There I was having a mindful eating moment. Though I teach others the importance of this technique frequently, I rarely slow down enough to practice it myself. What it took for me to have my own blissful experience–where you sit in total oneness with a food or a meal fully attuned to the multi-sensory act of eating–was the result of a harmonic convergence between my teenage daughter and not one, but two teenage boys.
It was a beautiful warm Friday in April when Zena and I found ourselves perfectly aligned to spend the afternoon together on the last day of her school spring break. Easily, the legendary village of Woodstock presented itself as the mecca for our little excursion. Morning obligations tended to, we hopped in the car and headed out. About a third of the way there, Zena decided to see if she could reach her summer camp friends, Ethan and Josh, who live there. Despite the fact that the two had school that day, and were actually in it when she contacted them, in vague teenage boy fashion they arranged that they would meet her somewhere after track practice.
It was the kind of day where you celebrate shedding the cumbersome clothing of winter and first drive with the car windows down. Whenever I go to Woodstock, the songs of The Band drift easily into mind, as I was once fortunate to see them perform there–in their adopted hometown. Little did I know that just a few days later, word of band member and Woodstock resident Levon Helm‘s death would pass a cloud over this sunny musical epicenter. But that day, it was all sunshine as Zena and I browsed the little shops, bought T-shirts and sunglasses and walked our way into that wonderful space where appetite is earned and asks to be rewarded with something special. We checked out a few little spots, yet in Goldilock fashion, it was not until we came to the Garden on the Green did we find the cafe that was just right.
Though the beautiful outdoor garden area was closing down for the afternoon, inside provided just as warm and welcoming a place to please my palate. Every inch was aesthetically charming. Ah, but there was more. The menu consisted of purely vegan offerings created from local provisions. We were giddy. Though I am no stranger to vegan and vegetarian restaurants when available, eating out in most places usually entails rapid eyeball movement over the menu to find the few non-meat selections. Here, every choice was seductively available.
We sat at the table by the large front window overlooking Woodstock’s little village green and ultimately decided to share a warm lentil pecan pate with sage, Tuscan arugula, and white bean salad and a wonderful black bean and roasted corn quesadilla. We settled in looking at all the pretty things that surrounded us. However, just as the food arrived, Zena said, “Oh, there’s Ethan!” and went running out the door to greet him. I turned to find her in that kind of exuberant silly hug that teenagers enjoy with one of those Skinny Boys. She ran back in and asked if I would mind that she go hang out with him, concerned about leaving me alone to eat. I said I didn’t mind. We asked the waitress for a to-go container and I packed up a little picnic box for her to take outside–complete with the nice silverware–which we returned later.
So there I was, alone with this beautiful food. Right away, I knew what I needed to do to fill my time. I had already embraced my surroundings–taking in the other diners, the waitresses and trying to interpret the Spanish conversation coming from the kitchen. I now needed only to address all of my attention to this amazing meal. With each sense engaged, I looked at, smelled, and lingered over every single bite. I considered the textures–the creaminess of the pate along with with the crunchy crust of the bread it spread itself upon, the lovely bitterness of the arugula mixed with the tender softness of the white beans. I chewed incredibly slowly, which is not something I ordinarily do and really appreciated the unique meal. And, yes, as I tell my clients is apt to happen, I sensed my satiety rather quickly. I was actually a little bummed. I could have easily eaten all of the food that was before me while I waited for Zena to return, but with careful listening, my body said it had enough. I was determined to honor it.
Right about then, I looked out to the window and my maternal lens caught a view of Ethan loping away in one direction while Josh came bounding in from another. Zena came heading back into the cafe. She asked for more time, mentioning something about guitar lessons. On most other days or in some other place, my patience might have waned, but not there and not then. As she skipped out again I perused the very vegan dessert offerings and extensive tea listing and chose a Chinese Sencha Tea with which to extend my experience. I had recently read about specially harvested Sencha teas and was excited to try one. I stayed committed to my mindful intention and inhaled the pleasant aroma with each tiny sip.
Not too long after, a parent-propelled car pulled up in front of the cafe and whisked Josh away–and Zena rejoined me. Though the teenage boys had vanished with a cinematic flourish, my satisfaction lingered. Since then, I have been more conscious to calm myself and to eat more slowly when I bring myself to the table.
Time and again in my work I am reminded how important mindfulness is in regard to eating. Mindfulness, or simple but exercised awareness, is essential for a balanced relationship with food. In the big dietary gestalt, we tend to focus the problem on what we are eating and to seek answers in changing dietary content. I myself am apt to tend and mend in this way as well. However, commonly what is revealed in the real story of eaters, is that a deeper conflict exists. Even in those whom I assume must have their inner compasses precisely calibrated and their plates all balanced, I eventually divine the agita, angst, stress, and shame that accompanies how people feel about how, why and how much they eat. This is often more so the problem that is seeking attention and assuaging. These principles are ably addressed and applied at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Slowing it down and paying profound attention ultimately can change the patterns, often dysfunctional, that repeatedly dictate our feeding relationship. From thoughts to actions, mindful eating can be a powerful tool for increasing compassion towards ourselves, helping to reassign food to its proper place and for improving physical health. In its most simple sense, it will increase the ability to truly taste and savor food. More profoundly, it can provide more information than most diets do; affords permission to eat and decreases deprivation feeding behaviors that usually backfire. Ultimately, it allows one to derive more pleasure with less intake. It can be practiced with one tiny piece of chocolate or with an entire meal. It can be explored casually or studied diligently.
Two books that are in my midst these days that address mindful eating are, Eat, Drink and Be Mindful a workbook by Susan Albers; and Peaceful Weight Loss Through Yoga by Brandt Bhanu Passalacqua. I recommend them both. I also invite you to choose a moment this week to eat mindfully. I would love to hear about your experience if you care to share it in a comment. Who knows, you may find that you shall be released and or that you begin to know better the shape you’re in.
Enough with the obtuse song references.
My Plate Haiku
Spread peanut butter
On whole grain sweet dark bread
Raspberry jam-yum. by Barb