Friday, November 26, 2010

Stop eating mindlessly

Posted By on Fri, Nov 26, 2010 at 1:46 PM

I posted a review of a relatively new book, Savor: Mindful Eating Mindful Life, on my personal website, Sacred Disorder, a few days ago. The book is part of an explosion of writing about mindful presence, borrowed from Buddhism, that has occurred in the last couple of years.

"Mindfulness" refers to the kind of full presence in the moment that is developed during meditation (although there are other less trying practices). As I say in my review:

The idea is that bringing mindfulness to eating — and any other behavior — enhances our presence in the moment. And that means we don’t eat out of control on auto-pilot. Generally, it means a considerable reduction in the rumination that takes us out of immediate experience. When we are fully present, we have much more power over our choices, rather than behaving by force of habit.

The experience has a demonstrable effect on the quantity and quality of food that one chooses to consume. It is also very effective in helping people develop broader tastes. I've used it with plenty of clients in my private practice as an example of how paying close attention can increase pleasure.

Soon after I wrote my brief review of Savor, I received the latest issue of The Shambhala Sun. Not only is the issue devoted to the subject of mindfulness, it is also accompanied by a supplementary new publication, Mindful. And it includes — you guessed it — two articles about mindful eating.

Although I'm fully supportive of the notion of mindful eating, I'm also awful at it, since I usually read while I'm eating. In fact, I read while I do most everything, and this can distract me from full attention to what I'm doing at the moment. I'm not sure that conversation over dinner doesn't do the same thing, though.

Also, I find this therapeutic approach to mindfulness a bit excessive in its claims. The new Mindful, includes an advice column by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has done more to publicize and teach the effectiveness of mindfulness in reducing anxiety and depression than anyone else in America. He makes this point:

Mindfulness is not about fixing anything, but about seeing things as they actually are and then being in wise relationship to them, even if it is difficult or painful. While "fixing" is not an option in such a situation, healing is....

And yet these books and the new magazine really do seem to advocate mindfulness as a way of fixing everything from overeating to lousy leadership skills. There's nothing wrong with demonstrating the technique of mindfulness in different situations, but the practice remains the same.

I do like, however, that Jan Chozen Bays, author of "Mouthfuls of Mindfulness" in the new magazine, does take up the subject of taste briefly. The article's not on the Mindful website (linked above) but probably will be soon.

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