted to eating poultry (around three times a year) before my period because no amount of almond butter, evening primrose oil, fish or fish oil would cut it. Sadly, even my skinless low-fat poultry didn’t hit that sweet spot either.
Come 25, my body stopped talking, and started to scream. I was at my wit’s end, unable to deny a desire-avalanche to eat meat. It was then that I completely threw in the towel with vegetarianism. For the next two years, my body began to rebalance. Of course, I still favored mostly lean animal foods (lean meat, skinless chicken, egg whites), but that was the beginning.
As I integrated more and more fat into my diet, including those from pastured/grass-fed animal sources (and I mean quite a bit!), food became an ally, a source of curiosity, a tool for experimentation, cultivated skill, and an inspiration to presence in process. I had tapped into a new grounded experience of my body that so contrasted my past experiences. I was finally able to name my previous discomfort, cravings, and compulsions, observe how I had judged them, and chastised myself. My psyche’s grip of self-loathing began to loosen. I no longer cared what nutritional ideals looked good on paper because I had, at long last, discovered the sacred, unarguable compass of my body.
I emerged from this period poignantly aware that the split between what so nourished my body (fat) and what I instead rigidly allowed it was the root of more than just a dietary faux pas, spurred on by our fat-phobic and animal-fat-fearing day and age. I discovered this split was the dietary root of mind-body imbalances that permeated every experience I had. And I’m not unique.
Not eating enough fat keeps our blood sugar and insulin destabilized, which means we’re constantly triggering cravings and a fight-or-flight activated-sympathetic-nervous system state.
Allow me to clarify, when I talk about eating fat, I’m not talking about a little “healthy” fat: greasing a skillet with half a teaspoon of coconut oil, adding avocado to a wrap, or drinking a glass of watered-down coconut milk with a bunch of thickeners. That’s all paying lip-service. I’m talking about getting down with fat, especially saturated fat—from both plant and animal foods—in a taboo kind of way most of us have never gotten down with before.
And yes, there are essential biochemical features of animal foods that extensive research demonstrates plant foods simply cannot rival.
Truly holistic mind-body practices include self-awareness in diet. Unfortunately, many dietary trends encourage a mistrust of, and even a biochemical inability to discern the body’s innate wisdom and directives. My work offers the antidote: guidance not for a fat-friendly practice, but a fat-lustful practice that nurtures the brain and body’s hardwiring, so we may experience our bodies as our own for what can feel like the very first time.
Erika Herman is a Nutritionist, Holistic Health Expert, hype-blaster “heretic,” longtime yogi, highly sought-after speaker, bestselling author of Eat Like a Fatass, Look Like a Goddess: The Untold Story of Healthy Foods, and creator of TOTAL CRAVINGS CLEANSE: Your Ultimate Mind-Body Reboot. Erika empowers people to sustainbly lose and maintain weight, nix cravings, prevent disease, feel vitalized and satisfied, and tap into The Mind-Body-Nutrition Connection by guiding them to think critically so they can ditch BS-diet-bandwagons and eat the satiating taboo foods their bodies need. Erika debunks hype and misinformation with hardcore evidence-based research at every turn because she loves it as much as she loves food. Erika and her work have been featured in the likes of Redbook, Yahoo!, Natural News, SheKnows, SkinnyMom, Dr. Laura, Babble, Beauty High, The Daily Meal, Elephant Journal, Mamavation, The Momiverse, Intent, and more. Learn more about Erika, her book, and program here.