It’s not often that I buy a book, read it from cover to cover, go back, read some more, pull out a highlighter, fold back pages, and read it again. Well, unless it’s a cookbook of course. But last month’s reading project contained no recipes. There weren’t even any pictures inside! Nevertheless, my copy of this book needs to be read with sunglasses because the majority of its pages are now fluorescent yellow.
Eating Mindfully consists of 46 short lessons that can be immediately applied to every day life. Dr. Susan Albers begins by tackling the first big question, “what is mindful eating?” The definition involves being fully aware of every step in the eating process, using all of our senses, and being in tune with our own thinking patterns, emotions, appetites, and ultimately our minds. She talks about how problematic mindless eating habits develop, then gives a quick overview of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as taught by Buddha. These include the following:
- Mindfulness of Mind – Being aware of your transient states of mind, which alter the way you view the world.
- Mindfulness of Body – Being aware of how it feels to be hungry and full (or too full), feeling your breath and bodily movements.
- Mindfulness of Thoughts – Conscious or unconscious, positive or negative, rational or irrational.
- Mindfulness of Feelings – Sensing emotions in various parts of your body, and how those emotions can be linked to eating habits.
In September when I read Savor, I said in my review that I found a large amount of the content to be focused around Buddhist teachings, and delivered in a fairly abstract way. Savor also seemed to specifically target individuals wanting to lose weight. The sentences seemed fairly profound and weren’t always very easy to interpret, but this was not the case with Eating Mindfully. Dr. Albers’ approach talks briefly about the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness, but she moves quickly on to how to apply them to every day life. They can be applied to anyone wanting to develop more mindful habits, not just those striving for weight loss. Before moving into the 46 lessons, she describes 3 types of mindless eater. More extensive profiles are given in the book, but just to give you an idea, here’s a brief description of each:
- The Chronic Mindless Dieter: Categorizes food as good or bad, makes food choices based on hoped-for weight loss rather than nutrition and good health, engages in yo-yo dieting, cuts fat, doesn’t listen to body’s cues, believes he/she should be an ‘ideal’ weight, thinks and knows a lot about caloric content vs nutrient needs.
- The Mindless Undereater: Restricts food or eliminates food groups, has strict habits, desires perfection, experiences physical consequences as a result of eating habits (low heart rate and temperature, loss of menstrual cycle, etc), defines self by weight, disapproves of his/her body.
- The Mindless Overeater: Knows eating is out of control, eats more than average, eats and chews very quickly, keeps eating even when he/she knows they are full, eats small amounts in public but lots when alone.
- The Mindless Chaotic Eater: May overeat then purge, gets excessive exercise, has swelling around jaws, fears becoming fat, experiences negative self-talk.
It seemed to me like there was a lot of overlap in these categories – for example, the negative thoughts, the obsession with weight, the restriction of certain foods, etc. Although the author explains how different types tend to deal better with different treatment focuses, the lessons that follow can be applied to anyone striving to put an end to mindless eating habits. Here are three examples:
Lesson #9 – The Compassionate Mind.
In this lesson, Albers talks about what being compassionate means according to Buddhist philosphy, and how Buddha said that without compassion for yourself, it isn’t possible to have compassion for others. We are often our own worst critics, and when discussing our eating issues, it’s so easy to speak negatively. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t make us feel any better about ourselves. In this lesson’s Skillbuilder, Albers suggests changing self-critical thoughts into positive compassionate ones. For example, rather than telling yourself “I’ve screwed up and I have no willpower”, replace this with “Everyone makes mistakes” or “Being mindful is a process; it takes time.”
Lesson #18: Release Body Tension with Mindful Breathing.
I liked this lesson because it applies to so much more than just eating. We encounter sources of stress (or I suppose I should say that we encounter situations that we interpret as stress) several times each day, and this creates tension in our bodies, sometimes without us even realizing it. Albers talks about how deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen in our bloodstreams and hence, clarifies thinking. By performing her deep breathing exercise in this lesson, you become so focused on inhaling and exhaling that you can’t possibly be absorbed in thinking about the issue that is causing you to become tense.
I’ve stopped myself a few times lately in semi-stressful situations (for example, when sitting in traffic, sitting in my office doing work, etc) to tune into my breathing. Not surprisingly, the breaths were short and quick. Putting what I learned from this lesson and others to the test, I took a few deep breaths and focused as hard as I could on noticing the feeling of the inhales and exhales. It might sound a bit kooky, but after a minute or so, I felt so much more relaxed. I dare you to try it!
Lesson #45: Stay on the Path and Keep Walking.
This lesson starts with the quote “Fall down seven times, get up eight“, a Buddhist saying about the ability to persist and keep trying. Dr. Albers talks about how Milton Hershey (founder of Hershey’s chocolate) went bankrupt several times before he was successful. I for one, don’t know how this was possible – he was selling chocolate to a world that is roughly 50% female!!! Anyways, the point was that those that keep trying eventually are successful, and this applies to mindful eating too. Dr. Albers suggests that the best way to ‘pick yourself up again’ is to be kind to yourself (there’s that compassion again), accept it, and let go. If you become out of tune into your senses, keep trying.
The book concludes with plans for 4 scenarios (mindless eating, mindless undereating, chaotic eating, and stepping back in tempting situations), each of which contains some quick and very practical things that you can do in order to encourage yourself to be mindful. Dr. Albers also provides some useful resources for those looking for professional help.
Our lifestyles have become so much about multitasking and being productive. I think that everyone (myself included) could do with a little slowing down, and tuning into what we see, smell, hear, feel, and taste. Regardless of whether you’ve got weight to lose, gain, or maintain, I’d recommend giving this book a read. And if you want to borrow my copy, I’ll even lend you a pair of sunglasses. 😉
Questions for today:
- Have you read Eating Mindfully, or any of Dr. Albers’ other books? What did you think?
- Would you consider yourself a mindful eater?
- If yes, is this something you’ve practiced over time? What strategies do you find help you?
- If no, what situations or issues make it difficult for you to be mindful?