Each Monday, Tiffany will send an e-mail message that provides positive energy and tangible tips for eating more mindfully. The purpose of the weekly message is to reinforce the ideas from the talks and classes that are a part of the Como Water Membership, and to further support those trying to adopt and sustain a veg-centric lifestyle. To receive our Mindfulness Mondays posts, Become A Member today.
Towards the end of grad school, I attended a seminar on techniques for getting through the dissertation that was facilitated by a clinical psychologist and began with a set of questions.
“How many of you have internal dialogues with yourself when sitting down to write?” The crowd of about twenty anxious grad students raised their hands, with slightly awkward giggles and sly side glances to see who else had their hands up. “How many of you say things like, ‘really, writing is not that hard! Just sit down and do it!’ or ‘Seriously? you are so lazy, people have much harder lives than this and get their work done every day, and here you are complaining and not writing!'”
As the facilitator continued, our giggles turned to silence and our side glances fixated straight ahead. It was almost like at the very same moment, we had collectively realized that not only had we been judging ourselves, but we had actually been verbally bashing ourselves.
Our collective epiphany set in just as the facilitator asked one last set of questions. “Now, how many of you would talk to your best friend like that? How many of you would take that tone with a family member? How many of you would give that type of advice to a colleague?” Our hands stayed by our sides, our gaze now deep in our laps.
The facilitator went on to give us advice for completing our dissertations that focused on one key practice. It had nothing to do with our research, getting grants, or our relationships with our advisors. It had to do with our inner dialogues. It had to do with talking to ourselves the same way that we would talk to a friend. The facilitator suggested that we do a check in as soon as we found ourselves having a silent conversation with ourselves. We were to ask, “is this how you would talk to your best friend?” If the answer was ‘yes,’ we were to keep on. But if the answer was ‘no,’ we were to reframe and change our inner dialogue.
I remembered this seminar when I started to think about an eating goal I had set this time last year–to go completely dairy-free. I had recognized that my body liked it when I minimized/eliminated dairy, and had just finished reading Eating Animals. I was convicted. The time was now. I could do it. And I did do it. That is, until I didn’t.
The first time was by mistake (who knew there’d be whey powder in my panko bread crumbs!). The second time was on travel in E. Africa. It was just too tough to monitor in that context. The third time and just about every time after that was by choice. Although I had stayed true to my general goal of reducing my dairy intake, progress against my more ambitious goal of eliminating it completely, had dwindled.
At first, I totally pathologized myself. “Goodness. Was I addicted to dairy?” My mom told me that everyone was addicted to something. After the addiction inner dialogue, I began to think of myself as “weak.” Perhaps addiction was a bit strong, but surely I was lacking in willpower. Seriously? Could I really not resist Vermont Extra-Sharp Cheddar?
Then I stopped, remembered that seminar, and reframed–because I would never talk to a friend like this! If I were talking to a friend, I’d say something like “Change starts with consciousness. You’ve become more conscious, so now you are ready for change… but change is often most sustainable when it’s incremental. You have made some changes and you’ll likely make others. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle. Recognize the steps you have taken against your goals! You’ve stopped buying dairy and now usually only eat it when traveling or as a guest at someone’s house. This is a huge step for someone who loves cheese as much as you do!”
So, when people ask how do you become more compassionate with yourself, especially when it comes to food, diet, and eating, I advise starting with one’s inner dialogues. Start with role playing. I’ll totally admit, it feels strange at first, but with practice, it becomes more natural and more effective. With practice, paying attention to your inner dialogues can help you reach your eating goals and remove judgment, blame, and guilt from your table for good!