Who are our role models as geeks? Often they’re people (or creatures) with extraordinary powers and gifts who are thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Caring for their own health and well-being is likely not high on their list of priorities. So, what messages are our heroes sending us about how to nourish our bodies? If we look honestly at most of our favorite heroes, they aren’t very mindful eaters. Whether due to lack of resources (all we have is lembas bread!), or simply because they spend so much time saving the world (it’s the apocalypse, we can’t stop at Whole Foods!), clearly we have some advantages that our heroes lack.
Even though I firmly believe that each and every one of you is already a superhero, we still inhabit these terrestrial bodies and so we have some mundane human things that we need to think about—like hunger. Who knows how some of our heroes’ super-bodies experience hunger, or even if they do? Something our pop culture heroes don’t always have the luxury of—that we fortunately do—is tuning in to themselves and really engaging with their bodies on a deep level. We have the privilege of being able to tune in to what our bodies (emotional and physical) actually need and what their limitations are, and yet few of us do this.
If I were to ask you if you could identify when you are hungry, what would you say? You might be surprised that something many people have difficulty identifying is the feeling of hunger. Most people can identify when they are very hungry (“I’m starving!”) or when they are very full (“I couldn’t possibly eat another bite!”) But it is much more difficult for people to pin-point the feeling of mild to moderate hunger, and the feeling of satiation. We have become conditioned to eat when we’re “supposed” to (it’s lunch time) or when we’re not “supposed” to (it’s almost time for bed.) We have also been so conditioned to eat a certain amount (eat everything on your plate) that we often have difficulty identifying what our bodies actually need when it comes to food intake.
In order to start being more mindful about our eating, we must first ask ourselves if we are actually physically hungry, or if there is an emotional hunger that we’re trying to satisfy with food. If it’s physical hunger, we should eat until we are satiated, regardless of time or societal norms. If it’s emotional hunger, we should ask ourselves what richness we’re missing in our lives and how can we fulfill that emotional hunger.
As you stare into your pantry, ask yourself, “am I grabbing this food to feed my body or am I grabbing it because there is an emotional emptiness that I am trying to fill with food?” If you’re physically hungry, give yourself permission to eat until you are sated, and give yourself no shame afterwards. You may find that you are emotionally hungry and decide to eat anyway—this is not a failure, because there is no failure; you are merely gaining information. The true challenge is to accept this new information and not use it to shame yourself. Hasn’t society done that enough?!
Mindful eating is not about weight loss or purposeful deprivation; it’s about tuning in to ourselves. When we were babies, this was all natural for us. When we were hungry, we cried and we were fed. It wasn’t until we were old enough to be told what, when, and how much to eat that our understanding of our own physical sensations became confused.
I read a blog post recently what’s message was simply to ignore the hunger signals that your body is sending you. I can’t possibly stress how messed up I find that. I’m going to use an example here that I use with my clients that illustrates how bizarre it is to control your body’s needs.
Let’s say you drank a large glass of water before you went into a meeting. You realize a few minutes into the meeting that you need to use the restroom. You can probably put off that sensation for another ten minutes, or maybe even twenty minutes, but at a certain point, you have to get up and go! Why? Because the consequences of not doing so are just too great. Your body is expressing a need, and even though it is inconvenient or doesn’t fit with what you had planned, your body doesn’t care. We seem to think that just because we won’t wind up sitting in a pool of urine, that it’s okay to ignore our body’s desire to eat.
When I bring up the concept of mindful eating to people for the first time, I often get a dubious response. What I hear most often is, “well, what’s to stop me from eating a whole bag of potato chips? I mean, I’m physically hungry and once I eat all the chips I’m full.” My question then is, how did your body feel after you ate the chips?
Our bodies are smart. They know which foods energize us and which foods give us belly aches. Each of our bodies are different. Also, how mindfully did you eat the chips? Did you take the time to savor them and taste them and to check in with your body to sense your level of satiation while you ate them?
What I’m suggesting is that we take the guilt out of the food equation. So you ate a bag of chips and you felt full but also bloated. This is information to remember in the future, not guilt to heap on yourself. We know that vegetables have more nutrients than potato chips—that doesn’t inherently mean that one food is “good” and another is “bad.”
Why do people go on diets? There are so many reasons. One I think many people don’t consider, however, is that it’s a way to feel in control of something. But you aren’t actually tuning in to your body. You aren’t asking your body what it wants; you’re telling it. As I said, bodies are smart. They know what they want. Unfortunately, due to societal norms, what our body needs gets so warped that we can’t tune into it anymore. Geeks aren’t the only ones susceptible to this—I shudder when I hear that one of my yogi friends is going on a “juice cleanse.” I can pretty much guarantee you that your body is not screaming for that. Eat food. It might take awhile to get the rhythm of when your body wants to be fed. It might be different on different days or change due to how active you were. But eat food when your body tells you it needs food.
We geeks spend a lot of time immersed in magical realms with beings who either can’t or don’t need to care for themselves. We can be more mindful of our real lives, even as we are enjoying these fantasy lives. You deserve to eat and to be nourished. You are a superhero who deserves to be cared for and this is only the beginning of your journey.
Please note: I am not a medical doctor nor a dietician. Mindful eating is not a realistic option for everyone, specifically those who have medical conditions that dictate when and what they can eat. And that is absolutely OK, too.