I never mean for it to happen. I make enough pasta for two meals, and the idea is, I’ll eat half the bowl, and save the rest for tomorrow. What happens is, I’m watching TV, and then at some point, I look down and realize I ate everything...
I never mean for it to happen. I make enough pasta for two meals, and the idea is, I’ll eat half the bowl, and save the rest for tomorrow. What happens is, I’m watching TV, and then at some point, I look down and realize I ate everything. I also notice I can barely breathe because I ate too much. “I can’t do this again!” I tell myself. Of course, it happens again.
It’s funny, but I’m really troubled about my lack of control. Why can’t I will myself to eat just enough and no more? What does it say about me that I can’t? How can I change my relationship with food?
Of all the Food & Spirituality stories I’m producing for KQED News this fall, the feature on Mindful Eating hits closest to home. While I’m not a Buddhist, I genuinely believe that distress is an invitation to pay attention, and then engage.
At Spirit Rock Meditation Center for “Mindful Eating; Mindful Body: The Science and Practice of Mindful Eating.” Photo: Wendy Goodfriend
So, earlier this year I went to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin for a retreat called “Mindful Eating; Mindful Body: The Science and Practice of Mindful Eating.” Of all the Mindful Eating retreats in the Bay Area — and you know there are a lot — this particular one caught my eye because it featured three experts, each in a different field: psychology, biology, and Buddhism.
Mindful Eating retreat teachers (left to right): Jampa Sangmo, Andrea Lieberstein and Elissa Epel. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend
Andrea Lieberstein was the lead teacher. She trains people in Mindful Eating in her private practice, and directs Mind, Body, Spirit Programs at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco.
“Eating is a wonderful tool to awaken,” she tells the class of about 100 people; “To remember who we are, to remember our connection with all of life.”
That is not, of course, what I use eating for. I use it to feel relief from hunger. I use it to bury boredom, and stave off exhaustion. I use it because it’s readily available, and legal. Even when I’m being a good girl and passing up the mango ice cream pops in the freezer…you should see the way I eat frozen blueberries. It’s compulsive. I don’t stop till I get to the bottom of the plastic clam shell.
Lieberstein is a nutritionist as well as a therapist, but she says the practice of mindfulness does not require following any particular diet. Whatever sensible diet you’re pursuing will do. The key is training yourself to be conscious about eating.
Turn off the TV set. Put away the New Yorker magazine. Sit with your food. Appreciate the journey it took to get to your table. Appreciate its color, smell, texture, taste. Be in the proverbial moment.
“In slowing down,” Lieberstein says, “There’s more space. We touch that place of inner wisdom, where we’re not at the mercy of the automaticity of all our habits and our thoughts and our beliefs. We can pause and notice that impulse to eat — and in that space, make a different choice.”
Rachael Myrow contemplates lunch at the Mindful Eating retreat at Spirit Rock. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend
Lieberstein has the class conduct an experiment. Attendants pass out Dove chocolate squares. We’re encouraged to take two or three. We draw out the moment as long as possible, until every cell in our bodies is focused on the promise of chocolate.
“And then,” Leiberstein intones, “Slowly begin to bite into it, noticing the flavor, the taste of that first bite.”
It’s like…a nuclear explosion, the most satisfying experience imaginable…rich, silky…just like the commercial promises.
Then we’re invited to have a second square.
It’s the same chocolate, but the intensity of the satisfaction is…weaker. I suddenly realize that I could have been just as happy eating one chocolate. If you’re really paying attention as you eat, you enjoy it more. It satisfies earlier in the process.
Also, my brain has registered that I’ve had enough. So says Elissa Epel, a health psychology