The Meditation Diet

Here we are in the third week of January. This is the time when most of us who made New Year resolutions are already slacking off. Statistics show that only eight percent of people who make New Year resolutions actually stick to them, and most people abandon them after just one week.

Weight loss is the number one resolution we make, and I was no exception. I decided to try a low carb diet to lose ten pounds, and started January 1. After three weeks of it, and not losing a single pound, I got discouraged and gave up.

My other resolution was to change not just what I was eating, but how. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to read while I eat. I like classified ads or small bite-sized information that I can read between glances at my plate. Maybe it’s a habit from living alone. Not sure. But I do know that it disconnects me from the eating experience.

I don’t have a dining table. Well, actually I do, but it doubles as my sewing table and it always seems to be covered with fabrics and notions and knits being blocked. The table used to do double duty but I’m still reeling from the time I tripped and spilled an entire plate of spaghetti marinara over my sewing machine and project. Since then I’ve moved to the worst place of all to eat: at my desk in front of the computer.

Yep, one hand on the mouse, the other holding a fork. And is if it couldn’t get any worse, while I eat I surf the internet for those bite-size nuggets of information, typically news. And what’s usually in the news? Bad stuff. Death. Destruction. Suffering. Not really what I want on my menu.

I looked over at my bunny, Gilligan, and how he eats. He’s focused. He eats one piece of cilantro at a time. He chews, he swallows, then he starts another piece. His eyes half close in contentment. When he’s full, he stops.

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When I teach my mindfulness classes, we eat a single raisin as slowly as possible, using all the senses and observing what happens when we slow down and focus on the task at hand. Eating becomes a meditation in itself.
Evidence is emerging that the best approach for long term, healthy weight management is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation reduces stress, bridges the mind-body split that is at the root of most disordered eating, and puts you in touch with your natural hunger and satiety cues. It also frees you from the influence of emotions and thought patterns that provoke you to eat (when you are not mindful and conscious of them).
You can practice this yourself, using a single food like a raisin or a handful of nuts or an orange. Then extend it to your whole meal. Then expand it to the steps in cooking your meal, savoring it, and even cleaning up afterward. I love the idea of washing your dishes as if bathing a baby Buddha. With practice, your whole life becomes a practice of mindfulness.
Here are a few tips to explore mindful eating:
  • Eat in a place free of distractions such as TV, computer, phone. Before the first bite, take a few deep breaths to get settled.
  • Appreciate your food. Take a moment to ponder where it came from, who grew it, who transported it to your table, even your own efforts to prepare it.
  • Notice. Are you feeling impatient? Are you mentally distracted? Don’t judge yourself; just notice what’s happening as you prepare to eat.
  • Use your senses. What textures, colors, smells do you notice in the food you are about to eat? Observe.
  • As you take your first bite, keep noticing what’s happening in your mind. Are you making judgments about the food (too hot, too cold, too salty…)? Notice how easy is it for the mind to make comparisons.
  • Chew thoroughly. Savor all the textures and flavors you experience.
  • As you continue to eat, the mind will likely wander off into thoughts. When you notice this, bring your attention back to your food and the experience of eating.
  • When you feel full, stop eating and spend a few moments breathing quietly before moving on to the next task.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Class Starts Soon

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be teaching my first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in San Diego beginning October 23.  More details and registration here, and see the flyer below.

So what is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR? It’s a structured 8-week course that develops the quality of present moment awareness through meditative disciplines such as sitting and walking meditation, mindful movement (gentle yoga stretches), and bringing awareness to daily activities such as eating and interacting with others.

Meditation itself simply refers to the activity of paying attention on purpose. In this practice it is possible to develop the capacity to see things as they really are in a non-judgmental, open-hearted way, allowing for the capacity to live more fully, less on “auto-pilot”, and with greater clarity and insight.  This in turn reduces physical and psychological stress.

MBSR was originally developed in the 1980s by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.  Since then, a large body of evidence has developed to demonstrate the benefits of attention practice in the health care setting.  These concepts will be explored, experienced, and expanded in the basic 8-week course.

This fall’s class will be very intimate, limited to just six people, so sign up early to guarantee your spot.

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