For many of us, everything we currently know about eating we learned from diets:
- Eat as little as you can manage
- Listen to “experts” instead of your body
- Be as hard on yourself as you can tolerate
- Stop eating what you like and eat what you “should”
- Cleanse or detox the harmful substances out of your body
- Avoid the dangerous nutrient du jour (previously fat, recently all carbs, currently sugar)
- Break your body down into individual parts, fixate on how they don’t measure up, and continue to function as if torturing yourself will eventually allow said body parts to comply with unrealistic standards
Yet, as enticing as all of this sounds, more and more evidence is emerging to show us that dieting actually leads to weight gain (not to mention complete alienation from your body)! See this wonderful video about the reality of diets from Evelyn Tribole, my mentor and one of the authors of Intuitive Eating.
This giant disconnect is just part of the reason Susan Piver and I decided to offer an online program called the Dharma of Diet, in which we explore how meditation can support a sane relationship with food and your body. By way of introduction to this course, the following are some thoughts on what meditation can teach us about how to eat:
- Focusing on the breath teaches us to synchronize the body and the mind: When we sit to practice meditation, we place our attention on the breath, which is always coming in and going out in the present moment. In this way, our bodies and minds are in the same place (a relatively rare occurrence for many of us!). Much the same way, our “eating bodies” exist in the present moment – we are a certain degree of hungry or full and we have specific tastes and cravings, all of which change moment to moment. By fostering the connection with the body, we can begin to notice and respond to internal cues that tell us what, when, and how much to eat instead of the external cues (like diets).
- Sitting with ourselves helps us develop non-judgmental curiosity: As we practice just being with ourselves in meditation – as opposed to always doing, running, and accomplishing – a lot of things come up. When they do, we can choose to run away or to become curious. And because the meditation technique is so gentle and accommodating, becoming curious might seem a little less threatening than it did before we practiced. Choosing not to run (or to eat to change the way we feel) is how we start to develop great bravery, and bravery is definitely required when we are contemplating doing something different than seemingly everyone else in the world.
- Looking at our minds guides us to see the nature of reality: Once we develop some curiosity about our minds and bodies, we recognize both physical sensations like hunger and fullness and mental experiences like thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. We can know with a degree of certainty that we are hungry, what we are hungry for, and when we are satisfied. And we can distinguish the hunger that exists in our stomachs from the hunger that exists in our hearts. We can recognize the ways in which we use food to feed our bodies versus the ways we use food to change our feelings. We can also begin to question some of our deeply held beliefs, such as “my body is making me miserable,” “I’ll be happier when I lose 20 pounds,” and “my weight is preventing me from finding love.”
- Holding our seat despite what arises teaches us to tolerate discomfort: Perhaps the greatest thing meditation can teach us about how to eat is how to tolerate discomfort. Painful emotions like sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and anger often lead us to the pantry or fridge when we’re not hungry. Turning fully toward these difficult feelings takes an enormous amount of courage but can actually be a lot less scary than pushing them down with food or other substances. Learning to tolerate discomfort also lessens our isolation, makes us more compassionate, and contributes to a greater sense of confidence.
If you would like to learn more about what meditation can teach you about how to eat, join Susan and me beginning March 9th. In addition to the topics above, we’ll be discussing:
- How to reconnect with internal signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction
- Ways to feed the non-physical (or heart) hunger that can lead us to the fridge or pantry when we really need a different type of nourishment
- How to begin to treat your now-body with respect, dignity, and loving-kindness