I am not a ‘Buddhist.’ I am, however, an aspiring vegan. I’ve had a vague sense that learning to meditate (or activating the part of me that always knew how to) could have some positive effect on my life. Or on my disordered eating more specifically. So finally I spent some real, quality time with myself out in the void. And sure enough – little bits of clarity begin to ring true and through from the immortal self. Fearful thought patterns are starting to break down and I am overwhelmed by gratitude. Mindful eating has helped me heal. Bulimia, from my experience, is reactionary. Meditation slows down the time in space to give the suffering a chance to choose not to suffer. It is as simple as this.
Buddhist thinking certainly offers more insight. I now refuse to take ownership of any disease related to my struggle with food, I choose not to identify with having an active disorder. This creates an identity from the self-induced pain of my life does nobody any favors.
I am unattached to the weight fluctuations and I do not identify with my mutated body dysmorphia.
Of course, this is a process, Rome wasn’t built in a day! I have not been able to sit comfortably in my own skin for over 18 years. Finally, I am ready to accept whatever it is. Whatever it is, is what is, you know?
The truth is that all human beings eat and food definitely has naturally soothing and stimulating qualities and many deeply emotional and personal functions. I’ve dedicated an entire lifetime to battling and suffering from an eating disorder but it’s finally getting better. It has not been magically lifted, but almost!
But how do you restore such a difficult relationship with food?
I decided to make the following ‘Eating Check List’ which, you will soon see, is not much of a list. But more a spherical orb of advice. It is inspired by Thit Nach Hahn’s ‘How to Eat’ and embellished by my experience living with a deeply disturbed, ever changing, eating disorder. I pray it brings just a little bit more peace to your relationship to food, yourselves, and the world at large. I am no critically acclaimed expert, but I’ve been ‘there’ as much as anyone has.
9 Steps for Mindful Eating
1. Be present and sit down
Thit Nach Hahn teaches us not to eat our troubles. If our mind is running through our to-do lists, stress from work, relationship problems, planning, or plotting, we can easily forget that we are eating a delicious lunch someone meticulously prepared for us. Or even our own haphazard sandwich creation can go unnoticed, unappreciated… As hard as it may be in our hectic lives to leave our work and online personas out of mealtimes, the practice of putting food first while you are eating it makes a huge difference in the level of satiety available to us when we are eating. It seems obvious, and it is. Notice how far you stray the next time you sit down while you eat. Why is it more important your own full sensory presence?
2. Be grateful
By staying present while we eat, we open up space to really notice how wonderful it is to prepare even a simple snack. Think about the Earth, the worms, the compost, the sun and the rain. First there is a seed, then there is a tree, next there is a blossom. Then a fruit, a hand to pick the apple, a machine to clean it. More hands to box and then drive, perhaps fly, the apple to even more hands who sort and then display the fresh food, that we as customers buy. Why, then, would we miss out on the very best part of the whole food chain: eating.
Mindful eating will, in very little time, instill a wealth of joy into your mealtimes and life as a whole.
My spiritual guide, LA-based Ayurvedic doctor Seeta Narsai, encourages me to thank every part of the food chain just as the urge to binge shows itself. Re-wiring the brain’s circuitry takes time, but it does get easier. One less binge now could mean one less binge tomorrow.
3. Be sincere
When we respond sincerely to hunger cues, our entire organism reaps massive benefits. Once you are truly in tune with your body’s particular nutritional requirements, all thoughts of ‘caloric budgeting’ will be automatically lifted from your life. The disconnection between body and mind can be healed by a dedicated commitment to the breath, to your true nature, in all your affairs.
4. Take your time and use all of your senses
Hold each sip, bite, nibble sensually and reverently in your mouth. Allow what’s cold to absorb the warmth of your inner cheeks, churn your food into a delicious soup. Use your eyes, your sense of touch (both your finger tips and your tongue), and your smell. Even your ears to hear the crunching and slurping. Tuning in to all of the sensations is mindful eating. Look at your next sandwich like your boyfriend just proposed to you with it. It’s a 14 carrot super sandwich with black diamond sesame sauce.
5. Remember to breathe
Breathing was the absolute last thing in cue on my level of consciousness in the throws of a binge. So I imagine this is true for anyone struggling with the habituated habit of eating more than your body “needs”. As you stay with your inhale and your exhale while eating, you will immediately feel more calm.
6. Leave some room and chew your food properly
Just like with a washing machine, it is good to keep a little space in the stomach to aid in maximum digestion. It is best to eat until satisfaction is achieved, not ignoring your body’s signals. Listen to the body’s natural way of saying ‘thank you for the food, I don’t need more right now.’
7. Do not panic
In moments of overindulgence, do not panic. Or do panic! But breathe through the panic. Recognize whatever underlying needs and desires that could possibly draw your awareness away from the uncomfortable, unconscious, humiliated ego and point it towards genuine interest in something else besides binge eating. When your craving to binge presents itself, sit with it until it goes away. Whether in practice of mindful eating or in any other action.
8. Develop a spiritual life with ritual
As esoteric as it may sound, I have found the color yellow to be a very stimulating and healing quality of my recovery. One day I found myself consciously drawn to yellow objects and I began to adorn my living space with yellow things. According to the ever-knowing Google search, ‘The third chakra is called Manipura, which means “lustrous gem.” Located around the navel in the area of the solar plexus and up to the breastbone, it is a source of personal power and governs self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation. The Manipura chakra also controls metabolism and digestion.’ And yes, it is associated with the color yellow. Leave yourself funny notes…Pray or meditate, change your routine, you know the drill. Dance to the tune of your heartstrings, no matter how stupid you may feel for as long as it takes. The ego is like a sweet onion, once you peel back all the layers of tortured self-awareness, there is nothing left to feel stupid about because there is nothing left!
9. Let go and be well
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