Saturday, 1 February 2020

Tapas - a state of mind

I’m not talking little plates of chorizo and olives, although they too are perfect for the mindful eater.

Tapas is also a Sanskrit term from the tradition of yoga, and it’s more of a personal observance, or positive activity .  Like any ancient - but still relevant - text, the writings that deal with the concept of tapas have been interpreted a million ways.

In the context of mindful eating I like the interpretation of tapas as the cleansing fire that is fed by the momentum of good habits.  The fire of my mindful eating practice dwindled to a few scattered glowing coals over the past several years.  I was surprised that happened, and I’m still not sure why it did.  I thought that, like the recent Australian bushfires, the power of my newly-sparked mindful eating practice of 2014 was so powerful nothing could extinguish it.

I think I’ve taken that metaphor far enough.  In the last 2 months I’ve been re-inspired in my mindful eating practice.  Once again, it’s developing a momentum that allows it to sustain itself.  The individual little habits I’m fostering again, like noticing hunger, putting down my fork between mouthfuls, eating only until I’m 2/3 full, and meditating regularly, are all supporting a very comfortable and natural mindful eating practice, and I feel good.  That’s tapas.

I’ve learned through experience that tapas doesn’t make my practice invincible.  Mindful eating is a way of life, not a willpower-driven diet, but even nourishing, rewarding ways of life fall by the wayside.  Why is that?  What are the individual choices that cause a practice to unravel?  That’s what I’m curious about right now.

Image result for dorothy red shoes"Tapas is one of 10 guidelines for living that come from the teachings of yoga.  As part of my 2020 Depth Year commitment to myself, I intend to fully explore all 10 of these concepts in relation to mindful eating.  I’ve logged a lot of hours learning about these yogic principles, and yet in the past few years I’ve wondered “Where did my mindful eating practice go?  What can I do to get it started again?”  Like Dorothy, I had the answer with me all along – I just wasn’t ready to use it yet.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

School of Rockin' Body Acceptance

I have a piece of shocking news.  Two, in fact.  The first is that I just heard the best piece of body acceptance wisdom, and it came from Hollywood, of all the most ridiculously unlikely places in the whole wide world.  The second is that I just saw "School of Rock"for the first time.

Remember Tomika?  Aka turkey sub?  She belts out powerful backup vocals in the school rock band, but doesn't want to go on stage.  Her band leader, Mr Schneebly (Jack Black), takes her aside to see what's wrong.

Jack Black: What are you afraid of?

Tomika: They're gonna laugh at me.

Jack: What????  Why would they laugh at you?

Tomika: I don't know...cuz I'm fat.

Jack: Hey, you've got something everybody wants.  You've got talent, girl.  You have an incredible singing voice, and I'm not just sayin' that.   You heard of Aretha Franklin, right?  OK, she's a big lady.  But when she starts singing, she blows people's minds!  Everybody wants to party with Aretha! And know who else has a weight issue?

Tomika: Who?

Jack: Me.  But...once I get up on stage, start doing my thing, people worship me!  Because I'm SEXY.  AND chubby, man.

Tomika: Why don't go you on a diet?

Jack: Because, I Like To Eat.  Is that such a crime?  Look, that's not even the point.  The thing is, you're a rock star now.  All you gotta do is go out there and rock your heart out.  People are gonna dig you, I swear.  Let's just go out there and show them what we got.  Whaddya say?

Words don't get wiser than that.  Although Jill Andrew, who's campaigning to change the Ontario Human Rights Code to make body size discrimination illegal, also had some wise words on the subject recently (check out this podcast), which I hope people will listen to and take to heart.

Even though I cringe, leave the room, or call people out when anti-fatty jokes and commentary comes up, I'm just as guilty as anyone for this kind of biased, and knobesque thinking.  I feel really crappy about my appearance when I'm on a non-mindful wave long enough to need to pull out the big stretchy pants.  I feel great when people notice that my mindful eating practice has been "paying off". I was in Bulk Barn today and found myself judging the body sizes of the teenagers wandering the candy aisles as I filled my bag with Smarties (on sale this week!).

Oh, to be as enlightened as Jack Black.  I'll keep trying.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

This is your brain on post-exercise endorphins

A funny thing happens when you live your mindful eating practice instead of putting all of your energy into reading and writing about it: your thought patterns start to change without you even noticing.  Surprise!

This week I started swimming with a master's group again.  It's been many years since I participated in one of these structured, hour-long swim practices.  Instead, I'd been going for 20 minute floaty swims on my own when the fancy struck me, accepting that people several decades my senior pass me with ease.

Today I swam harder than I have in my whole entire life.  That's what it felt like anyway.  At one point I told the coach I was going to stop for a sec because I was feeling a little barfy.  His reply?  "Don't stop - I'll get you a bucket".

I came out of there smiling, feeling energetic, alive, and fantastic.  Oh, and a little hungry.  In the ol' pre-mindful eating days, my gobbley brain would have convinced me to eat all 4 of the pieces of homemade pizza I'd brought for lunch, since I had just earned them with that big workout (and they were quite delicious, I don't mind admitting).  After that it would have convinced me to go buy a fancy coffee or some other treat on top of that, since I *deserved* it.

But now I have mindful eating brain, with a new set of thought patterns.  What do you know?  I automatically checked in with stomach hunger - about a 7 - and ate 2 small pieces of my pizza.  Then I naturally checked in with my stomach again and noticed I was full.  I even went grocery shopping afterwards and had no interest in treats.  Part of my fantastic feeling I was experiencing included a complete lack of desire for chocolate or jelly beans.  So novel.

Is this funny cuz it's true,
or just really sad cuz it's true?
My intention for exercising still has a very small weight loss component - old habits die hard, especially when reinforced by the massive bulk of media.  Mostly I exercise because it's fun, makes me feel great, and prepares my body for aging and for all the extreme activities my sweetheart has me doing.

I cringe when I hear people talking about the calories they're burning while working out, or the amount of exercise they'll have to do to compensate for some delicious thing they're enjoying.  Worst of all - hearing about their Fitbits.

What a way to suck the joy out of two inherently pleasurable activities - eating and exercise, that is. Why make one the penance for the other?  Why not enjoy each fully for their own sake?  I'm aware that somewhere in the equation between energy in and energy out there is a place where my clothes fit better or worse.  But I know if I get all hung up about the relationship between the two, I'll sink into unhealthy and stressful patterns that lead nowhere good.  Forget Fitbit - just do something you love and see where it leads you.  I bet that place won't be the cookie aisle.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Strawberry gluttony... my only explanation for picking 30 L of strawberries this week.  That's 70 bucks worth.  Or almost 50 pounds.

The gluttony started on the wagon ride into the picking fields.  The sight of so many ripe berries triggered ancient urges deep in my primate brain.  I very much wanted to pick every last strawberry on the entire farm. So they wouldn't be wasted?  To ensure I wouldn't starve this winter?  Because their juicy redness signaled their mother lode of sugars and nutrients? So I could spend my entire weekend processing them?  There's no rational reason for this urge, but it was powerful and it prevailed.

What was I thinking?  I wasn't.
There was a moment, several hours and dozens of strawberry mouthfuls into processing them, that I remembered my mindful eating practice.  In the face of such abundance, I tried to put myself in the mindspace of a state of strawberry lack.  I imagined enjoying a single, perfect, lusciously ripe and fresh strawberry in the dead of a Canadian winter, or in the middle of a camping trip, or while trapped in a processed food wasteland like a roadside service station.  How would I eat a single strawberry then?

I've been going deeper into my own mindful eating practice for the month of June (and I've been gardening and enjoying the outdoors and generally avoiding computers and not blogging).  There are many things that make this practice a challenge, and the biggest may be the wealth of food we are constantly immersed in.  I am surrounded by delicious, affordable, healthy food.  My home never lacks of food.  Just as familiarity breeds contempt, abundance breeds antipathy.  And mindless eating.

During my strawberry-picking frenzy I overheard one dad encouraging his kids to keep picking.  I love what he said: "You know what I think about when I'm strawberry picking?  I think about a day in January when I'm going to appreciate having these delicious berries."  Exactly!  I hope his January strawberry treat evokes a warm June day filled with sun and birdsong and a refreshing lake breeze.  Happy mindful eating, patient strawberry-picking dad!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Mindless eating issues come in a variety of packages

Cigarettes and chocolate milk - these are just a couple of my cravings....If I should buy jellybeans, have to eat them all in just one sitting.  Everything it seems I like's just a little bit sweeter, a little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me.

You may recognize these as lines from a Rufus Wainwright* song, and not an excerpt from my mindful eating journal.  I guess I could have written them, except I've never smoked. Rufus is a skinny guy.  But just like you or me, he's clearly got some mindless eating issues. 

Why can't I stop eating jellybeans?
There are 2 kinds of people out there: those who like Rufus Wainwright, and those who don't.  Joke.  The 2 kinds are actually intuitive and controlled eaters.  I've previously referred to these as "eat to live" vs. "live to eat" people.  If you're reading this blog, you're either in the second camp, or you are my sweetheart.  People in the second camp are much more likely to have food issues.  To learn more about this concept, check out this fantastic TED talk.

I know 2 different people who are food-hoarders.  So much so that it makes them socially awkward in certain settings (although I don't think they realize that, so I hope they're not reading this!)  I'm trying to figure out why they're like that.  They are both very fit people.  They both come from well-to-do homes.  They both make enough money to feed themselves.  What's up with them?  Obviously it's something deep down that they're probably not even aware of.   Kind of like most mindless eating issues.  So, are they in the first camp, or the second?  I haven't a clue.

Despite being a pretty intuitive eater for a lab, my dog M displayed a bit of this mindless food-hoarding behaviour today.  I'm looking after a passive, almost pathetic dog, named B.  To try to perk them both up, I gave each a very special cookie. (You can blame your parents for your food issues if they did this with you.  Another joke. Do you actually know a parent who hasn't done this?)  

Why do I eat my cookies so fast?
Anyway, B just let his cookie loll out of his mouth as he continued to melt into my floor in a hairy heap.  M, on the other hand, chowed into his with gusto.  While still chewing half of his, dropping the other half on the floor, he went after B's cookie too.  No mystery as to what's up there.

It's none of my business why my 2 pals are food-hoarders.  I'm mostly curious.  And, as practitioners of mindful eating, we can be equally curious about our own idiosyncratic eating habits.  What's up with them?  You probably won't write a beautiful song about them like Rufus did, but you might be illuminated.

*If you don't know Rufus Wainwright, or even if you do and you're in the first camp, you really should check out his version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.  Not as good as kd lang's, but way up there.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Gone Girl

Last month I saw the movie, read the book reviews on Good Reads, bought the book despite the reviews, and read the book in less than 24 hours.  I seriously read about 2/3 of it in one single sitting.  As in I sat in a chair and didn't get up for hours.  I finished the rest after a break to eat.

The behaviour pattern that took place with Gone Girl was eerily similar to the most recent time I ate 100 cookies.  I didn't WANT to read most of the book in one sitting.  I knew I'd feel better if I saved it and enjoyed it slowly.  There were other things I would have liked to have been doing with that time. And yet, I just couldn't stop myself.  I felt guilty.  I told myself I deserved to do it because it was holiday time.  Once I got within a centimetre of the end I figured I might as well finish it off and then it would be done.  My rational brain shut right down and something else took over.

This woman knows how to eat mindlessly.  Check out
the scene where she's watching the talk show with her
creepy ex-boyfriend.
This is not even an excellent book.  According to the haters on Good Reads you'd think it's the worst piece of schlock ever hammered out, but they were overly harsh.  It was a pizza from Domino's.  I fancy myself to be more of a wood-fired oven, thin-crust with prosciutto and bocconcini kind of person, but once in a while a greasy slice from a take-out joint is really satisfying.

I've known for a while that I just shouldn't bring page-turner novels into my home.  I cannot control myself with them.  The same goes for some foods, although these have changed as my mindful eating practice evolves.  Large high quality dark chocolate bar?  No problem - sits in my cupboard for weeks as I enjoy the occasional nibble when the mood strikes.  Bag of maple-bacon flavoured popcorn?  Forget it - must devour whole bag.  In mindful eating, we recognize what these trigger foods (or "food-like items") are and we choose not to have them around because we know their pull on us is more powerful than our mindful eating practice.

I thought my mindful eating practice was progressing nicely, but something in Gone Girl triggered an alarming realization.  No, not that I'm deranged and manipulative.  In the novel one of the main characters (we can't call them protagonists) says his wife is always thinking, thinking, thinking - her brain is constantly churning.  That's me.

I thought one of my biggest mindful eating achievements was my new habit of NOT multi-tasking when I eat alone.  I used to always read while eating, but through mindful eating learned that I should just sit and enjoy my food.  I thought I was doing that and I was proud of myself.  Alas, I'm often just as "gone" when I'm eating as I used to be.  Instead of reading, I'm thinking, thinking, thinking.  I'm so lost in my thoughts I'm not present in the room with the food I'm eating - I'm eating mindlessly.

The excellent thing about mindful eating is once you're aware of something, you have the power to change it.  Not like the characters in Gone Girl...they know they've got problems, and they choose to stay mired in them.  Fine for a cheap novel, but not for a real life.