MINDFUL EATING: RECLAIMING YOUR FOOD JOY
I live a pretty stressful life, like many of us on this planet. I can be found rushing around, to do list and iPhone calendar in hand, doing all the things I need to do to make a living, run a house, care-take my loved ones. I'm a big culprit of multi-tasking, even on Down Time. Yep, I'm that girl who would read or watch TV while she ate. Until I met the concept of Mindful Awareness and its cousin, Mindful Eating.
About Mindful Awareness. What is that? It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself - in your body, heart and mind; and outside yourself - in your environment, the Actual Factuals around you. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement. The last sentence is very important. Mindfulness is not about comparing yourself to anyone else or judging yourself or others. You are simply witnessing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as you move through life.
Why is Mindfulness important? When you practice mindfulness, you stay in the present moment; you aren’t anxious about the future or depressed about the past. You aren’t swallowed up by the insatiable dragon of self-doubt. You don't take everything that happens personally. Mindfulness helps you develop appreciation, for yourself and others and the world around you. And most important of all, for your own connection to yourself, your own inner knowing. Some would argue that it’s the direct hotline to the Soul!
SO WHAT IS MINDFUL EATING?
After my second son was born, I hit the Weight Watcher scale and lost pounds all the way to a gold membership. Triumphantly, I accepted my goal achievement award with pride and a sense of accomplishment. I did not expect the hollow, sinking feeling that came in the weeks to follow. “Is this it?” I thought. “Am I going to have to keep thinking about food, weighing it, measuring it, craving it for the rest of my life?” Rather than feeling free, I felt trapped, handcuffed to a scale. There had to be a better way.
Which is when I met Mindful Eating. Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. It’s about slowing down and tuning out the voice in your head long enough to pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of your food. It’s about being present in the sensual experience your body is having. Where in the body do you feel hunger? Where do you feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full? Eating slowly keeps you from overeating because your body has enough time to register “fullness”. It relays that important message to your brain, which will then tell you it's time to put the fork down.
When eating mindfully, you’re also observing the voice in your head with its judgements or criticisms. It's about disentangling from this internal drama to pay attention to what your body is experiencing. When your mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what you are eating or drinking, or you have an impulses to grab a book, or check your FaceBook, witness the impulse and return your attention to eating, the tastes, the sounds. This actually, eventually, turns eating into a calming, meditative process.
The more you practice mindful eating, the more aware you become of your relationship to food. You begin to notice how eating affects your mood and how your emotions, like anxiety or loneliness, influence your eating. You can begin to make more conscious choices--about food, your thoughts and your beliefs about yourself. The goal is to gradually regain the sense of joy, ease and freedom with eating that you had in childhood. It is your natural birthright.
I continue to work on this one...mindfully, of course! When I first started, I experienced a lot of resistance. I just didn't want to do it. I noticed self-deprecating thoughts, and feelings of loneliness, boredom and anxiety come up. All I wanted to do was escape into a book like I did when I was a child/teen, so that I wouldn't have to listen to those thoughts or feel those feelings. In practicing observing and just letting the feelings pass through me, some days I really had to force myself to sit through just eating. I did my best to focus on the food, how good it tasted, what foods I truly enjoyed, what foods made me feel heavy and yuck.
Eventually, I started to listen to my body’s idea of appropriate foods for me. Gone were the endless authoritative eat lists from Weight Watchers. When my mind started telling me I was a loser because I was a Weight Watchers Fail, I would tell it, “ Dude, hold that thought. I'm a little busy right now,” and go back to savouring my salad and barbecued chicken tikka, made to order, just the way my body liked it. When I felt lonely or sad and reached for Netflix and snacks, I’d give my emotions a hug and tell them, “This sucks, but it will pass. We’re stronger than this.” Then l’d listen to my body, choosing its Viewing Snack of choice: raw sunflower seeds in shell (a slow eat, full of nutrients for my skin, gut and brain) and a tall bottle of water. Occasionally, some chocolate. Yes, I was multi-tasking while eating, but in a way that honoured my body.
The tide truly turned when I started to reframe some self-perceptions about my worth, likeability and attractiveness. Soon I was able to disengage thoughts and emotions from food. Food was not about filling emotional emptiness or distracting from boredom. It was about self-nurturing, self-appreciation, pleasure and enjoyment. Too much food was not the thing that made me judge myself harshly as fat and ugly. Those critiques came from the judgements and standards of others that i accepted as more authoritative than my own voice. Now, I choose to believe something different: that my body knows it's ideal healthy weight and eating preferences; that I am one of a long line of curvy lovelies; that my worth comes from what I do, not what I look like; that I like myself just as I am. This award has been a long time coming--20 years to be exact. I am proud to have earned it and thankful to claim it as my own.
SOME MINDFUL EATING HOMEWORK
My partner, Thom, lives with MS and needs help to eat. We usually graze from the same plate, alternating forkfuls, as we have done from our first date on. I can't tell you how much this simple daily practice does for our intimacy and connection, on every level. ?
Here are some mindful eating exercises, if you feel so inclined.
(1) Try taking the first four sips of a cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention. Savour the flavours; notice temperature and the sensations on your tongue; pay attention to the movement in your throat as your swallow; follow the swallow down to your stomach and notice when your start to feel full or satisfied.
(2) If you are a reader and eater, like me, try alternating these activities, not doing both at once. Read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savoring the tastes, the textures, the sounds of your food, then read another page, and so on. Mix it up, observe what feels right to you, and do that.
(3) Try eating one meal a week mindfully, alone and in silence. Be creative. For example, could you eat a picnic in the woods; or savour a latte while sitting at the beach. Be present, observe sights, sounds, smells, tastes. Connect with Joy.
(4) Make meals social. Put away the tech. Connect with other humans, eat, converse, engage and laugh. A lot.
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion