That's the sound of rules breaking.
A few nights this week, I ate peanut butter straight out of the jar. Spoon in the peanut butter. Spoon in the honey. Spoon in my mouth. Repeat. I'm not outing myself to lament having fallen off the food wagon. As far as I'm concerned, I'm driving this wagon. I'm just using Patrick's map. Up till now, when I've taken a detour it has usually (but not always) meant eating less at a meal if I wasn't hungry or having an extra fruit snack if I was. When I started this program, I made a commitment to myself to make mindful, healthful eating a natural part of my daily life, but it does take practice. There have been moments when I've stopped to ask myself, "is this food going to help my body or harm it?" In those instances, I've usually had to put it down and walk away.
But the greatest challenge of mindful eating has not been choosing healthful foods. It has been understanding why I eat. If I reach for a handful of granola when I'm not hungry, what am I trying to cover up? I recently read Geneen Roth's Women, Food, and God, and I've been practicing her approach of inquiry—stopping in the moment of wanting to binge to allow myself to understand what I'm feeling. (In fact, as I type right now, I have a strong urge to get something to eat.) My favorite of her seven Eating Guidelines is "Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others." Because I tend to eat like I'm afraid someone's going to take my food away from me. I eat quickly. I eat simply because the food is there. And as it turns out, if I give myself the choice to put my snack on a plate and walk it over to the dining table, I usually choose not to eat it. Because food isn't what I wanted.
I met yesterday's mindful consumption e-mail from Patrick (eat a treat, be present for it, and recognize how your physical body reacts) with some discomfort. In fact, I reacted by making a huge batch of granola, snacking on it straight off the baking sheet, feeling terribly gassy all afternoon, and getting a stomach ache later because farting in a movie theater is against our social mores. But in the midst of all those terrible feelings, I continued to eat.
I think there's a flaw with the physical approach to mindful consumption. Food is too entwined with personal experience. Understanding the physical consequences of eating certain foods and overeating in general is not enough. For me, at least, the physical pain can add to the desired result—it provides a distraction from the anxiety, the sadness, the frustration, the embarrassment, etc.—although it ultimately exacerbates those feelings. It's a punitive cycle. Like getting a massive hangover and swearing you're never going to drink again . . . until next weekend. If millions of Americans were going to stop eating Big Macs because they give you indigestion, obesity would not be endemic to our culture right now.
The tricky part is that while the physical consequences are tangible, the emotional causes of eating are not always readily evident. I have no idea why I ate that peanut butter because I didn't bother to find out. If I had, I probably wouldn't have eaten it.
So what is the answer? For me, I have to constantly remind myself that my mind and my body are worth the extra time it takes to a) understand what I'm feeling and b) determine whether the choice I'm making is ultimately going to lengthen or shorten my life. I take more time to chew my food. I've decided that I have enough of everything I need—enough time, enough food, enough money. I meditate. This aspect of the program, I find, has been the most beneficial to me almost instantly. In fact, I've noticed that sometimes anxiety or frustration that might previously have caused me to eat now produces a great desire to sit instead.
What has been your experience with the mental side of mindful consumption?