Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading two books that I never got to during my yoga training. They both have to do with mindfulness while eating, about tackling the issues beneath and/or undermining every attempt to diet (or not to diet), about dealing with the baggage we’ve carried around with us since childhood and how and why that translates into our eating habits. As last week’s post was extraordinarily long, I’ll try to keep this one short, sweet, and to the point.
The basic point of both: diets don’t work. Food is a coping mechanism, a distraction from what’s really going on deep inside.
The first is by Geneen Roth, titled Women, Food, and God. In essence, this book discusses the theory behind the importance of mindfulness in our daily lives–how it changes lives. Roth candidly discusses her own 50-year struggle with food issues as well as those of her students at retreats. To come directly to the point, she believes that our eating behaviors are a direct reflection of our deepest-held beliefs and/or belief systems, whether we overindulge or underindulge, binge or starve.
Although I disagree with her on one level (I hold some very strong spiritual convictions of my own), I think she hits the nail on the head most of the time. We get so wrapped up in food–what we can and cannot eat, calorie-counting, all the fad diets, and so forth–that we are ignoring–no, avoiding–the real issues that are making us miserable, anxious, and huge (or miserable, anxious, and anorexic). We choose to focus on controlling our intake (or not, if we’re in rebellion against a nameless authority within our minds) because we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that by fixing what and how we eat, we’ll fix our bodies and therefore will fix whatever is wrong and/or broken within us.
Um, yeah…about that: as Roth says, no physical fix will ever make us happy.
The second book, which I read first, is by Susan Albers, titled Eating Mindfully. I loved this book more because I feel it’s very practical and immediate. One part theory, four parts helpful tips, this book is essentially a guidebook for getting yourself on track to eat mindfully. Albers discusses the kinds of eaters there typically are before giving 55 great tips, plus some extra goodies in the back, to the reader to help them learn self-awareness. Additionally, the book is small with short chapters. If you only have a few minutes each day to read one, this is the mindfulness self-help book for you because you can apply it to anything in your life. Eating habits are just the beginning of mindful living.
At no point in either book do the authors poo-poo medical advice. Albers highly recommends taking hers to your doctor/dietician appointments so you can discuss the techniques in it and use the ones that will especially help you. Nor do either pass judgment. The whole point, as Roth repeatedly reminds the reader, is to discover what’s going on beneath the surface, not to judge the junk that comes up in order to beat yourself up all over again–that’s not going to help.
Mindfulness is about recognizing when you’re tripping down a mindless, destructive path and then using positive self-talk and helpful reminders and/or exercises to get you back on track. If you are someone whose tried every diet out there, gained and lost weight for too many years (Roth says that she gained and lost 1000 pounds before finding her mindfulness practice), hate yourself for binging, hate food, or just hate dieting restrictions, try these out. There are very few “rules” and absolutely no “good” and “bad” food lists. I mean, it cannot hurt, can it? This is your health, after all, and your quality of life. You are worth it!