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Mindful Eating

The Zen of Eating

After reading this article, I was inspired to buy the book The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznik. I am really liking it a lot. I’ve been very attracted to Buddhism for a long time and this book just calmed me down and made me feel hopeful. I think that this is going to be very useful for me. A few passages from the book have already made me a little tearful, they resonate so much.

The Buddha defined suffering as a ravenous appetite to find peace and security in places where it can’t be found.

The nourishment that comes from being kind to yourself and to others is the kind of food that stays with you.

Some suffering is inevitable, and some is optional. This is an important distinction. A certain amount of sadness, loss and frustration are built into the framework of being alive. This is inevitable suffering. Optional suffering is within your control: it comes from your reaction to situations, inevitable or otherwise. Optional suffering is what you add on to whatever happens.

It’s good food for thought. (no pun intended) I also just decided to sign up for a beginning meditation class nearby, starting in April. I can’t help but believe that it will help me in this journey.

This “Fullness” Thing

So I know that the mantra of mindful eating (and also Weight Watchers, BTW) is that one is supposed to “eat when hungry, stop when full.” Sounds simple, right? But for me it is one of the most difficult things to grasp.  I guess for so many years I did no such thing – I ate for ten million other reasons than hunger, and went way beyoooooond fullness, that it’s like trying to learn how to knit on a unicycle.

Last night we went out to this fantastic Italian restaurant. (daughter was out with friends so I skipped the pot pie thing for another time) I was all prepared. I’d had a fairly light lunch. It was after my weigh in. I’d accumulated many “activity points” from my nice long walk/run.  I told myself I’d have plenty of points to spare, so while I was not going to pig out, I would relax. And yet try to remain mindful.

When we got there, I was thirsty. I drank a big glass of sparkling water with lemon.  I had a teeny little piece of bread about the size of a biteful. This restaurant brings things Sicilian-style, which means family style and everyone shares. I didn’t have a problem with that, in fact I thought it sounded like a good option. Appetizer one arrived: eggplant rollatini, which I adore. I divided it into four little sections, each one about two bites.  I took one little section and thoroughly savored it.  Lovely. Then we had an antipasti plate. I had a wee little strip of prosciutto, and about a tablespoon’s worth of marinated bell pepper and eggplant. Nummy.

But then, guess what? I was full. Or at least satisfied. I think my stomach was so full of bubbly water, that those five BITES of food were literally enough. But our entrees hadn’t arrived. I started feeling bummed out, like knowing I was supposed to stop there, but not wanting to miss the main courses. I was confused. I didn’t know what to do.

The main stuff arrived: homemade linguini with clams, and a big tureen of mussels. I’m sure I had enough points to enjoy both of these things. I really wanted to taste them. I took about 1/2 cup of linguini, about four clams and four mussels. You know how big clam and mussel meat is? It’s TINY. Probably totalling about three tablespoons. Max. The linguini was absolutely divine, but as I ate I was conflicted.

Mind you, I was much LESS full than I ever would have been normally – I was just MORE full than “satisifed,” which would’ve stopped after the appetizers.

So while I loved the dinner (I really, really did) I also felt distracted and confused by what I was “supposed” to be doing.

I guess I’ll figure it out someday, and be able to eat in relative peace.

Meanwhile, my copy of the Zen of Eating arrived in the mail. So far, I am loving it.  I think it might give me some help with this area.

Give Up, or Step it Up

I decided, in the interest of honesty, to adjust my weight-loss meter downward to reflect reality. It wasn’t just a temporary bump, apparently. This two pound leap has lasted more than a week so I have to call it real. However, the one pound bump from yesterday is gone. 🙂

Yesterday was a real turning point for me. I have been at this point so many times before, and so often I take it as a cue to sigh heavily, (no pun intended), throw in the towel and say, “I just can’t lose weight.” It actually sort of astounds me now to think that I believed it would magically melt away with a minimum of effort. But then again, there are countless promises out there that this is exacty what will happen.

So yesterday I had the choice to either wring my hands and give up, which would lead to me gaining all the weight back, OR I could step it up. I decided to step it up. Today I went to the gym and did 45 minutes on the elliptical, including one nice hard sprint, followed by 2000 meters on the erg machine just for extra. I was GOING to go to a yoga class after that but instead decided I’d be better off going to the shoe store.

I have super flat, painful arches in my feet. The first 15-20 minutes of any workout, even plain walking or using the elliptical, is excruciating for my feet. My running shoes, which were once lovely, are now three years old and basically I might as well strap a couple of pancakes on my feet. They’re worthless, and yesterday my trainer told me very sternly that I am doing damage to myself by working out in these shoes. I got some new ones. They feel amazing. I can’t wait to work out tomorrow!

After getting my shoes, I realized I had not eaten much anything yet. I decided to take myself out to breakfast. This place across from the shoe store advertised breakfast for $6, including eggs and something mysterious called mamounia, or “middle eastern cereal.” I ordered steamed eggs with mushrooms. It came with a bagel (which I did not touch), and a little bowl of this lovely looking brown hot cereal. I thought, if it’s brown it must be healthy. (OK, are you laughing at me yet?) I gingerly took a spoonful. It was sooooooo good! Mmm, I love mamounia! Whatever it is! Finally I asked the waitress, “What is in this?” and she said, “Cream of wheat, cottage cheese, butter and brown sugar!” Ohhh. So that’s why it was so delicious. Thankfully I only had 3 spoonfuls, which was actualy quite satisfying. Saved by mindful eating. I murmured a little prayer of appreciation to the mamounia and then did not touch it again.  I noticed I was not totally wild about the eggs, but ate them anyway because they were the only thing on my plate I could eat. I ate about half. I hate throwing away money (and I was already throwing away the bagel and the mamounia) and I knew if I didn’t eat it, I would be really hungry pretty soon. So I ate half. What would mindful eaters do in this situation? Somebody tell me.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

I feel so much better now that I’ve had my lunch! Phew! I got a portobello mushroom “burger” which was a mushroom with a whole wheat bun. It was super juicy and delicious, topped with grilled red pepper strips and just YUM. I was sooooo hungry. This is a good warning to myself to EAT, especially in the morning. Sometimes when I can’t decide what to eat, I will grab a string cheese and that is often better than nothing.

It was interesting sitting around in this ice cream parlor place, watching other people. There was one family next to us: the parents were both significantly overweight, and they had one overweight kid and two regular-weight kids. They ordered burgers, fried onion rings (one of my prior favorites),  and sodas. Afterward, they had these giant sundaes. I looked at them and thought, really, is that what I want? To not have to think about what I eat? Because I would have made similiar choices at certain points in my past.

There was another older couple sitting nearby. The woman (I noticed she had a medic-alert bracelet on and wondered if it was for diabetes) was quite slender. She ate a small salad (picked off the croutons and put on her husband’s plate). The man was pretty overweight. He ordered a cheeseburger, potato chips, a chocolate shake with whipped cream. I thought, she is clearly making a choice there. She’s conscious. But is it for her health? Because she thinks she can’t eat that stuff?

It was just… interesting. I do see my weight loss journey like being on a river. Sometimes I’ve been on the Ignorance side, where I’m defiantly NOT making choices because of health or weight loss reasons.  When I’m over there, I look at the Conscious side, and think it doesn’t look like fun at all. When I’m on the Conscious side, I am afraid of falling off and ending up on the Ignorant side. It would be nice if I could just paddle down the middle, never being totally out of control but not having to spend so much time and energy on food stuff every minute. I’m hoping that as the healthy choices become more automatic and natural, it won’t be so time consuming.

My portobello mushroom burger was very satisfying and yummy. I was happy I made that choice. But for a few minutes, I longed for that Ignorance… until I looked around and saw what that really looked like.

What Works/What Doesn’t?

(for me)

Hilary over at Turtle Progress took my blog post topic right out from under me this morning (and did a great job of it, too). She wrote about structure vs. nonstructure, moderation vs abstinence. Go read it – it’s a great post.

I feel like I’ve been pondering these things very deeply ever since I began this journey on January 17th. I have tried to lose weight and have a “different relationship to food” for a long time now, and ultimately always failed. So I was very wary about trying anything new, or trying anything old for that matter, for fear of “failing.” Also, I was waiting to get guidance from my new doctor, my endocrinologist, in hope that she would give me a food plan for my prediabetes.

So what did she tell me to do? “Whatever works for you.” And we talked about how figuring out that “whatever works” is no simple task, but it is SO IMPORTANT. Because if you try to do something that doesn’t work, well then, it’s an exercise in futility. So I hesitated about accepting a friend’s invitation to join O.A.  I hesitated about going back to Weight Watchers. I read a bunch of books. I read blogs and articles and Twitter links constantly, searching for things that will resonate, that will go “ping!” I feel like every moment there’s a new choice to be made.

Here’s some stuff I’ve learned about my self and WWWD (what works, what doesn’t) in the past several weeks:

Sweet stuff:

  • Trader Joe’s Sugar Free Chocolate Covered Almonds: these used to work for me last year when I was doing South Beach. They don’t seem to anymore; ie I realllllllllly can’t eat just a few. Eat one, and I want to scoop up a whole palmful.
  • Hard candies: these work. These really, really work. The great thing is that they last a really long time – which seems to be key. They last as long as my craving for something sweet does.  Sugar free Werther’s hard caramels, and SF Life Savers are my friends.

Magazines: Let me say right off that I am a magazine junkie. I just find magazines soothing, relaxing, I like looking at the pictures and it’s just one of my favorite guilty pleasures. SO I’ve been checking out some new ones lately.

  • Diabetic Living magazine. Doesn’t work for me. I thought it would be good to check out what’s being said to this community, since I am on the periphery of it. It’s all about (seems to me) trying to calm people down about not being able to have their Ho-Ho’s and Ring Dings anymore, and giving them alternative Ho-Hos and Ring Dings. The tone is slightly patronizing and assumes that diabetics are REALLY into junk food.
  • Eating Well magazine. WOW this one works. Their subtitle is “Where Good Taste Meets Good Health” and it’s not expressly about losing weight, so it’s not a diet magazine per se, but it’s all about being healthy which means stuff that’s overall lower in calorie. They had a really interesting and intriguing article on bison meat vs beef and another one about the many ways to love asparagus. So they’re not jamming stuff down your throat, but just, this makes sense.

Weight Loss/Eating Approaches:

  • Overeaters Anonymous: to be completely fair, I have not been to a meeting in ten years+, and I have never been to one of the more hard-core “gray sheet” meetings. But I really feel it is not for me. Because I am the kind of person who needs to be constantly experimenting, testing, trying out to see if something works, and if it doesn’t I can’t do it. So a program that has a prescribed list of foods for EVERYone is not something that feels workable for me. I don’t believe that there can be a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, unless a person says, “Just give me a list so I don’t have to think about it.” Also, I object strongly to the secrecy around it and the fact that they won’t publish the damn list unless you go to a meeting and hold hands with people. My life has been damaged by people keeping secrets and I am very balky about these things. I recognize that OA might be THE perfect, life-saving, joyous path for many people, and I am very happy for them, but I really feel on a visceral level that it is not right for me. I don’t believe nor want to ever believe that I have an illness, other than prediabetes. I also don’t believe that there is no hope for me to ever be “normal.” I am holding that hope out for myself.
  • Weight Watchers: the jury’s still out on this one, since I have been through this program many time and ultimately abandoned it – often very quickly. I’m going to hang in there this time. I’m approaching it with a curiousity, what is it like to weigh food on a scale? If I do stay within the points they give me, can I be happy and satisfied and make it work? Sometimes the little classes are too dumb for words, but sometimes they are good and funny and inspiring. So what the heck. I do find it motivating to know that that scale will be there every week.
  • I noticed someone on Twitter called EatWithoutGuilt, which piqued my interest. I’d love to get rid of some guilt. After some perusing of her blog, I understand that her approach is something along the lines of the “Why French Women Are Skinny” thing; ie they eat all sorts of decadent and rich foods but they don’t gain weight. Why? Because they eat small amounts and don’t overeat and only eat what they truly enjoy.  I dialogued back and forth with Dineen and she was amazingly generous with her time and attention. I told her it truly does seem to good to be true, and that I could not imagine myself eating brie and chocolate and croissants without dire consequence.  I think it would take a major amount of re-training to be able to eat these things in the limited amounts necessary to lose weight. Psychologically, I am not sure I am capable of this right now, but it’s something that I would like to aspire to. One day. To be able to trust myself enough to enjoy ANY kind of food out there, to a healthy degree. Again, this might be too good to be true, but I’m not dismissing it as “never.”  Maybe one day.
  • Mindful Eating: This, I have to say, is the most appealing thing I’ve read.  It’s somewhat related to the EatWithoutGuilt approach in that it doesn’t advocate prohibiting particular foods. However it does advocate taking the time and mindset to make good choices, which often are the healthiest choices. It appeals to the wannabe Buddhist in me, the contemplative approach, the conscious and mindful approach. I read a very inspiring article in a local magazine about a woman who took a workshop with this approach and had a real turnaround. It sounded very much like a “good fit” for me and I am looking forward to exploring more.
  • The Beck Diet Solution: I’ve already gone on and on about how helpful I think this approach is, so I won’t be redundant here. It’s a more psychological approach, a cognitive-therapy way of going about things, and personally I am finding it enormously helpful. It doesn’t include a diet plan but a way of following the food plan that you choose. It’s a system of offering “helpful thoughts” to counter the myriad of “sabotaging thoughts” that assault us on a daily basis. I truly think that if I could remember the helpful thoughts throughout the day, I’d be in much better shape. I’ve been using these regularly since January and I truly think they have helped.
  • The South Beach Diet: I almost forgot this one. I would never recommend a particular food plan for anyone else, but being a glucose “impaired” person (my official status), all of my doctors have recommended that I follow a low-GI (glycemic index) sort of plan. I think especially doing Phase 2-3 of SBD is quite liveable, and basically what I am doing right now. I’ve found some excellent and delicious recipes at Kalyn’s Kitchen. It’s chock-full of great recipes for every phase of SBD. Thanks Kalyn!

I’m very curious and eager to hear what particular “approaches” or foods or magazines or books or whatever have worked for y’all. I do believe that these things are so individual, and that what works for some of us won’t for others, and vice versa. But I’m very interested in learning about the many tools out there for those of us who want change.

Next blog post brewing: what’s underneath it all.

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