Hey, gentle readers!
As you may recall, last week I gave myself a list of goals to tackle:
- To be more aware of mindless eating and document five instances this week.
- To get five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- To walk the dog our regular 2-mile route every single day without fail.
- To stop eating at 8 pm.
- To go to the gym once a week.
I did have some success. I met both my exercise goals, and most days I ate enough servings of fruits and vegetables. So yeah, me!
The bad news is I barely made a dent in my other eating habits. I ate after 8pm with impunity. Last night, I drove home from work on the freeway, squirting giant dollops of whipped cream straight into my mouth. I ate mindlessly so many times that I’m not even going to be able to document them.
I also gained two pounds!
Clearly, the problem is bigger than I thought. It’s time to dig deep and do a little soul searching.
- What’s Going Through My Head When I Eat?
Eating is a little fortress I build around myself to keep stressful events at bay. Within that fortress is a zone of infinite possibility. Time has no meaning here. So it’s hard to remind myself that I am loading up on foods high in sugar and fat or that high cholesterol could lead to arterial plaque, atherosclerosis, and heart disease.
In the numbing comfort of the fortress, I don’t connect what I’m eating right now with the outcome I want six months or 15 years from now. Because without time, there are also no consequences.
Of course, this is a fantasy. I can’t stop time. Overeating doesn’t protect me from anything. If I keep overeating, I may find it hard to be as active as I want to be in my old age. I might get type 2 diabetes or exacerbate conditions like arthritis by putting too much stress on my joints.
But after years of unintentional (read mindless) conditioning, it’s hard to shake the fantasy.
- What Happens When I Set Limits on My Eating?
I think the best way to put it is I feel defiant. I have very black and white — almost superstitious — thinking when it comes to food. I believe that eating one extra cookie gives me license to eat an entire box of cookies, which is why there are never cookies in my house. There is a strong sense of giving myself “permission” to eat, almost as though I am an indulgent parent to the rebellious child within.
To put it another way, overeating is my attempt to nurture myself.
- How Can I Stop Thinking that Way?
So let’s talk about mindfulness for a moment. It’s one of those psychological buzz words du jour, but you may not have the faintest idea what it really means. Because I’m not an expert myself, I’ve listed a few good resources at the end of this post.
The best way I can put it is this: Being mindful is like seeing the world through a young child’s eyes. Infants and toddlers see what is really there, taking an experience in with all their senses. They don’t classify things into neat boxes the way we do, letting our preconceptions of the thing be what we see rather than what is really there.
Obviously, there’s something to be said for compartmentalizing. We wouldn’t get much done if we couldn’t go on autopilot and let our preconceptions guide us. Ever walked to the store with a toddler, for instance? It’s slow going.
The problem is our mind has organized experience for us in some pretty counterproductive ways. We have phobias, which distort our perceptions. We have unconscious biases that were established in childhood. We make all sorts of false associations.
Case in point: I think that food is going to protect and nurture me. When I eat mindlessly, I’m not challenging that assumption. I’m just going with the flow.
- Here’s the Deal
This week, I’m going to challenge myself with an experiment. Every time I am conscious of wanting to eat mindlessly, I will tell myself, “This is not nurturing.” And I will count to 100.
I’ll also keep a record of the experience.
Next Saturday, I’ll report back here with the results.
To Read More About Mindfulness:
The Linehan Institute was founded by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a leading figure in the use of mindfulness practice as a therapeutic treatment tool. She is also the one who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which has shown much promise in helping those with Borderline Personality Disorder to curb their reactive emotional behaviors.
This Psychology Today article by Dr. Karen Kissel Wegela provides a good introduction to mindfulness meditation.
Although this New York Times article is a few years old, Jeff Gordinier packs a lot of resources about mindful eating into one informative read.