Sunday morning: trigger time – paper on the doorstep, coffee brewing, snowed in (still, kinda), so, nowhere special to go – a recipe for a mindless eating morning.
I get a glass soup bowl and warm up some lentil soup. As I notice the second-day jelling of soup flavors and the aroma of the toasted sprouted grain bread (yesterday I totally missed out on its smell, must’ve been the flavor of the fresh-made soup that got my attention), I am seeing the palm of my right hand that craddles the glass soup bowl as I spoon with my non-dominant (left).
For years we’ve been asked to track what we eat and how much we eat. That’s all fine and good, but what about tracking how mindfully we eat?
I encourage you to try tracking your mindful eating moments. First, set a simple goal: try to have one mindful eating moment per meal. Mindful eating is often misunderstood as a kind of all-or-nothing approach to eating, where you’d commit to eating mindfully and then you’d have to eat mindfully all the time. I think this is perfectionistic overkill. I think of mindful eating as an alarm-clock. A few moments of mindful eating is enough to wake up the eating zombie. After all, when we set an alarm-clock to go off in the morning, we don’t expect it to keep buzzing non-stop. Same with mindful eating: at a minimum, start the meal on a mindful note and appreciate the residual sense of presence.
Where we eat and how much we pay for food is just as related to the overall experience of eating as food itself. Good food in a bad place and bad food in a good place are two very different scenarios. Candle-light and soft music don’t make bad wine good, but they do make it better. Eating a sandwich while you are stuck in traffic will help you kill time. Eating the same sandwich after a vigorous mountain hike at a scenic overlook could be a peak experience. The context of the meal determines its experience. Cultivate mindfulness of the settings in which you eat in order to identify the settings that will help you cultivate the mindfulness of eating.
Strange as it may sound, having a full, even unpleasantly full, stomach doesn’t have to mean weight gain. Foodstuffs differ in their caloric density. Having a stomach full of cheese is different from having it full of spinach. Some new-paradigm nutritional authors free their readers to eat as much as they please as long as what they eat is low in caloric density. This kind of humanistic, harm-reduction approach to overeating comes without the dessert of guilt! Dr. Joel Fuhrman (2003), for example, challenges us to eat at least two pounds of vegetables a day, four pieces of fruit, a cup of beans, and small amounts of nuts and whole grains. Bottom-line is that it’s okay to overeat, i.e. to eat beyond the sense of pleasant fullness, as long as what you overeat is low in caloric density.
Assuming you were hungry in the first place, the following three sensations happen after you begin eating:
The following exercise will help you tune in to the differences between pleasant fullness and unpleasant fullness through the language of fullness. Print out several copies of the word-lists below. After you finish eating, look over both lists to see which fullness-words tend to describe what you feel. Circle the words that apply. Note the trends. Draw your conclusions.
Unpleasant Fullness Word List
stuffed swollen distended full overfed blown up
ballooned engorged bloated satisfied sated satiated
dissatisfied displeased unhappy frustrated disappointed uncomfortable
awkward ill at ease clumsy graceless bulky cumbersome
difficult to maneuver large massive mammoth enormous
bursting sated insatiable gluttonous voracious excessive
fat overweight heavy stout plump large corpulent
chubby big obese portly podgy rotund fleshy tubby round flabby soft
unfit sagging chunky tired exhausted sleepy drowsy
fatigued worn-out out-of-breath all-in drained pooped beat
done-in gasping winded panting indigestion puffy
heartburn repulsive bad nasty disgusting hideous gross
sick queasy nauseous upset sickening irritated annoyed
inert sluggish torpid passive slow lethargic slothful
slow-moving apathetic gloomy melancholic pessimistic depressed
glum sad low-spirited despondent miserable fed-up undisciplined
out-of-control impulsive wanting to throw up aching tender sore
burning negative cynical irritable touchy moody regretful
Pleasant Fullness Word List
contented fulfilled pleased happy comfortable at ease
satisfied disciplined enjoyable good easy relaxed
laid-back calm peaceful stress-free casual mellow
smooth placid sedate settled rewarded on the ball
aware alert sharp capable competent sensible
level-headed mindful conscious thoughtful nourished attractive
optimistic positive in control upbeat certain clear
confident constructive decisive poised balanced controlled
composed reasonable well-adjusted stable together organized
unruffled up on top of things proper purposeful
reflective social cheerful complete whole …
I am still getting a good bit of correspondence regarding my harm-reduction, moderation-focused, Middle Way approach to dealing with emotional eating. While the idea is beginning to sink in, there are still lingering questions about how to cultivate mindful emotional eating partnerships and whether doing so would be a form of enabling. So, I am re-posting this essay (with a section on “enabling”). Be well.
EMOTIONAL EATING ISN’T A PROBLEM, MINDLESS EMOTIONAL EATING IS
As you might recall from the “Eating the Moment” self-help program for overcoming overeating, there are 3 reasons we eat: just because, mindlessly; to satisfy biological/physiological hunger; and to change how we feel/for emotional reasons. Emotional eating is extremely common. In fact, it is pretty much hard-wired into our eating culture. Take the concept of dessert, for example. What is dessert? Dessert is something yummy, tasty. Does your body need dessert? Of course, not. So, why do we eat desserts? Because we want to enjoy the taste of what we are eating. That’s an emotional reason. Dessert is for the mind, not for the body.
Same goes for any kind of taste-focused cooking. As a culture, we spend endless hours pursuing various gustatory highlights. Why? Once again, because we want to enjoy what we are eating. That’s emotional eating. Why? Because your body doesn’t really need for the food to taste good. What your body needs is the right amount of food and a certain combination of nutritional value. Our obsession with the taste of food is nothing other than an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: to fill up our stomach and to caress the palate of your sensation-seeking mind. Nothing’s wrong with that! Let cosmonauts eat spam! The point I am making is that emotional eating is pretty much hard-wired into all of our eating. If you want for your food to have a nice taste, let alone if you want a dessert, you are looking at food to satisfy your emotional desires for pleasures. Once again: there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!