Have you ever been eating popcorn at the movies, and with a bit of surprise, feel the bottom of the bag? Perhaps more suddenly than you would have thought? You say to yourself, “Wait, did I just eat that entire bag of popcorn?” Yes, yes you did. The internal dialogue continues, “How is it possible that I just ate that whole bag? I mean, I was just watching the movie…” I hear stories like this so often from my clients, and I can certainly relate. This is what we call mindless eating. Eating while doing something else means we are not doing either one with much attention and therefore, missing opportunities to be more mindful.
Although mindfulness has a lot of buzz around it lately, it is important to remind ourselves that it is a state of being rather than something we do; it’s a way of being rather than doing. Let’s take the example from above, mindless snacking at the movies on popcorn. We can’t possibly be paying attention fully to the movie AND to the eating. Most of our awareness is drawn into what we are experiencing on the screen so we are mindlessly munching away on popcorn and before we know it, the whole bag is gone. How much of that popcorn do you remember enjoying? Take the same example and flip the script. Each handful, each crunch, paying full attention to the taste; we are reveling in the experience of eating, and the movie on the screen seems like background noise. Our awareness is shifting and that is what brings us to the state of mindfulness.
So why don’t we employ this technique of total awareness to eating every time we eat? What is the cost of not being in a state of mindful awareness around food? Do you become frustrated with yourself after meals because you have eaten too much? Not enough? The most common misconceptions I hear about food and eating: I worked out today so I “deserve” this treat, I ate too much already so I might as well have the extra dessert or extra helping, I am a bad/good person because I ate that, the list continues. The concept of the body as holy, as something to be revered and cared for with love and affection, just as we do the Torah, is a powerful technique to remind us to bring mindful awareness to the messages we are sending our bodies as we take care of them. The practice is to listen to what your body is telling you, pay attention to your intuition, and then act accordingly. If you want an ice cream cone on a warm summer day, enjoy it fully, eat it with attention and you will feel more satisfied than mindlessly destroying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while binge watching Netflix. I completely understand that this is easier to say than to do but like anything that is a practice, the more we do it, the more automatic it will become.
In fact, the laws of the kashrut are reminders of how we stay present in our choices about nourishing ourselves. These dietary laws are in place for a multitude of reasons, and one of them is that by paying close attention to what we are eating, we are integrating mindful practices into the mundane task of eating. It serves to heighten our sensitivity to making sure that what and how we are eating, our secular life, is in alignment with our spiritual life. We have the added benefit of reciting a blessing over whatever item we are eating; with special blessings for bread, snacks, fruit, and more. There is a blessing for everything! Judaism sets us up for success by creating the foundation for a spiritual relationship with food and eating.
The approach to eating with awareness means that we utilize all of the tools that are inherently given to us to appreciate and enjoy our food and employ them with gratitude. This is how eating becomes a mindful state. It sounds so easy! Our lives are so busy, but as one of my clients said to me recently, busy is a choice. It’s true. You CAN take one breath before you eat that first bite and give thanks; bringing your awareness to the moment and utilizing all of your senses to take in the experience of eating. THIS is the key to mindful eating.
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