Part of the 40 Days workshop is a focus on diet, specifically eating mindfully. That concept may not seem radical to most, but when you’re asked to think about what you consume, when you consume it and why, you begin to wonder “how the heck have I checked out of every meal I’ve consumed for as long as I can remember?” Really, I encourage you to try it. It’ll shock you just how much more awareness you can bring to the table (pun intended).
As a chef and total self-proclaimed foodie, I thought I had an edge on most of my friends when it came to my food choices. I think about where the ingredients come from – are they local? Seasonal? Were they cultivated on a farm using sustainable practices? Do the employees receive a fair wage and work fair hours? I think about how the ingredients are prepared – is the integrity of the ingredient still in tact? Was it heated past its smoke point or past its ability to retain nutrients? I think about the nutritional value of the food – does it contain the proper ratio of macronutrients? Does it offer me phytonutrients? Does it support my system or challenge it unnecessarily? And of course, does it taste good? Are the four flavors of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter well balanced? Is the mouthfeel enjoyable? And so on. That’s a lot to think about it. I thought I was pretty damn mindful.
When asked to observe why I was hungry, I realized there were many more reasons behind my desire to eat than simply physical hunger. Emotional hunger plays a huge part in my desire to eat, and FYI – emotional hunger is hard to satisfy with food. At least not permanently. So I’ve begun thinking about what might actually satiate the root of my hunger in the moment. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it isn’t.
When asked to take each bite consciously, I realized there was so much more taste in each bite that I’ve been missing out on. Feeling cheated much? Yes! My favorite enchiladas (and enchiladas are my favorite food) were as good as the very first time I had them. And the enjoyment lasted long after the first bite. You know how a lot of people say that the first few bites are really the best and after that you stop tasting them? That’s probably because you’ve checked out of your meal. By the way, you can totally overcome that.
Another fabulous benefit I discovered with mindful eating was being able to distinguish when I was actually full. This concept had been completely foreign to me for as long as I could remember. I’ve always had somewhat of an insatiable appetite, and, being in the business of food, I can pretty much eat anything, anytime of day (within reason – a girl’s gotta have standards). I can see now that through the practice of mind-full eating (yes, that pun was intended, too), I might actually be able to get back into my skinny jeans because, let’s face it, even if you eat an all organic diet of whole foods and well balanced nutrition, you can still overeat. But mostly only when you’ve checked out of the experience.
I’ve talked a lot about “checking out.” This description comes to me by way of yoga, specifically, my favorite instructor Peter Guinosso. Throughout class he asks his students to bring awareness to their pose and determine if they are breathing into the pose or if they’ve checked out of it. Checking out is remarkably easier than being present. When things get tough, whether its half-moon pose, a particularly difficult day at work, or a particularly difficult life, its much easier to ignore the pain and take your mind some place comforting than to ask yourself to stay present and experience it or, dare I say, work through that discomfort. I’m not discounting the therapeutic value of “checking out.” There are times when we’ve had to check out in order to survive. But be honest with yourself about your “quit point,” another of my favorite pieces of wisdom from Pete. At some point, you may find you’ve been quitting on yourself too soon. You might be selling yourself short, not fully understanding your own strength and capability. Ask yourself, “Is this my real quit point, or am I giving up on myself early?” And challenge yourself, “If I can keep going in this moment, can I bring mindfulness to the experience? Can I stay engaged?”
Right about now you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with food?” Quite a bit, actually. Since food can serve as comfort, we can very easily be eating to fill that emotional hunger I referenced earlier. Those are the times when it becomes extremely easy to check out. Before you know it, you’ve consumed the entire chocolate-caramel layer cake. You look at the empty cake plate and think, “When did that happen? Where was I?” You’ve checked out. You’ve acted with little mindfulness or awareness. Trust me. I’ve been the girl who consumed her dear pastry-chef-friend’s entire chocolate-caramel layer cake. So what do you do next?
First, you forgive yourself. Find some compassion for the fact that life is hard. Some people interpret Buddha’s First Noble Truth, the truth of dukkah, to mean “Life is Suffering.” Many interpretations go on to say Buddha was trying to tell us that the moment we accept that life is hard, it stops being so difficult. So give yourself a little bit of room to make mistakes. Go easy on yourself. Too often we are our own worst critics when we should really be our own best advocates. Be sensitive with yourself and say, “It’s okay I had I ate a gigantic plate of pasta,” or “It’s okay that I checked out of this meal,” because you can always try to bring mindfulness to your next meal. After all, you’ve gotta eat.
‘Til next time,