I had a funny moment this week when a volunteer who has worked with me for about a year now said that this (mindful eating) stuff had finally had an effect. She told the story of how she had gone to the Student Center to buy a piece of pizza and how she was really looking forward to eating it. She went back to office and sat down with the pizza. Instead of the familiar pizza she was used to eating, she tasted the cold, congealed taste of grease. She took two bites and threw the rest away. She was a little startled that one of her previously favorite foods had now become inedible. She looked around for something else to eat but, working on a college campus, good food can be hard to find quickly. She has determined that she will need to bring her own food in to eat and we discussed various foods that would be easily to pack with her for the day. She said that I had also ruined eating at fast food restaurants for her. A high point in my day!
This is what happens when you really pay attention to what you eat and how it affects you. It might not happen overnight, but if you practice being really present, it definitely changes the experience. When I first started meditating regularly, the first thing that I noticed was I stopped drinking soda. I was a 3 to 4 can of Diet Coke drinker at the time and I stopped cold turkey. I was so aware of the chemical taste all of a sudden that it was no longer appealing. I had already stopped eating fried food because of how it made me feel. And, soon, I was noticing the effect of really fatty, buttery, sugary foods on my body. It isn’t like I gave up on dessert, but I have become much pickier about what kind I want to eat.
Mindfulness about the food you eat also includes paying attention to the quality of the food that you eat because of the harmful effects it could have on you and the environment. I have a friend who is currently studying “food law” and is horrified at some of the information she is being exposed to. She said “Honestly, if I didn’t love food so much I think I would just quit eating, given some of what I have been learning about our foods and food system. It’s not bad enough that we really don’t know what’s in a lot of food (GMO, antibiotics, hormones, etc.) Just this week, I have learned about the “defect levels” below which the government will not take any action (not that they really do so at higher levels either). The “defects” had to do with the amount of mold, dirt, stones, etc., and the number of flies, rodent parts, etc. that can be in our (canned or packaged) foods.”
Being mindful about eating includes paying attention to all aspects of the eating experience. The more I read, the hard it does get to want to eat anything that I don’t know where it came from and how it was produced. And then, I think, I can’t make myself completely crazy here. I have to balance, like you do, everything in my life and eating is just one of them. But it is an important one. Your life really depends on it so it’s best not to stay too unconscious about how you eat.
Staying present is the key. In my classes I always teach a raisin exercise in which I ask people to taste a raisin as if for the first time. It is always fascinating that people report that they don’t think they have really ever tasted a raisin before, even though they have been eating them all their lives. What are you not noticing? How about bringing your full attention to eating the food that you know isn’t that good for you, but you think you really can’t live without? You might still want it. But, you might not and be better off for it.
Meditating a little bit each day can put you in touch with the everyday things of your life–helping you to pay attention and make choices that support your health, your happiness, and your overall well-being. Try one of the meditations on our website at http://www.umsystem.edu/curators/wellness/wellness_video.