While I was leading my first big meditation class many (over 16) years ago for about 30 people, I was, at one point, describing some of the real life issues that mindfulness could help with. When I listed compulsive behaviors, I said “like working with food & eating” and I raised my hand as I said, “I know that one personally and mindfulness has changed my entire relationship to food, thank you very much.” Then I moved on to other things I was presenting. I had just thrown that all in as an “aside.”
I continued the mindfulness presentation at hand and hours later, at the end of the workshop, a group of women came up to me. There were 8-9 of them and they all crowded around me, as if there was an urgent issue. They almost spoke as a group, as a Greek chorus, and they asked fervently if I could teach them the mindfulness techniques pertaining to food and eating that I had referred to earlier. They all said that they were members of OA (Overeaters Anonymous) and CEA HOW (which I had never heard of before, but apparently is another group for Compulsive Eaters) – and while there was support and the ability to talk about their problems, they said they weren’t being given practical techniques like I had referred to – to actually change their relationship to food & eating. And they WANTED that. Badly.
So I said okay. That decision changed the next 2 years for me.
No one had ever taught me these techniques, I developed them as I was inspired by the possibilities that mindfulness presented, but I felt I could share what I knew and see if it helped. I started off with one 3-4 hour “Mindful Eating” workshop that I taught in my home (because I felt it was important that we work with food near a kitchen and in an actual home vs. a studio – I felt that kitchens are part of the environment we needed to work with.)
Well, since this was in my home, I could only fit 6-8 people max, and when I offered the first Mindful Eating Workshop, it filled up with a waiting list. So I offered a 2nd and 3rd – and each would fill up with a waiting list and this went on – with my offering these 4-hour workshops every 2-3 weeks – for over a year. I could not believe how much need there was for this – and I knew what I was offering was what no one else was offering at this time – but I was also aware that more was needed. Each of these women needed a 2nd, 3rd, & 4th workshop, and some kind of support group or individual support – it was more than I could do by myself.
So after about 18 months, I connected with another woman who I knew had worked fervently with eating issues at meditation on retreat (although I knew she worked quite differently than I did), and together we offered a weekly support group in Santa Monica for over a year. At one point, we led an 8-week class (which, to this day, I think of as one of the most wonderful workshops – each of us offering all we knew and had discovered or developed. Our different styles joined in a beautiful way – coming up with so many insights into this most complex process – and the women who took it were enthusiastic & appreciative.)
I also led mindful eating meditations on KPFK (a local public radio FM station in Los Angeles), for health groups (like Gary Null’s), vegetarian dining groups, and other meditation centers. It seems I did nothing but this for over 2 years and the more I taught (and tuned into my own process), the more ideas and strategies i came up with (and tried with people.) I so wanted to help everyone be able to tune into the positive, rich, more satisfying relationship with food – without being so victimized by the triggers, the compulsive unconscious behavior, and the emotional ride from not being able to control one’s eating – plus some people were dealing with very real physical issues that had developed from unhealthy eating habit patterns.
After a few years, we started calling it “Conscious Eating” since we’re all pretty clear what UNconscious eating is, but I return now to “Mindful Eating” since I do believe that is the most appropriate title – plus now mindfulness is a much better understood term than it was 10 years ago.
I have now put in over 15 years of guiding mindful eating meditations, eating/food issue workshops, and helping private clients with specific unhealthy behaviors with food, and the more I’ve taught & talked & tasted – the more insights I’ve developed, the more techniques and strategies I have created and tried – I’ve seen how what works for one person may not work at all for someone else – and I’ve learned how complex this issue is.
In fact, my meditation teacher, Shinzen Young, will often say that eating issues are probably the most complex and difficult to see results from – but he also says “It’s not a quick fix – but it’s a DEEP one” – and I ABSOLUTELY CONCUR! Because of the complexity of thoughts & feelings and habit patterns involved that go so deep – in terms of what we eat/when/where/and why – if one can deconstruct that and find freedom, one will find those tools and insights will be helpful or applicable to every issue. It makes a lovely reward for such hard work. I’m grateful for having been able to help so many dedicated people begin to really change their relationship to food & eating to one that is positive and connected to a healthy body & mind.
This coming Saturday (November 14), I will be offering a rare Mindful Eating workshop that is open to anyone . It is a TELECONFERENCE workshop – so that each person can participate in their own home, at their own table (or wherever they tend to eat) – helping to bring these techniques into the home where they are most needed. The other advantage of Teleconference is that people all over the world can tune in – and if you are interested but not available at that time, you can sign up and everyone who signs up has access to the recording of the workshop for a month afterwards.
This special MINDFUL EATING WORKSHOP is being offered as part of Shinzen Young’s Basic Mindfulness “Home Practice Program” – so it is a special one-time offering.
If you have any interest, this link with give you more INFO & HOW TO PREPARE: http://www.mindfulnessarts.org/MINDFUL_EATING.html And TO REGISTER: http://www.basicmindfulness.com/
And for those who are reading this and will not be partaking in our workshop – let me give you 3 quick tips.
1. BREATHE. A big breath in & out – before your first bite (and in-between bites whenever you can.) Most people hold their breath before their first bite – and breathing not only can relax the body (helping digestion), but it can also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you consume food in a more relaxed state.
2. CLOSE YOUR EYES. Think you can taste your food? Really? Try taking a bite – noticing how it tastes – and then close your eyes and see if you can taste it better. A whole new world opens up – like adding 1000’s of taste buds.
3. GRATITUDE. Give a prayer of appreciation to all the care and work that went into that food being in front of you. From Mother Earth, to the farmers, packers, cooks, etc., – a lot of human energy – and nature – went into it – so giving appreciation for that work, for that blessing, for having the opportunity to eat it – can be a powerful practice. (Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hhan has some lovely meditations regarding this.)
So, be mindful out there – and “in here” – for yourself, your body and your health. And may your relationship with food be one in which respect for you, your body & health are key ingredients – as you ENJOY every morsel!