My relationship with food has never been great. I honestly can’t even remember a time when my eating habits were truly healthy. Even as a young child, I would eat out of boredom all throughout the day, especially right before bed. Practically all of my memories of food involve eating alone, in front of a screen. I have always been accustomed to over eating. I never really learned how to tune in to the “hungry” or “full” signals my body was sending me. Whenever I would attempt to reign in my eating or go on a diet, it inevitably ended in an even worse result like over restricting, binging, or purging.
Even though food and eating was always a problem area in my life, it was a huge part of it nonetheless. Problems with food are especially tricky. Unlike other unhealthy addictions, food isn’t something that we can just “quit.” Imagine if an alcoholic needed alcohol throughout the day to live. I think it would be much harder to manage that than never touching liquor again. I really thought for most of my life that I was doomed to keep repeating the same unhealthy cycles with food, never truly finding a healthy balance.
A few years ago I stumbled upon a technique called mindful eating. I had heard it was effective for helping people to stop binge eating. I gave it a try in the past, but only managed to keep it up for couple meals. It is surprisingly hard to take away that mindless zoned out comfort of stuffing your face while watching your favorite shows. I told myself at the time that I just couldn’t handle giving that up. As sad as it may sound, it felt like my one joy, the favorite part of my day.
Fast forward to now, years of yoga and meditation later, and I am finally ready to try again. For the past three days I’ve been trying to live more mindfully in general, but especially when it comes to food and eating. It’s helped me to imagine how my meals would have been in the past when there was no technology to supplement them. I try to imagine generations upon generations of human beings who came before me having meals. I think, this is what a small piece of life must have felt like for my parents, my grandparents, etc. It helps me to feel connected even when I’m eating alone.
I sat down before my dinner last night and watched a couple short videos about how to eat mindfully. I actually began laughing at one point at the sheer absurdity of it all. What a strange world we humans have created for ourselves. A world where we are so disconnected from ourselves and our bodies that there are actually instructional videos on something as basic to our nature as eating. Even so, these videos reminded me of all the little pleasures of food that I have been so carelessly missing my whole life.
When was the last time you paused to smell your food before digging in? Have you ever touched the food to your lips before taking a bite? Do you let yourself eat with you hands when you can? Notice all of the many textures and shapes of this nourishing matter. Notice the colors and contours. Notice the way the mere presence of food illicits a reaction from the body. Our mouths starting to salivate in preparation for digestion. Take the time to eat as slowly, really exploring the way the food feels and tastes in your mouth.
It has been an amazing experience to get back in touch with my body and really start to savor and fully enjoy my food. It is fascinating to take the seat of the observer as I navigate my interactions with food. Mindful eating for me is definitely still something I need more practice with. It is surprisingly hard to sit in silence with my food. It is actually really challenging to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly. I can feel my body switching into autopilot as soon as my food is ready. As I am eating I constantly catch myself zoning out, entranced almost. It takes real effort to concentrate and eat with intention, utilizing all my senses.
I will say that even my far from ideal mindful eating practice has helped me tremendously. Not only with food, but in my life in general. I have been feeling much less anxious over these past few days. My body feels happy, healthy, and respected. I’ve been able to enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied after a meal. Although the urge to binge is still there, especially after dinner, I’ve managed to overcome that urge so far by making sure I am eating enough throughout the day.
For anyone struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food, I would highly recommend giving mindful eating a try. It has definitely been a challenge, but one that I am so excited to keep working at. If you’d like to read more about what mindful eating is and learn strategies for how best to practice it, I found a free pdf of the book Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers. One of the mindful eating videos I found recommended it and I am excited to check it out myself. I truly feel that a mindful eating practice is a beautiful way to get back to our roots as human beings and rediscover what it really means to be alive in these amazing bodies of ours.