Thursday, 28 November 2013

Chocolate really ISN'T the boss of me

But it definitely used to be.  I love it! (A rare trait in a woman, I know.)  I thought I NEEDED it during the afternoon lull, during monthly hormone rampages, or whenever it was present within a 50 meter radius. 

While mindful eating is NOT about dieting or using willpower to restrict food choices, I have found that seriously cutting back on processed sugar helped reset my brain and body so that I could take control of my relationship with the beloved chocolate.  For the first time in my entire life, chocolate has a lifespan in my home.  I've had a bag of dark chocolate squares in my kitchen for a month, and there are still at least 10 left.  In fact, the bag's sitting next to me right now, and it's not even calling my name.

If you, too, have been a slave to chocolate, you will appreciate what a coup this is.  In university I had a skinny roommate, German Nat, who used to leave half a chocolate bar (of the good German variety) sitting in the fridge for days at a time.  My normal roommates and I were astonished, infuriated, and tortured by this bizarre behaviour.  Now *I* am German Nat, and I'm so pleased with myself.

There's not one particular mindful eating practice that has caused this miraculous transformation, but breaking my sugar addiction was key.  I am convinced that processed sugar is an addictive, toxic substance.  You will be too if you check out this and this.  And I'm not even getting into the environmental implications of how it's produced.  

After not having it at all for a few weeks, I now try to have less than 6.5 teaspoons or 26 grams of added sugar per day, as recommended in Nutrition Action.  It's really not that hard once you try it.  I've done a lot of cleanses where you can't have sugar, fruit, alcohol, wheat, honey, or fun.  That's hard.  Saying no to treats and processed foods isn't so bad.  I did find that increasing my fruit intake helped.  So did eating a few chips once in a while, actually.  Our bodies do need fat, and chips don't hold the same addictive allure for me.  Taking this approach wipes your palate and endocrine system clean, letting you set a new baseline for your tastebuds.

I can't be too annoyingly smug here though - there is still Bufala Maple Yogourt. Best to keep that out of the house for now...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rome wasn't built in a day...

...and dismantling a lifetime of food habits and hangups won't happen overnight, either.  A reassuring thought, no?  No need to beat myself up when I forget (every single day) to try to eat mindfully.  Baby steps are good enough for me. 

I started my new mindful eating approach by writing out some of the tips that I found most resonant, and keeping them in a jar on the kitchen counter.  Things like:
  • slow down and enjoy
  • is a cup of tea what you really want?
  • let yourself experience emptiness
  • fully love all treats

Here are a couple of practices I've been trying each time I eat (when I remember):
  • Put down the fork or spoon between each bite 
  • Pay attention to what your body, rather than your ingrained habit mind, is asking for

There are many, many, many, many mindful eating tips and practices.  Your habits, patterns, and deep dark food issues will determine which ones really click for you.  You might be surprised.  I certainly am each time I realize that I have the next forkful of food waiting at the door before I've even finished chewing, swallowing, and experiencing what's already in my mouth. I had no idea I was a shoveller.  I've also found it quite satisfying to listen to my biological hunger, rather than my craving/habit hunger.

Craving/habit hunger: It's Tuesday.  You know what that means.

Me: Tell me.

Craving/habit hunger: You should get a mocha latte.  You'll be going by the coffee shop.  You haven't had one since last Tuesday.  They're so delicious.

Me: Good idea!  I love that ritual. I think it makes me feel happy.

Biological hunger: Uh, not only am I not thirsty or in the mood for coffee, but how about some vegetables?  I need something green.

Me: Hey, GREAT idea!  You just saved me $5.35 (+ tip). Kale it is!

Craving/habit hunger: You haven't heard the last of me...<<sinister cackles>>

Saturday, 16 November 2013

What's wrong with me?

My sweetheart does not have food issues.  He eats when he's hungry; he stops when he's full.  If treats happen, great, but he doesn't plan his outings around encountering them.  It's all so weird to be around.

While patiently listening to my I-Ate-Too-Much-I-Feel-Gross-You-Should-Have-Stopped-Me-At-The-99th-Cookie episodes, he says things like (this is an actual quote from him): Why don't you just stop putting the brownies in your mouth?

So, what's wrong with me? 

(thanks for sharing your pictures, Allie Brosh)
Why DON'T I just stop putting the brownies in my mouth?

The beauty of learning about mindful eating is that now I know there's nothing wrong with me at all.   

My eating habits are the product of my DNA, my forebears' DNA, the culture I'm submerged in, and the lifetime of patterns, habits, and experiences that have moulded my brain.  The same is true for you, by the way.  The really great news is that there is a huge component of all those factors that we do have the ability to change: the neurological patterns that have been laid down over our lifetimes.  By doing the mindful eating practices, I can create new pathways and associations in my brain. 

You may recall Pavlov's dog...or you may be familiar with neuroplasticity.  Rewiring the brain doesn't happen through force of willpower.  So, making so-called mistakes doesn't mean you have a lack of willpower or some other flaw.  It just means you're making food choices based on EVERYTHING that's going inside you - your moods, your habits, your cravings, your chemistry.  With more mindful eating practice, you might make a different choice. Pavlov didn't force his dog to drool by pulling on its lips. He patiently and consistently created new associations that led to new behaviours.  The dog wasn't "bad" or "weak" if it drooled at the wrong time.  I am not bad if I eat a cookie or 3.  (I know this is not a perfect analogy.  Don't worry about it.)

The relief of letting go of self-recrimination is energizing.  If I make an unhealthy or less-than-mindful food choice, I don't waste energy being upset about it, or thinking "oh well I might as well eat the other half of the pizza now", or worrying that my pants won't fit tomorrow.  Now I acknowledge that it was a choice I made, it's done, and the next choice I make can be a mindful one.  I can think about why I might have made that unhealthy choice, but I don't need to get all judgy and hang-uppy about it.  What a refreshing approach.

Like 21st century public school, there's no failing or cheating at mindful eating.  It's all about showing up and staying awake.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The journey begins for real

Mindful eating - like yoga and meditation, learning to kitesurf, or any other activity that is new and challenging - is a practice.  Of course, it's fun (for brainy smurfs like me) to put lots of effort into reading books, finding websites and journalling about the concept of mindful eating.  Oh yes - over the past 6 months or so I've really filled my head with all kinds of information about eating mindfully.

But I still snarf down lunch at my desk every day.

This blog is inspired by "Eating the moment - 141 mindful practices to overcome overeating one meal at a time" by Dr. Pavel Somov, a clinical psychologist.  This great little book suggests starting a food blog as one of the many practices alluded to in the book's title.  The point of this exercise is to make one conscious of the experience of eating by writing about it.  As Dr. Somov says, this is a better use of time than logging mindlessly consumed calories.  So, I intend to blog about actually practicing mindful eating practices.  I hope you'll try a few of them too and let me know what your experience is!