As it gets colder, I start to crave (and mindlessly consume!) more comfort food. Before I buy up every container of soy nog in the store, I thought that it would be a good idea to get back in touch with the idea of mindful eating that I learned about through a book my friend gave me this summer (Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays).
If you’re like me, and winter makes you want to eat everything in sight (and then take a nap!), then read on 🙂
At the outset, I’ll say that a piece of me finds it amazing that Americans find a way to infuse instruction into the most seemingly straightforward parts of life (i.e., a book on how to eat!). The obesity crisis and the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia however, make it all too clear that a book on eating is both necessary and important–at least in the US. That said, I found the book pretty engaging and my only major qualms had to do with issues that I have on Americans’ take on mindfulness and healthy eating more generally (i.e., points of view that are usually infused with unrecognized privilege). I’ve written about privilege and food/eating before and I’ll write about privilege again, but for this post, I’ll stick to some highlights of the book. Think of it as Mindful Eating Cliff Notes.
Mindful Eating = an experience that engages our body, our heart, and our mind as we choose, prepare and eat food.
7 Kinds of Hunger
One of the most interesting parts of the book was the chapter on ‘types’ of hunger. Rather than assuming that hunger is just one thing, Chozen Bays argues that there are actually seven types of hunger (Eye, Nose, Mouth, Stomach, Cellular, Mind, Heart). She describes each one and explains why satisfying all seven hungers is important.
Habits and Guidelines
After discussing ways to identify our own patterns and relationships with food, Chozen Bays gives six guidelines for mindful eating. My favorite is to ‘eat the right amount.’ (You’ll have to read the book for details!) The book ends with a discussion of the importance of gratitude and a chapter that more explicitly ties her suggestions to some basic Buddhist principles . One of the coolest aspects of the book is that it contains a cd with practice exercises for developing a practice of mindful eating.
The take home (at least for me) is to think about your food–but do not think too much or judge yourself. Thinking brings gratitude for what you have, rather than obsession about what you don’t have. Thinking allows you to savor the smells, the presentation, the love that went into preparation–before the fork ever hits your lips. Thinking makes you wonder where your food came from and if you still want to consume it once you find out. And with thinking comes the acknowledgment that food is energy.
The right amount and the right type of food sustains life. At a basic level, deprivation kills and so does over-consumption. A car cannot run on empty; planes heavy with too much fuel cannot safely land. And it doesn’t matter how good unleaded might be, if you have a diesel truck and try to use unleaded fuel, you might as well deliver your goods from the back of a bicycle.
For me, mindful eating is ‘picking your poison’–eyes and mind wide open. “Why yes, I want two scoops of egg nog ice cream!” Not because I’m bored or restless, but because egg nog makes me think of happy memories and because it tastes good! And no, I do not choose to eat meat. Not because meat is bad or people who eat meat are bad, because it doesn’t sit well in my stomach ([bad] pun intended!), and it hasn’t for sixteen years.
Buddhism, privilege, and cultural context aside, I think being an active participant in the preparation and eating of food is a good thing. Now, I’m just hoping to stay mindful through the yams, stuffing, shaved Brussels sprouts, and desserts of the holiday season!!!