Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sometimes mindless eating is OK; judgment never is

A few days ago I travelled to a dreary town with no redeeming qualities* for a work meeting.  At the end of the meeting a colleague recommended we check out the baked treats at a local cafe on the way out of town.  "Their brownies are to die for!" she promised. 

Dreary town's redeeming feature.
What do you know?  This town now has a redeeming feature.  The cafe was charming, with friendly staff and a countertop full of fresh-baked treats.  The obscene brownies had a chocolate chip cookie base and a thick, dense brownie centre topped with a half-inch layer of icing.  They weighed about a pound each.  I requested the largest one.

"It's also important to understand that mindful eating includes mindless eating", Jan Chozen Bays says in her book (see side panel).  This is the first mindful eating book that I read, and that phrase was the one I remembered most often for the first few months of my attempt at mindful eating.  Funny how thinking "it's OK for me to eat this massive amount of food when I'm not hungry because I acknowledge that I am doing it mindlessly" didn't really change my eating patterns.

Back to today's brownie.

I may have mentioned before that chocolate is not the boss of me.  I may even have been a little righteous about that declaration.  So why did I buy that colossal brownie and then eat the whole thing in the span of 10 minutes in the car on the way home, while talking to my coworker AND driving?  Why did I make such a mindless -  and ultimately unsatisfying and slightly nauseating - choice? 

I wasn't actually having a chocolate craving, and I definitely wasn't hungry.  Our colleague planted a seed in my brain, and I let it take root and get watered by several factors.  I was tired.  It was the low point of the afternoon (2:45 pm - you kill me). I hadn't had a coffee all day.  I told myself this was my monthly over-the-top treat.

When Jan Chozen Bays talks about mindless eating, she's not talking about a Get Out of Jail Free card.  She's talking about the times when you choose to eat your food without fully appreciating it, for practical reasons.  Eating that brownie, at that time and in that way, was not the best choice I've made in the past few months, and I didn't have a good reason for making it.  But judging myself is not going to help; in fact, feeling guilty leads down a dangerous path.  For a moment in the store I worried that I would slip into my old daily cookie/chocolately treat habit, just because I was buying one brownie. Before I learned about mindful eating, that might have been true. 

Now I have more conscious control over my food choices.  I didn't fully enjoy that brownie, and I felt yukky after I ate it.  It's kind of like Pavlov's dog again, but in reverse.  When I have treats like that, I don't feel good afterwards.  When I take the time to enjoy each bite of a treat and stop when I've had enough, I feel good.  So, with this huge, complex, human brain that I've been training for years through yoga, meditation, and other means, I can make those connections each time.  And, I always have the option of making my next food choice a healthy, satisfying, and mindful one.  I love this quote from the Centre for Mindful Eating: "Remember that when you feed yourself, you are feeding your life.  Make wise choices so that you can grow into the person you were meant to be".

*I apologize for the hurt feelings of anyone who recognizes their town in this post.  I don't take back what I said though.  I have never come to your town without getting lost or feeling a derelict, gloomy vibe.  I do like the look of your downtown yoga studio. 

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