Mindful Eating

Bringing Compassion to Eating

I canʼt count on fingers and toes how many times I have referred people to Dr. Kristin Neffʼs YouTube videos and web site to find out a bit more about self compassion. Self compassion is a strange concept for some of us. It may initially sound self indulgent or sentimental. But it is far from that. More like a radical shift in cultivating insight and developing the strength to be the best we can be.

This quality is not only crucial in getting through the rough spots in life, but also important for developing resilience for managing ourselves during every day problems. Because we all have to do our share of tasks that are unpleasant, even horrendous at times, taking care of ourselves is of utmost importance.

Often we get triggered by familiar people, activities or places. Triggered into mind states that are difficult to bear. We often can not prevent difficult experiences in a world where we may not have a lot of control. But we can learn to ride them our with kindness and compassion to ourselves and others.

I am often reminded of how eating something sweet or rich or even salty and crunchy can just make us feel better immediately. Why donʼt you try an experiment on yourself? Get yourself a small bag (no more than a few ounces- say 4-6 pieces) of chocolate or ginger candy or some small sweet of your choice. A small box of chocolate truffles will do. Or a small chocolate bar cut into pieces. If chocolate may not be your favorite treat, think of what would best represent a treat for you. Let the confection be of bite size pieces and not hard candy that takes a lot of time to dissolve in the mouth and is really bad for the teeth. Only make sure you donʼt buy more than 4-6 small pieces at a time. Make this purchase with care, a special treat for yourself. Buy a good quality chocolate or candy cream with the same dedication you would purchase such a gift for a friend. Pay attention to your health requirements when making your choice of treat.

Now think of an incident in the last two weeks when you had a really unpleasant encounter with someone. Someone who was unfair or unkind and tactless. Someone who you find difficult now to think of without becoming upset or angry. If this doesnʼt work to get you upset, think of some other event that was difficult for you to get through. Really give yourself a few minutes to reconstruct the upsetting event or conversation.

On a bit of paper, write a number from 1 – 10 representing on the Big Scale of UNPLEASANT events- how would you rate this one you are now remembering? 1 would be very slightly upsetting; while 10 would represent an unbearable degree of annoyance and negative emotions – the top rating! Just give it your own subjective rating for being upsetting.

As your memory has taken you back to that moment: unwrap a piece of your candy and put it into your mouth. Now put all your attention on the taste in your mouth. Where in your mouth do you feel the sweetness? How does it really taste? Allow yourself to fully enjoy and think of nothing but the flavors bursting in your mouth. When the candy is gone, go back to the thought of the event you remembered before putting the candy in your mouth. Now rate the degree of upset you are feeling at this moment in time. Rate your feelings again on a scale from 1 – 10.

All that remains now is for you to compare the two ratings. Did eating the sweet drop the degree of upset you were feeling remembering the difficult conversation or event from the recent past?

If eating the sweet eased your emotional distressing memory, do you now see why we reach for something sweet and / or soothing to bring quick relief when we are going through a difficult time?

Sometimes this is the best we can do to get through and keep moving forward during our difficult day. If so, it is important to not give ourself a hard time about it. I know I would like more options. Many people take up the challenge to discover other ways to navigate through lifeʼs inevitable hurdles. For options to become available at critical times, mindful awareness needs to be cultivated.

As we practice self compassion (or loving kindness meditations) we build resilience for steering clear of over-eating in difficult emotionally driven moments. But it is not an instant solution. Sticking to learning mindful ways toward self care to re-condition our brains and our hearts when eating has been our main solace is a challenge. So, how about starting with understanding a bit more about self compassion?

Here is the link to Dr. Kristin Neffʼs wise advice about the value and the approach to compassion for the self.