Thursday, 11 December 2014

The (persimmon) Tree of Knowledge

Do you even know what a persimmon tastes like?

I had no idea, but I thought I knew what they looked like.  I am a biologist who identifies trees for a living, after all.  My sweetheart and I were recently on vacation on the U.S. Atlantic Coast where we encountered an enticing tree with succulent orange fruits hanging from its boughs.  We were in a state park, so we knew that we shouldn't pluck the fruit of the tree. However, like any good omnivores, curiosity took hold of us.  This story may be familiar to you.

No, we were not visited by a talking serpent, banished from the park, or smited (smitten? smote?).  Instead we experienced an indescribably unpleasant mouth experience.  It was truly shocking.  Have you ever eaten a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide?  Don't.  You can just eat an unripe persimmon instead.  According to Wikipedia, which I checked out later that night to make sure we weren't going to die, I learned that persimmons: are unpalatably astringent (or "furry" tasting) if eaten before completely softened.  You don't say.  I also learned that if we ate too many unripe persimmons we could develop an adhesive "foodball" in our stomachs.  The stuff of gum-swallowing children's nightmares.

Beware the beckoning fruit
I just finished Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma".  The dilemma is this: when you are an animal that has evolved to be able to eat many, many things (in contrast to animals like koalas, who can only eat eucalyptus leaves, or monarch caterpillars, who only eat milkweed), how do you choose what to eat?  My sweetheart and I had undertaken the timeless omnivore's experiment when confronted with a novel food item: try a tiny bit, see if it tastes good, and wait to see if you get sick. Very much like the "mindfulness classic". 

This problem was much more fraught when we were foraging on the savannah in our loincloths.  Today we are surrounded by such an abundance of food that our omnivorous brains say "Yay! Eat everything!  It's ALL good!".  And so, we are a society of mindless eaters.  Surprise?  

I had forgotten about the persimmon experience until I discovered the online mindful eating tracker, created by Pavel Somov, the author who inspired me to begin this blog a year ago.  A woman describes the taste of eating a RIPE persimmon, for the first time.  Very, very different from my experience, but both were mindful in their own special way.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A year of eating mindfully

Or at least, a year of THINKING about eating mindfully, and many days of actual mindful eating.

I started this blog just over a year ago as a way to motivate myself to eat mindfully more often.  Accountability through the creepiness of the internet.

As Jon Kabat Zinn, the grandmaster of modern mindfulness says, you've got to walk the walk.  You can't just agree with the principles, or read about it, or think about it.  Mindfulness is a way of being.  He admonishes: every time you think about talking about your mindfulness practice, shut up and DO it (I'm now about to ignore that great advice and continue writing this post).

Mindful eating is becoming a way of being for me. (Dear sweetheart: Yes, even that last long day on our recent roadtrip counts!  I was fully aware of how mindlessly I was eating ALL of the crappy weird American junk food and I consciously made that choice because I was being bored to death by the audiobook we were listening to.  I didn't actually mean it when I said it was your turn to choose.)

You mean nothing to me.  Today.
What really transformed mindful eating from a nice idea that I studied thoroughly to something that is part of my lifestyle was participating in the online course based on Jan Chozen Bays' work.  Having a supportive, if virtual, community to share experiences with and learn from created a quantum leap in my mindful eating practice.  So, I'm so excited to be launching my own mindful eating introductory course in my city, with real live people! (Send me a comment in the box below if you want to learn more.) I have some more blog posts simmering, but I'm going to be focusing on the course for the next few months.

There were recently 2 huge validations of the progress I've made on my mindful eating journey.  I'm sharing them so that you might be inspired on your path too.  

Huge Validation #1:
I read some of my earlier blog posts from a year ago.  There's no better evidence of your own transformation than seeing your thoughts in black and white.  That's why so many different kinds of programs advocate using a journal.  
Tip for you: If you're trying mindful eating, consider keeping some notes on your experience.  The "Before I Eat" mindful eating app is one handy way to do that.

Huge Validation #2:
I attend many meetings each year where meals are provided.  I just came home from yet another one, where the food was plentiful and quite tasty.  There were yummy desserts at every meal, and - get this - hot chocolate AND chocolate milk dispensers!  And, of course the best part was I didn't have to shop, cook, or do dishes.  

In such circumstances I used to struggle with the temptation to eat so much that I was uncomfortably full, to eat desserts every time they were available, and to drink chocolate beverages all day.  This time there was no struggle.  My body wanted to eat mostly fruit and veggies.  I didn't even think about the chocolate milk.  I quickly recognized that the hot chocolate was sub-par.  I chose to have 2 chocolate desserts over the course of a few days, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I was not a perfect mindful eater.  But, I was not a total mindless eater, either.  I'm talking sea-change here!  
Tip for you:  If you've been trying to eat mindfully and feel like you're not getting anywhere, try to notice if there are any specific habits, cravings, or ways of thinking that have changed for you.  Even if it's something simple like putting down your fork between bites.  That's a big deal!  You've changed a lifelong habit, and if you look at the people around you, you'll notice that you're having a regular moment of awareness while you eat that few others are experiencing.

3 more tips for you:
Be patient.  Try again.  ENJOY eating!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Secret Sits

Sigh....this is not my sweetheart.
I just had a textbook demonstration of our collective mindlessness sucking the richness out of experience.  It was at a Royal Wood concert.  What?  You don’t know Royal Wood?  Well, as they say on the good ol’ CBC (which you obviously don’t listen to), your next favourite song is right here. Or here.

His voice is resonant as a cello.  His songs are Michael Ondaatje novels, or maybe Tom Thomson paintings.  His live shows are aesthetically satisfying in so very many ways.  You know that corny term “dreamboat”?  This is a man to whom you could apply that word without irony.  I mean, he closed his show with his own adaptation of my favourite Robert Frost poem.  Mercy.

Excuse me.  I’m getting carried away.

Anyway, there was this moment in the show.  The intimate little theatre was dark and still, with a single spotlight glowing on him. He was at the grand piano, carefully drawing the song to a close.  Before he could conclude the audience started in with the clapping.  It was so unsatisfying.  Even he seemed a little frustrated, like we cut him off before he got to his final point.

Wait for it.  This post actually relates to mindful eating.

This happens at movies too.  I didn’t mind people getting up before the credits of American Hustle at the multiplex, but when I’ve just had my mind blown in some moving or thought-provoking way at the local art-house theatre, I’d like to sit for a quiet moment before the lights come up.  Where’s everybody in a big hurry to get to?  It’s not like there’s going to be a traffic jam on the sidewalk as they walk home.

I’ve realized I do this same thing pretty much every time I eat - as do most people, I’ve observed.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a square of my new favourite mint dark chocolate, or a delicious (or mediocre) meal I’ve cooked.  Before I’ve finished chewing the last bite, I’m outta my chair and on to the next thing.  Filled my gut; time to hit something else on the to-do list.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  So, my practice lately has been to try to notice the urge to wrap things up before the last bite has reached my belly, and to just PAUSE.

At the end of a yoga class we don’t put on our sneaks and scram.  We rest in corpse pose – sometimes for a long time.  And then we sit.  And then we chant Om.  There’s a reason for this.  Why not treat our meals with the same appreciation? 

Way back in the early days of my yoga life, I sometimes left the class before the final savasana.  Too busy to lay around doing nothing!  This was a lie, of course.  I was a grad student.  I had nothing to do but find ways to avoid finishing my thesis.  I really didn’t get the point of yoga back then.

I’m more aware now.  Taking a moment to appreciate my food with some gracious thoughts at the beginning of my meal still eludes me, but I can remember to rest in satiety after eating.  I used to be a premature clapper too.  But where’s the pleasure in that?
Sigh...THIS is my sweetheart.  Making me coffee in our outdoor kitchen.
That's way dreamier than playing the piano.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


In Canada we celebrated Thanksgiving several few weeks ago.  This coincided perfectly with the last assignment of my online mindful eating course: looking deeply into our food.

(An aside: I'm sorry, my American friends, but it makes SO much more sense to have this holiday in October. I recently visited your fair country and saw plenty of Christmas decorations, but no cheerful orange pumpkins, happy turkeys in pilgrim hats, or wreaths of colourful autumn leaves.  So why bother celebrating Thanskgiving at all?)

The point of "looking deeply into our food" was to trace the path the food took from a seed in the ground to my plate, and then to feel gratitude for each person and energy source involved in each step.  I struggled with this one.  I'm pretty righteous when it comes to food choices, and for my most righteous foods the exercise was so easy it seemed almost pointless.  It went like this: farmer's market, shopping bag, bicycle basket, fridge, cutting board, stove, plate, mouth.  Or even better: backyard, hand, mouth (this applies to my fall raspberry harvest).  

Of course, if you want an A+ on this one, you could think about the people who first domesticated raspberries from the wild fruit, the carbon sources that went into making the soil I planted the canes in, the First Nations people who were displaced when Europeans founded this city and started building it, the family who first built my home 100 years ago, etc. etc.

Although I'm righteous, I have my vices, too.  For the vice foods (say, instant hot chocolate or coffee), this was so difficult and abstract I couldn't train my mind to concentrate on it.  I found it easier to do this when I actually went to Nicaragua and saw how coffee is grown.

But being the keen student that I am, I wanted to make sure that I completed the exercise properly.  I chose a beautiful heritage squash that I had bought from  Freedom Farms, my favourite vendor at the local farmer's market.  I've visited this farm during an Open Farms event, so I could even picture where the squash was grown.  This farmer is friendly and chatty so I know a little bit about the trajectory that brought him to the farm, and the squash to my home.  

Here is a list of gratitudes that came up as I prepared, cooked, and eventually enjoyed my lovely little squash.

As I look deeply into this heritage squash, I am thankful that:

- it was part of a lovely centrepiece I arranged for the Thanksgiving meal I shared with people I love

- there is some left over to eat on another day
- it is full of intense orange nutrients
- it is feeding my healthy body, which I will use to go do fun activities
- there is an amazing farmer's market down the street from my house
- the farmer that sold me this squash is so pleasant
- I can roast the seeds for a yummy snack
- I can put the skin into my compost and one day it will become part of my garden

Who wouldn't feel thankful buying beautiful veggies from these smiling faces?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

"Meditation" on a mug of hot chocolate

One of the participants in my online mindful eating course inspired me to try a fascinating exercise.  She described how she took a small plate of PC chocolate chip cookies (the drug of the nation*) and took the time to deliberately apply all that we've been learning in the course to eating them.  She ended up feeling full after only 2 cookies, and only ate a total of 4 cookies in the space of 40 minutes.  I was impressed.

I tried a similar approach with a cup of hot chocolate.  I had been thinking about having a hot chocolate all evening.  I do love a hot chocolate - as much as I love a chocolate chip cookie (or 100 chocolate chip cookies).  Hot chocolate can quickly transition from a rare treat to a can-a-week habit for me.

Here's what I did. I treated the mug and its contents as an object of meditation, much like you would use a candle, or a sound, or your breath. I even turned off the music, sat on my meditation cushion, and lit the candles on my little meditation table (Hey, I'm a yoga teacher.  Having such items hanging around the living room is part of the job description).

Much like any other meditation practice, a series of impressions floated in and out of my mind:
  • The swirls of bubbles in the surface of the hot chocolate mirror those in the mug pottery.  I love this mug.  I'm so glad I bought one like it for my friend.  What's the name of this potter again? I better find out when the potter's guild sale is.  Oops.  Thinking.
  • A sudden very strong and happy image of drinking cheap hot chocolate from a styrofoam cup while skating on the frozen lake in the centre of my hometown on a cold and bright blue day.
  • The liquid is surprisingly viscous.  That might be gross.
  • The heat coming from the mug is very pleasant on my hands.  Where should I place my hands for the optimal level of warmth?
  • How come this is so ridiculously sweet?  Why have I never noticed that before?
Like any other meditation practice, I also got distracted and forgot what I was doing.  I stopped for a bit I took a bunch of blurry underexposed pictures of the mug.  I looked at all the little doodads on my meditation table.  I wrote this whole blog post in my head.  I wondered about the lady who shared the idea of this exercise with me.  I thought about going to bed.

Sometimes, on very special occasions, insight or inspiration may arise during meditation-like activities. Tonight was my lucky night!  I was able to detach myself from pure desire and all the other non-stomach forms of hunger for the hot chocolate.  It was very much like when you say your name, or any other word, out loud or in your head too many times.  It stops sounding like a word and you start to question whether it really is a real word, or your name.  (C'mon.  Every kid has done that at some point, haven't they?)  It's a disconcerting experience.  The mug of hot chocolate became a neutral object that I could observe with curiosity, but I lost my interest in ingesting it.  In fact, the thought of pouring it in my mouth and swallowing it seemed faintly absurd. 

Now kids, be careful if you try this at home.  This is not for the newbie mindful eater. I'd call this an intermediate level act of liberation.  Liberation it truly was though, because I usually down a cup of hot chocolate fast enough to poach my stomach lining.  Tonight it took me a good 20 minutes to drink 3/4 of it, and I let the rest go cold because I lost my interest in it.  That has NEVER happened in my entire life.  Doing this exercise with a bowl of canned fruit cocktail or "wax" beans or sardines with entrails intact would not be nearly as powerful, if you want to ease into it.

*Fans of Michael Franti should check out this thought-provoking video he made in the days before he did yoga and got all joyful.  Hmm.  I just realized this man has been influencing my thoughts since 1992...

Friday, 24 October 2014

My life as a dog

Humans, with our enormous, complex brains, are excellent test subjects for conditioning. Conditioning is the formation of unconscious habit patterns of behaviour based on events that happen in our lives.  You know, like Pavlov's infamous dog.

I first learned about applying the concept of conditioning to PEOPLE from one of the wisest sparks of light I know, Shayla.  In my online mindful eating course we've been looking at how this concept applies to our eating habits.  It's not easy to step outside yourself and try to tease these things out.  This is also known as the "fish in the water doesn't know that it's wet" effect.

So my faithful companion (I'll call him FC to protect his identity) is giving me a paw with this exercise, since he's a dog and they know all about conditioning.

FC conditioning example: In my city many downtown businesses welcome your dog inside, and even give out treats.  There is one particular store that FC got a treat in ONCE, years ago.  We've been in many times since, but they don't give out treats anymore. And yet, every time we walk by this store, he really wants to go in.
Human application:  Many years ago, I actually enjoyed the taste of Diet Dr. Pepper, and felt great after drinking one.  I now feel sick after drinking it.  It actually makes my back hurt, which is confusing and troubling.  I know it's poison.  And yet, when I happen to encounter a Dr. Pepper opportunity in the afternoon, I really want one.  It's time to recognize that craving Dr. Pepper is pointless.

FC conditioning example: FC was afraid of having his collar put on him when I first got him.  He's a quirky guy.  So now he gets a little treat every morning when I put his collar on him.  This routine is a BIG DEAL with much excitement involved, because it precedes his morning walk. The second he hears the click of the buckle he's snuffling around looking for his cookie.  We both know it's not really about the cookie.
Human application: I've mentioned my fondness for fancy coffees before.  I get them decaf, so it's not like I have a physiological NEED for them.  I just love the routine of going into one of my favourite coffee shops, flipping through the newspaper, and enjoying the atmosphere.  It's not really about the coffee after all, but the peaceful break in my day.  I'm trying to acknowledge this and fully enjoy my fancy coffee break, instead of getting them to go.  Or, if I'm tempted to go drop almost 5 bucks at Coffeeco, maybe I just need a moment to sit in a sunny window and read the Globe and Mail.  I can do that for free at the public library if I really want to.  Their chairs are more comfy, anyway.

FC conditioning example: Since FC is part Labrador Retriever, I try to be careful with the amount of food he gets.  Sometimes he'll leave a few little kibbles behind in his bowl, and I always find this so odd.  I guess he's full.  No room for 5 kibbles.
Human application: This is an example of what it looks like to eat purely out of hunger, and to stop eating when the hunger is gone.  No conditioning - just straight up eating. Leaving food on my plate is a new phenomenon for me.

FC conditioning example: FC is showing signs of developing a new eating habit that I need to quash immediately. Recently while we have been enjoying relaxing weekend breakfasts, he has lurked past the plate of food that we have left at his nose height and large items have disappeared into his mouth.  He's like a magician.  Or a black hole.  First the full slice of peameal bacon, then the cinnamon bun.  This is new - he used to just take sneaky little licks of food when we left it at his nose height.  We are going to ensure that he does not succeed at this again, or else this will become a serious problem.
Human application: I made some very delicious homemade granola* (links to recipe below) a few weeks ago and brought a jar to work as an "emergency" snack.  I discovered that it is even more delicious with chocolate milk, and what do you know?  The next day I somehow had another snack "emergency".  I recognized the warning signs of a bad habit forming, and divested myself of the chocolate milk in the work fridge.  Looking after myself = making colleagues happy. 

FC conditioning example: FC came into my life as a 1 year old.  I don't know what his early eating experiences were.  I was determined not to have a dog that begs at the table, so I have NEVER fed him from the table, and nobody else is allowed to, either.  FC begs at the table anyway.  He is part Lab, after all.
Human application: I don't really know how all my early experiences may have shaped my beliefs and habits around food.  Some of them may go way, way back.  I might not be able to change all of them because they're deeply ingrained.  There are no skinny women in my family.  Recognize, accept, adapt.

*I found 2 new food-related blogs while searching out my granola recipe online.  These blogs are nicely written and aesthetically pleasing.  This is a popular recipe, and these two ladies explain why:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Live to eat, or eat to live

Well, I know which camp I fall into.  My sweetheart falls into the other.  I recently asked him to do one of my mindful eating exercises with me.  Here's how it went:

Him: I'm not chewing 15 to 20 times.
Me: Just try it!  You should do it so you can notice mouth hunger.
Him:  I don't have mouth hunger - I have belly hunger!!  I want to get it down there!  Give me that!!

This is the same man who suggested that if I felt upset about eating too many brownies, I should just stop putting them in my mouth.

APPARENTLY he doesn't experience mouth hunger (ie: a craving to put food into his mouth for the sake of enjoying its flavours and textures, rather than to satisfy physical hunger).  He said he eats when his belly is hungry.  Maybe he'll chew on a blade of grass sometimes.

I couldn't let such an audacious declaration, which I assumed must be a flagrant lack of self-awareness, rest.  I thought of examples to prove him wrong.  I reminded him of his stash of "Chicago Mix" flavoured popcorn in his vehicle, or his habit of getting a McDonald's muffin (the absolute epitome of a "food-like substance") on every road-trip.  But he had clear awareness of the motivations behind eating these things.  Interestingly, he said he enjoys the surprise of the different flavours that you get with each handful of Chicago Mix.  Hmm.  Sure sounds like "mouth hunger" to me.  

Can this be eaten mindfully?
Everyone eats mindlessly sometimes.  What's interesting to me is that some people have an innate wisdom that prevents them from doing it EVERY time they eat.  There are so many possible reasons for this, some of which might go all the way back to childhood.  In my sweetheart's case, I suspect he has a diminished sense of smell.  He doesn't seem to get as much pleasure from really good food as I do, and I think it's because he can't taste the subtle flavours in it.  This can work in my favour when I'm being experimental with my cooking, but it's a little frustrating when I make something amazing.  He likes it all, unless it's too spicy.

He summed up our different approaches to food pretty succinctly: "You eat to make your mouth happy, and I do it to feed myself".

I have another friend who is much more like me - we often discuss our food-related frustrations. I don't think she'd be offended if I said she's in the "live to eat" camp too. Not long ago, after a lovely healthy lunch from a local deli, she declared: "I'm full!  I don't know if I want to eat the rest of this."

Think about that for a moment.

I laughed, because I recognized myself in her comment.  I'm full, but I keep eating anyway.  I'm full, but I'm thinking about a treat.  I'm full, but I want to polish something off.  I'm full, but I can't stop.  

She took her leftovers home.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

This is mindfulness

I typed the word "mindful" into Google.  I got 15 million results.  Mindful money, mindful families, mindful nosepicking, mindful leadership, mindful blabbidy blah blah...

And I thought the word "random" was both misused and over-used.

There was even a link to mindful meditation.  I'm curious to know what's involved in mindless meditation.  I bet it's a lot easier than the mindful kind.  I might even be an expert at it already.

There are plenty of definitions of mindful eating - a few orders of magnitude less than 15 million, but enough.  A really good set of principles of mindful eating are here.

My definition is this:

This is easy to apply to eating.  Be fully and purely in the moment of eating.  Marvel at the processes that brought the food to your plate. Appreciate the effect of the food on your senses. Don't distract yourself while eating or rush to the next moment.

And, for pete's sake, don't take a selfie with your food or tweet about it.

(Writing a mindful eating blog about the food you eat is OK.)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

It's not about weight - part 2

Don't judge my posture - I'm not
focused because I am in paradise.
Go ahead and judge my bathing suit
though - it totally deserves it.
But it kind of is. 

You see, while we were in Nicaragua last winter we spent several days at Rise Up Surf Camp, with really fit people in revealing bathing suits.  I was not a member of The Beautiful Bikini Body Club.  I had my own very exclusive club - the I Just Turned 40 So I Thought I Should Buy a Modest Two-Piece At Walmart For This Trip Club.

I had no choice but to face my feelings about my weight head-on.  I was happy I hadn't tried to willpower myself into reaching some arbitrary number before the trip.   I was not happy knowing that I was not at my healthiest or most comfortable weight.  But "I was what I was", as everyone loves to say.  So I accepted that as best I could.  My sweetheart could give a more honest appraisal of how well I did at that.

The mindful eating resources that I like (for example, this one) speak directly to weight loss, and how you shouldn't get all hung up about it.  One practitioner advocates a "weight-neutral" approach.  This concept appeals to me, but I keep stepping on the scale to see if my mindful eating practice is "working".

Now, 6 months after I started writing this post, I FINALLY get it!  Mindful eating is really just about developing a truly healthy relationship with food.  Like, say, eating something nourishing to your body and soul when you are hungry, and not eating when you are not physically hungry.  You know, obvious stuff like that, that's much easier to read about than to do.  

Weight management has so much baggage wrapped up in it - physiology, genetics, cooking habits, lifestyle, unrealistic expectations, etc. etc. etc.  Mindful eating deals with the fundamentals - what you put in your mouth, and how much you enjoy that.  

In my field of work there's a lot of talk of the 3-legged stool of sustainability.  Without one of the legs your stool just becomes a tripping hazard.  The 3-legged stool of a healthy and happy body (for me), is mindful eating, healthy food habits (like making lunch the night before and having a fridge well-stocked with vegetables), and adequate physical activity.  Mindful eating on its own probably won't have a major effect on what my body looks like, and that's fine.  But I can't make positive changes to my physical health without mindful eating.  

Uh-oh - now I have one of my least favourite Michael Jackson's songs trying to sneak into my head...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Who's hungry for...a cookie?

I once had a friend who had a sign that said "Who's hungry?" on her fridge.  I didn't understand the sign at that time, but we are exploring this very question in my online mindful eating course.  Now I get it.

The question "Who's hungry in there?" is a way to assess the "8 hungers".  We recently did this as an exercise for my course.  Before eating something, we do a little check-in to see which of the 8 hungers is compelling us to eat.

I shall use the perennial T!m H0rt0n's* Smile Cookie to demonstrate.  Every September, I am delighted to discover that grody ol' Timmy's has launched its smile cookie fund-raising campaign.  The staff wear smiley cookie T-shirts, and there are big smile cookie decals on all the store windows.  Even though I don't usually go to Tim's I can't miss this very special week, since Tim's is omnipresent.

Here we go then - the 8 Hungers and How They Convinced Me To Buy a Smile Cookie

Eye hunger:  This actually doesn't even look very good.  It looks like all the food from Tim's - pre-fab.  I can almost see the signature bitter chemical aftertaste.  Plus they make these things smaller and smaller each year and that bugs me.  But the sticker on the take-out bag is quite attractive.

Nose hunger:  While Timmy's smells somewhat alluring when I bike by each day on my way to work, this item reeks of food-like substance

Ear hunger:  Nothing.  Different story if we were talking about a handful of M&M's that you crack between your back teeth, one by one, snapping the candy coating off in big chunks...

Mouth hunger:  As always, the mouth is "an insatiable cavern of desire" (Jan Chozen Bays' words, not mine, but so so true), and can't wait to enjoy that perfect combination of chewiness and subtle crispiness.  Better living through chemistry is right - I've baked a thousand cookies in my lifetime and I've never replicated those textures consistently.

Stomach hunger:  I just had lunch not so long ago.  I actually don't need any food.  My belly is quite content as is.

Cellular hunger: I could use some caffeine to get me through the afternoon.  Sugar is not required.  (Luckily cookies go so very well with coffee).

Heart hunger:  I feel happy when I see the smile cookie propaganda because it happens every September and I love September.  I also recollect that the first year I got hooked on these I was spending a lot of time at one of my favourite places.

Mind hunger:  I don't need this.  It's OK that I have this because this is my tradition.  I'm going to have one smile cookie each day this week and then they're gone until next year.  I will not have 2 smile cookies a day like I have in previous years.  What am I doing?  I'm taking a mindful eating course so buying a smile cookie is a good practice.  I'm kidding myself.  I don't care. I want a smile cookie!


What do you know?  Miracle of miracles!  After doing this exercise, I lost all interest in the smile cookie.  I finally realized that they USED to be delicious when they first came out over a decade ago.  Back in those glorious days they were enormous, and tasted like a human may have been involved in their manufacture.  Those days are gone, gone, gone, and I was just eating them out of a craving habit.

I tried this exercise before eating a small, beautiful supper with produce from my garden one night.  It wasn't so illuminating that time.  Basically I was hungry and it was a nice meal that also looked pretty and made me feel righteous.  The power of this exercise is doing it when you're eating something you know is somewhat iffy.

The most fascinating part of this exercise, aside from realizing that smile cookies actually are kinda gross (you were right, RT), is that so many of my fellow course participants noticed that their stomachs were full before their eyes, mouth, or heart was.  And, most of us discovered that it took much less food than we thought to make us full.  

Only cellular and stomach hunger need to be nourished by food.  The rest can be nourished in other ways (as in Die Augen Essen Mit).  If you want to feel content in life and eat an appropriate amount of food, learn to distinguish the 8 hungers and act accordingly.  Simple?  Nope, not at all.

*Names of implicated fast food chains have been changed to avoid litigation.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

You know where it's easy to eat mindfully? France.

The scent wafting from this picturesque
bakery each morning was truly satisfying.

And that's because when one is in France one is on holiday (not in front of a computer or in a car), one does not have access to one's own kitchen, one is happy and well-rested, and one is surrounded by a cornucopia of beauty for the eyes, ears, nose, AND mouth.

Beautiful AND delicious.
I seriously did eat somewhat mindfully on my trip to Provence and Paris this summer.  I told myself before the trip that I wasn't going to limit myself or worry about gaining weight or avoiding sugar or caffeine or anything - no rules.  As Dr. Jan Chozen Bays says in my online mindful eating course, in North America we try to solve problems by attacking or incarcerating them.  I didn't want to take any of that North American messed up nonsense on my trip of a lifetime.  I wanted to experience the French paradox fully.  In France they don't do coffee to go.  In Canada, our biggest cultural icon is a chain that has taken over the country and people's common sense with its bitter, scalding coffee to go.  Vive la difference.

Now, I did clean my plate and even have seconds at most meals, but I savoured every single bite thoroughly.  I ate slowly and enjoyed the smell of the food, its presentation, the wonderful combinations of flavours and textures, and the company I was with.

My most interesting observation during my trip: I had NO afternoon chocolate cravings (despite what you might assume based on the accompanying photo), or sugar cravings for that matter, at all.  Every guide to Paris goes on and on about chocolate and macaroons.  Neither called to me, as I was not interested in eating between meals.  I even got sick of cheese, meat, and bread by the end.  I did not get sick of the wine.

I felt pretty pleased with my approach when listening to the ladies I was travelling with talk about food and eating.  Many of these ladies were a decade or more older than me, and vibrant and healthy, and yet they were STILL concerned about their waistlines. Do I need to say that they did not clean their plates?  They even mentioned the c-word - calories.  My god, I thought, I DO NOT want to be running that same old tiresome soundtrack through my brain 5 years from now, let alone 15 or 25 years from now.  I figured I would never eat food this delicious again for a long time, and it was prepared with great care, so I should just enjoy eating it (all of it).

After. I alone cleaned my plate,
and I don't regret it!
Of course, continuing to eat when I'm quite full is not the epitome of mindful eating.  But at least it was a choice I made consciously (I hope our chef appreciated it!).  I did not let all my hang-ups about food follow me to France.  I ate a lot, but I didn't do it out of compulsion, or boredom, or tiredness, or any of the other reasons that I usually have for eating when not hungry at home.  

Vive la liberation?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Memories of...100 cookies

Whether or not chocolate is the boss of me is debatable.  Chocolate chip COOKIES, however, are undoubtedly the boss of me.  They are my kryptonite.  Therefore, I have avoided them almost completely for the past year.

On the eve of launching into my mindful eating online course, I had a chocolate chip cookie disaster.  My last chocolate chip cookie disaster is known as The Time I Ate 100 Cookies.  It was a few years ago now, but was so epic that my sweetheart and I still refer to it when I am teetering on the brink of a mindless eating maelstrom.  My most recent CCCD (chocolate chip cookie disaster) was almost as grisly. I think that sharing it may help me process and move past it.

There happened to be a bag of President's Choice "The Decadent" Chocolate Chip cookies in our office this week.  If you live in Canada, you know these cookies well - President's Choice brand's flagship product. The brilliant, sinister marketers at PC brand use them to advertise insurance and mortgages, for the love of pete.  I don't even like packaged cookies, but I love these.  I have never bought a bag of them for myself as an adult because I know I can't control myself.  It is rather suspicious, don't you think, that they have not disclosed the narcotic substances that the cookies must be laced with in the list of ingredients?

So anyway, I thought maybe I'd just have 2 as a mid-morning snack, while I continued working on the computer.  Poof.  Gone. Surprise!  OK, maybe just one more.  Wait, where did that go?

I continued like this for a few hours, with furtive trips into the common area where the bag of cookies lurked, before a brilliant insight came to me: 

No matter how many of these cookies I eat, I will never feel satisfied, so I might as well stop now.

How righteous I felt!  I made it through the rest of the day, triumphant at 4:45.  I think a sympathetic colleague hid them, just to be safe.  One of the first mindless eating episodes that's cemented in my memory is a bag of these same damn cookies in our family pantry, and me tiptoeing down the hallway instead of concentrating on algebra homework in my bedroom.  25 years later and I may have actually tamed this salty, slightly chewy, and maximally chocolatey beast.

The next morning at home I consciously acknowledged that the bag of cookies would be at work when I arrived there, and that I had a choice.  I decided that I would not eat any of the cookies, since I had had so many the day before and was not that satisfied by them.

At 10 am I revised my decision based on new information (I was hungry and had packed a disappointing lunch).  I decided that 2 cookies, eaten very consciously with my cup of tea for maximum appreciation and satisfaction, was acceptable and prudent.

Let's skip past the graphic and disturbing details that followed.  An hour later the bag of cookies was empty and I felt really gross.  The end. 
A disturbing scene.