by Jena La Flamme
I first came upon the goddess Annapurna in a shabby Indian restaurant in the Himalayas. There was an altar to her built into the wall. Once a day during the dinner shift, the workers stopped everything, and as if the customers suddenly did not exist, they focused their complete entire attention on the altar to Annapurna. A hush fell over the space as they sang a prayer and offered incense and fresh flowers. Then, five minutes later, the restaurant was back in full swing.
I was mesmerized: Who was this figure that was so important that work stopped, even when customers were waiting?
“Her name is Annapurna,” the waiter told me. “She is the Hindu goddess of nourishment.”
“You have a goddess of nourishment?” I replied, surprised.
“Yes, she presides over food and cooking which is why we pray to her in restaurants and kitchens.”
The concept of a Food Goddess was a shock to my system. For me, since the age of fourteen, food had predominantly been a devil for me. I’d struggled with bulimia and binge eating, and how and what I ate was a source of shame, pain and embarrassment. If I wasn’t binging, I was depriving myself. I perpetually felt awful. My moods were a wreck, and my self-esteem was in the dumps. I felt like a victim of my own impulses, and my own worst enemy. Though I tried to maintain the façade that everything was “fine,” I privately felt tormented by food. I lived a private nightmare of bad body image, and food and weight obsession. I hoped that one day I would have the inner strength to get it under control. But that day seemed to never come.
In fact this is why I made a pilgrimage to India in the first place. I was on an indefinite spiritual quest to find the inner peace, health, and happiness that I so deeply desired. I hoped that in India I’d find the spiritual keys to finally unlock me from my anguish. Discovering Annapurna during my first week seemed like a sign that I was on track.
In her iconography, Annapurna is depicted sitting on a throne, holding a vessel full of delicious porridge in her left hand and a golden ladle in her right hand. As soon as I’d seen her once, I began noticing her everywhere: tacked on the wall of kitchens, in homes and in restaurants, or her name written over the entrance to a kitchen door.
Annapurna became my new friend and ally. She symbolized being loved and cared for in the form of food, and her presence reminded me to tap in to the nourishing aspect of food. Up until this point, I automatically linked food with the shame of over-eating. Even the thought of being hungry would stress me out! Now, with my new awareness I could focus on feeling nourished by food, free of guilt or denial, and this was a liberating revelation to me.
I made a practice of imagining that the food I ate had been offered to me by the goddess Annapurna herself. Previously I would eat in a near state of panic, expecting myself to binge, because for so many years I predictably had. Now when food was before me, I imagined that this kind, caring deity emphatically wanted me to enjoy the food and feel satisfied and nourished. This calmed me down. Instead of obsessing over whether or not the food would cause me to lose or gain weight, I focused on trusting that the nourishment entering my body would heal and strengthen me. My usually anxious mind was able to rest, and at last, I could eat in peace.
No longer drowning in my own fear and negativity, I began having a whole new experience with food. Eating became more pleasurable. I could literally feel and taste more. And best of all, I felt free to actually enjoy the food in a way I never had before.
Many years later, after transcending my own struggles with food and my body, I now teach other women how to do the same, through what I call the Pleasurable Weight Loss approach. The concept of nourished eating is one of the secrets that makes this approach work. What your body—or as I like to say your female animal—wants above all is to be nourished rather than overfed. And while fresh, nutrient-dense foods are technically the most nutritious foods, you can make any meal nourishing if you bring the right intention the table.
Whether you are at an event where none of the foods you prefer are available, or even if you are willfully eating foods that are not so healthy, the food itself is only half of what makes a meal nourishing. The other half comes from the intention you bring to the table: to truly be present with the food, and feel good about eating it. This nourishment allows the food you eat to let you feel good. This practice will also help you let go of the guilt you may feel about eating certain foods, so that you can eat them with pleasure.
When you eat with pleasure, you reap the maximum amount of satisfaction possible from the eating experience, and you’ll automatically eat less while enjoying more. Through the act of nourishing yourself and taking pleasure from your meal, you put your body into the relaxation state in which you digest, calorie-burn and build muscle most effectively. The devotees of the goddess Annapurna have it right. Deprivation, guilt or shame have no place at the meal table. No matter what you choose to eat, focusing on nourishment is always the way to go.
Jena la Flamme is a weight loss expert, author of Pleasurable Weight Loss: The Secrets of Feeling Great, Losing Weight and Loving Your Life Today, and the founder of the Pleasurable Weight Loss movement. Her profound teachings show that pleasurable weight loss is neither a contradiction nor an oxymoron. During her ten-year struggle with food, weight, and bad body image, Jena despised her body and was highly suspicious of pleasure. This lasted until she discovered that her issue wasn’t that she was having too much pleasure, it was that she wasn’t having enough!
As she learned to trust the wisdom of her female body and to trust pleasure, she came to peace with food. Her figure and her body image transformed. Since then, Jena has devoted her life to showing women around the world how to be in tune with the innate wisdom of their bodies and how they too can be at peace with food while feeling great every step of the way. She takes a fierce stand for all women to take pride in themselves and their feminine nature.
Jena works with women of all ages through her live Pleasure Camps, online programs, popular website, social media outlets, and through her private coaching. Jena’s unique approach to weight loss has made her a much sought-after teacher. She has been featured in Elle, Glamour, and Prevention magazine. For more information, visit her website at www.jenalaflamme.com or get her free “7 Days of Pleasurable Weight Loss” e-program at www.pleasurableweightloss.com.