On Eating with Mindfulness

I am working on my graduate school application portfolio this week, which is a lot of work in a short amount of time. I am grateful that I have this time at home to just do this-as apposed to also having to go in for catering shifts whilst trying to apply to graduate school; HOWEVER…I can really really FEEL the stress of this work weighing down my chest and stomach.

I’m starting to bite my nails, I’m becoming ironically less organized, I’m trying to do too many things at once, and I am using eating as a form of procrastination. 

The logic goes like this: “Hmmmm,” I think to myself, “I don’t really know how to get the shadow in this photo to go away and I’m feeling really discouraged about it. I guess I’ll just give up for a little while and- oh, look, there are some corn chips, those will help fill the gnawing hole of anxiety in my stomach. Nom nom nom,” which turns into NUMB NUMB NUMB.

This topic came up as I was reviewing my undergraduate portfolio. There is a small section where I talk about my interest in nutrition and good cooking. I grew up in a household where physical health and nutritious eating was highly valued.  However, just before puberty, I went through a chubby phase.

It started when I was in 3rd grade. I would come home from school, eat an ice cream cup, melt some cheese on a flour tortilla in the microwave, roll it up, and go plug myself into the TV (even though I was not allowed to watch TV on school nights). I was addicted to the sensation of eating and television. No wonder I went through a chubby phase. In my undergraduate portfolio I attributed my unhealthy eating with a negative relationship between my mind and my body. While this is not untrue, my current self-knowledge lends a different perspective on the situation.

I have a bad habit of attaching my self-worth to achievement and external validation. If I make a mistake, I might as well just put a bag over my head in shame. If I didn’t get straight A’s every year, I wasn’t worthy of being around. If I upset someone or heard someone say something negative about me, I was in tears in my bed at night. If someone did better than me or got a part in a play that I wanted, they had some other fault that made them worse off than me anyway.

Tracing this back to 3rd grade, I remember very clearly thinking I couldn’t spell but being terrified of getting a bad grade on the weekly spelling quiz. Fully believing that I was not capable of actually learning the words, I cheated regularly on these quizzes by hiding the list in my desk. I was sneaking a lot of things at that age. Luckily and unluckily I was caught after the boy at the desk next to me stood up in the middle of a quiz, dramatically pointed a finger at me and shouted, “MOLLY’S CHEATING! SHE HAS THE LIST IN HER DESK!!!” I cannot say that I retrospectively approve of the way in which my teacher handled that situation, but I can tell you that the experience prevented me from cheating on a spelling test in her class again.

All this ties back to shame. For whatever reason, as a third grader, I started feeling shame. I believe that in order to numb these feelings, (see Brené Brown) I turned to food and television. This is ugly, but these are my challenges. My comfort is in being able to name them and build my self awareness of them.

I am extremely fortunate. I was able to break my television habit about five years after it started. I broke myself of shopping habits. I broke myself of regular nail biting. I am working on healing my stress eating response and I am working on mitigating my stress reaction as well. (Nail biting by the way, still happens every once in a while and is a direct indication that I have unaddressed stressors).

Ahhhh stress. A silent killer. Feeling shame is a form of stress, if you ask me. My personal work the last few years has focused on “freeing myself from the jealous and comparing mind.” (Buddist Nun, Jeong Kwan). I feel very happy about my progress in this arena. It is a constant practice.

Another practice I have is in an to attempt to break or at least mitigate my stress reaction, which leads to behaviors such as over eating and nail biting. The practice is simple. It is doing one thing at a time. If I am having a cup of tea in the morning, I purposefully just drink my tea. I do not read the paper and drink my tea. I do not scroll through Instagram and drink my tea. I just drink the tea. It is excruciating.

This practice is particularly sacred to me at mealtimes. I truly feel food to be one of the most holy and sacred co-creations between humans and the earth. I constantly have to ask myself why eating and just eating is not an entertaining enough activity. I consider eating and socializing a perfectly healthy and happy practice, don’t get me wrong. I also heartily approve of the salubrious act of eating in the outdoors. But eating and reading, eating a Youtube-ing, eating and scheduling, eating and talking on the phone….all these distract from the opportunity to deeply appreciate the miraculous relationship that is represented in the act of eating.

Next time you find yourself eating and- anything, pause. Stop. Place your feet on the ground, take a breath in and let it whoosh out. Feel the pathway of your breath through your body. Look at your plate or bowl or glass. What is there? Where did it come from? Who brought it to you? Who prepared it for you? Think of all the sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and human energy that is contained by the food on your plate. Then take a bite. How does it feel in your mouth? Does the taste bring back any memories? Can you describe the taste? Swallow, and allow the eating experience to deeply nurture you.

This is how I eat mindfully. This is one way I practice happiness.



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