Mindful eating can be a tremendous tool for avoiding excess food intake while getting maximum enjoyment from the food you do eat. It’s not a skill that comes easily, however. It’s much like meditation in that regard, so it’s no surprise that the two practices are heavily linked. I’ve been practicing mindful eating at home off and on, more on the last month or so, and I’ve been complementing that practice by studying Zen Buddhist meditation.
I’ve also been a member of The Center For Mindful Eating (TCME) for a few years, mostly because it gives me access to their regular newsletters and teleconferences (some are member-only, others are not). The latest offering was on “Barriers to Mindful Eating.” The speaker, Ronna Kabatznick has a mindfulness-based practice in Berkeley, CA and is author of “The Zen of Eating”
Dr. Kabatznick said that our life is a process of making mistakes and confronting our demons and often times working at our patterns and difficulties over and over and different ways. Most people who eat mindfully feel better, but it is very difficult to sustain it and do it consistently.
We actually have an innate capacity for mindfulness, but there are a number of barriers, or hindrances, that hijack our awareness from the present moment, from the sensations of eating, tasting and swallowing. The result? We eat mindlessly, returning to the present moment to find that there’s no more food on our plate. These are the big five barriers:
- Sensual desire. The experience of being absorbed in satisfaction (sight, sound, smell, etc.). It’s the first lick of the ice cream cone. We like pleasant sensations, so we keep eating more, without realizing that those sensations don’t last. It’s not really about the food, because once you have the food you crave, you only have it for a little while. Then you crave something else. It’s a vicious cycle…you crave, you get, you crave again. The very process of wanting is painful, the feeling of not being complete. When we think or worry about the next bite instead of enjoying the current bite, we can’t be mindful. We don’t fully enjoy what we’re eating, and we may eat much more than we need to feel satisfied.
- Aversion. Aversion is the opposite of sensual desire. We’re trying to avoid feelings of anger, which may come from having our feelings hurt or feeling powerless. We obliterate ourselves with food. We don’t even see what we’re eating and before we know it we’ve downed the food because we don’t want to feel the painful feelings. We use food to punish ourselves, and a feeling of ill will corrupts our eating habits. We don’t feel the kindness and nourishment that comes with food so we cut it off. We are unkind and unfair with ourselves and food, which is a huge hindrance to mindful eating.
- Boredom. Dullness of the mind, sluggishness, lethargy. We try to overcome with this with food, but we end up not noticing what we’re eating.
- Restlessness. This comes from the “Monkey mind.” You always want to move to something better. No food you choose is quite right. You keep seeking satisfaction but you can’t find it anywhere. This can apply to choosing an eating plan. Paleo? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? You can’t commit, you can’t settle down, you can’t be mindful.
- Doubt. The hindrance that questions the value of mindful eating and the ability to engage in it. You aren’t convinced that mindful eating actually matters, and you are pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to do it right even if it does matter. That’s quite a barrier!
Do any of these sound like you? Recognition is the first step. There are many good resources on mindful eating, and the TCME store has a great list of books (many of which are in my library, waiting to be read).