Monday, 14 January 2008

Eating Mindfully

As part of my participation in Crunchy Chicken's Project NOWASTE, I've been looking into the concept of mindful eating, which I came across while reading Thich Nhat Hanh's beautiful book, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Here is a quote from him that sums up the attitude towards eating that I am trying to cultivate:
"To care for the well-being of your body is an expression of gratitude towards the whole universe, the trees, the clouds, towards all."
Until lately, my attitude toward eating has largely been one of mindlessness, not mindfulness. I will eat while I watch TV or while I read. I confess that one of my most favourite things to do is to read a good book while I have a cup of tea and a tasty snack. This habit has resulted in a few different consequences. The first one is that whenever I read, I want something to eat and/or drink. The second one is that I barely taste or appreciate whatever it is I'm eating at the moment, because I am so focused on what I'm reading. A third consequence is that I'm pretty sure I'm underestimating what, how much, and how often I'm actually eating.

Consequence 1: Pavlovian drooling.

Ok, maybe I don't actually drool like Pavlov's dogs, but I have certainly paired eating and reading together enough times over my life that when I read I have a strong desire to eat something. Maybe I do kind of salivate at the thought, actually. When I sit down to read something just seems to be missing if there is no snack. It actually interferes with my concentration if I don't know I have something to eat/drink on the coffee table there, just waiting for me to indulge.

Consequence 2: What was that I just ate?

Was it sweet, tart, salty? Crunchy or smooth? I have no idea. I just took time to prepare food for myself, and others took the time to grow it and harvest it for me, and I have no idea what it was. Not a lot of gratitude in that kind of attitude, to myself or to others, or to the planet. Do I really need to multi-task while I eat?

Consequence 3: But surely these jeans have just shrunk from too much washing?

I spend a lot of time wondering why I don't lose weight, especially since I've become a vegetarian. I have this concept in my head that I don't eat that much, really. But if I'm not aware of what I'm eating half the time, it's no wonder that I have this (mis)perception. And therefore no wonder that the number on the scale doesn't go down, and my jeans don't get any looser.

So, as usual, the solution to this is simple and difficult at the same time: to eat mindfully. To take the time to be thankful that I have food to eat. To appreciate all that went into the food, including sun, rain, minerals, plants, animals and the effort and care of many people to have it sitting here in front of me. To be grateful that I have enough to eat, to remain aware that many don't, and to eat only my fair share.

This weekend was my first experiment in eating this way. I did not read and eat at the same time, although I did allow myself to drink tea while reading, if it had no sugar or honey in it. While I was eating I tried to pay special attention to what it was I was consuming, and to think about where the ingredients in the food came from. I tried to really taste the food, and enjoy the flavours.

It was hard to do. At times I felt kind of bored, and sometimes I tried to eat quickly so I could get back to reading my book. I could tell that I have really taken food for granted. But it's a step in the right direction, and one that I will get better at with practice.


Chile said...

Jac (at Jac's Quest) just spoke of this recently as well. It made me more aware of how much I eat while surfing the 'net. I've not been entirely successful in breaking that habit, but your post gives me renewed motivation to try.

Towards the end of an 8-week meditation course, we spent an entire day in silence. For the noon meal, we were directed to be very mindful of our eating. It was a wonderful meal.

Theresa said...

Ah, another blog to check out - thanks!

Yes, I also eat while surfing the 'net and watching TV, habits I will also be trying to curb. In fact, I don't think I ever eat anything while solely focusing on the food itself, which is quite a shame actually.

I have contemplated having a day of silence - I think that would be amazing!

green with a gun said...

I don't eat while on the laptop, though I do drink coffee :)

And rather than watching tv and then eating, I only turn it on when I'm home alone and eating lunch or dinner and need some distraction and company - when the meal's over, the tv goes off.

Dinner is at the table, tv off, with my woman. So no snacking while watching telly :)

I still have an excess around the middle, though. Remember that until a woman is grossly obese, if she puts on weight she still keeps a womanly shape, like this, 8. Whereas when a man puts on weight he goes from V to d. In terms of looks, then, it's more important for men to watch their weight than women.

Of course your health is the most important concern; but the range of healthy weight is much wider than the range of "what the media says is hot" weight. And again, obesity is a far greater threat to men's health than women's.

As to wider social concerns, I dunno, it sounds a bit like "eat your brussels sprouts, dear, there are starving children in Africa." To which we always replied, "they can have them." Are you sending your brussels sprouts to Africa? If not, you may as well eat them.