Saturday, 25 January 2014

Die augen essen mit

I've mentioned my old university roomie German Nat before.  The one who would leave half a chocolate bar lying around.

How could I NOT enjoy this?
She also had a saying which roughly translates as: "the eyes eat too".  I have no idea what the context for her saying that could possibly have been since I recall a lot of lentils and rice getting eaten in our house, but that saying has stuck with me for 20 years.  I remember it when I am presented with an artfully arranged meal, like the slice of chocolate cake served on a Via train that's the banner at the top of this blog.  You can bet I ate that cake slowly and enjoyed every single bite.  I should mention that this particular piece of cake was enjoyed prior to my mindful eating days, so there is a possibility I was already quite full before I started eating it.  The point here is that it looked so nice I took my time to appreciate it instead of shovelling it down like a barbarian. 

What do you know?  Most mindful eating experts talk about die augen essen mit, although they might not use those words.  A good exercise is to prepare meals so that they are aesthetically pleasing on a nice plate, instead of standing at the fridge eating whatever it is right out of the jar.  Doing so nourishes us visually and physically - our brains get stimulated and satisfied more than one way.

A friend just sent me a flowering jasmine tea.  Another friend had given me a glass mug designed specifically for enjoying such a tea.  Having that tea reminded me of good ol' German Nat and her die augen essen mit.  Before my first sip of tea I watched this tight little owl pellet slowly unfurl into an enormous flower.  Then I watched its essence infiltrate the hot water as it "steeped".  Many minutes later it was actually cool enough to safely take a sip.  If only more of our food was like that - designed to be appreciated visually and enjoyed slowly. 

Coffee shops have it right - that little heart or leaf they draw in the foam of my mocha enhances my experience (and makes me feel like that was 4 bucks well-spent).  This perhaps may be going too far though:
this cafe will put your face on a latte...


Saturday, 18 January 2014


I'm going to try another experiment (if I can remember), but I hope it actually becomes a way of life.

This latest experiment was inspired by a play I read about.  In it, a young woman dies.  In the afterlife she wishes for one more ordinary day on earth.  "I didn't realize", she confesses mournfully, "all that was going on and we never noticed...Good-bye, world...And food and coffee...and sleeping and waking up".  That line struck me - how lucky I am to be alive, AND healthy enough to eat, AND living in a country of such abundance.  Sometimes I forget.

Most mindful eating resources talk about the concept of saying some form of grace before a meal to recognize and show appreciation for all the energy that has gone into supporting you.  The best grace I ever heard was at a lovely hard-core hippie retreat centre in B.C.  This is it:


Chanted in the style of "Om".  What made it awesome was the 5-year old girl who ate with us - she put such gusto into it!  Who can blame me for busting out laughing? (For a fascinating discussion of om click here. To hear om like you've never heard it before don't be shy - click here and skip to the 20 second mark).

Jan Chozen Bays suggests tracing your food back through all the steps and hands it passed through to get to your plate as a mindful eating exercise before you eat.  I did try that once - it took forever!  And I make my food from scratch with mostly local or basic ingredients.  What if you tried this exercise with a Big Mac?  The thing would congeal - but never, ever decay - before you finished your mental world tour of industrial "food" production.  (Aside: am I the only person who didn't know what the little white squares on a McD's hamburger were?)

Two things I'm grateful for; NOT two things I'm going to eat:
 my best buddy and a great garden harvest last summer
At the very least I can take a moment to acknowledge the origins of my food: to consider the people who worked to make it available; to appreciate the plants, soil, water, and sunshine that are the source of all food; and to respect the animals who died so I can nourish myself.  Most cultures have a tradition of doing this - there must be a reason.

I knew a wonderful person who died of bowel cancer much too young.  Not long before he died Tom and his wife invited me for supper.  I'm pretty sure we had pizza.  Tom explained that because of his cancer he HAD to eat doughy, low-fibre foods.  He had two wishes: to go for another paddle in his favourite provincial park with his friends, and to be able to eat a fresh-picked, crunchy apple.

How can I not take a moment to feel gratitude for life (and think of Tom) when I enjoy a beautiful apple from a local orchard?

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Let your body do the shopping

Well.  THAT was interesting.

I just walked down to the neighbourhood deli to get something delicious and vegetabley for supper.  Disappointingly, they were out of brussels sprouts.  So I just started wandering around the store looking for something that appealed to me.  I ended up picking up some Bufala Maple Yogurt (no surprise there), a nice fresh store-made Greek salad (so lazy, but made sense), and a can of mackerel fillets (????).


You tempt me not. Tonight.
TRUE FACT: I even started down the aisle with the Coco Camino chocolate bars, but my body had no interest tonight (see, chocolate is NOT the boss of me).

Wandering around a grocery store to see what you are drawn towards is an actual mindful eating exercise, meant to help you tune into "cellular hunger".  This is not to be done on an empty stomach.  I spontaneously did the exercise in the store tonight, and I'm glad that I did.  I rarely buy fish, but I know it's good for me and I know Canadian mackerel is a sustainable seafood.  It was delicious on my salad.  My body is happy now.

Of course, I may also have been subconsciously influenced by *Michael Pollan's "In Defence of Food", which I just finished reading.  This is not a mindful eating book; it's an eater's manifesto.  Pollan's aim is to help people reclaim their health and happiness as eaters by exposing the aberration that is the Western diet, and by providing some simple guidelines on what and how to eat.  He champions real food (as opposed to engineered food-like substances, or fud as one of my clever friends calls it).  Like many mindful eating authors, he notes that when we eat real food and pay attention to our body's signals, we no longer crave crappy junk like no-fat instant pudding.  Instead we crave mackerel fillets and brussels sprouts while shunning the Panama extra dark.  It's almost like magic.  Except for the part where I have to remember to try to be mindful every day to actually reap the benefits.

Michael Pollan's "Eater's Manifesto"
*Michael Pollan is a super-smart contrarion.  Learn more about his books and other writings here.  If you haven't heard of him yet, you must not be a granola-type nerdy biologist who likes to garden.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

It's not about weight - part 1

According to Weight Watchers this lovely
young lady is "overweight".  According to me
she is fit and healthy - check out the quads!
At some point last year I decided I was DONE with looking at this perfectly healthy, attractive, strong body and judging it negatively.   For 20+ years I've been trying to "manage" my weight so I could achieve an arbitrary ideal.  Funnily enough, I could never reach that ideal.  Every single day I'd look in the mirror or step on the scale and feel disappointed, frustrated, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

You know how the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result"?

Mindful eating was my insanity antidote.  Rather, the books I've read on it were.  No more barrage of negative thoughts every morning.  My body tells me what it needs.  I make choices.  What I see is the outcome.  It's pretty simple.

I have a big birthday coming up this month.  Until recently I had a ridiculous goal: I wanted to weigh "1$0" pounds by the time I turned "$0" (I'm being cryptic - it's a riddle).  Thank you mindful eating gurus (I'm talking to you, Charles Eisenstein) for helping me ditch that goal!  I've weighed 1$0 pounds exactly thrice since I was 23 years old:

  1. When I was in graduate school and walked one hour to get to school and home every day.  Oh, and I also swam, played squash (sure miss that free gym membership you get when you go to university), rollerbladed, and had no money for delicious things. 
  2. When I had the Norwalk virus. 
  3. In my early 30s when I was training for a triathlon.  The training didn't get me to 1$0 - a crazy cleanse during which I got so weak I couldn't even open the lid of my jar of meal replacement powder almost did.  I think I was "1$2" for a day - and then I started eating again. 
Not EXACTLY words to live by, but close...
maybe "Eat what your body needs or what you will fully enjoy..."
1$0 pounds is not a healthy goal for me, regardless of what Weight Watchers and all the BMI charts led me to believe.  I'm glad I finally realized and accepted that.  What a relief to not be stressing over that stupid number and wasting precious moments of my life not being grateful for the body I have.  I know it's not perfect.  I think I would feel better and be able to fit into more of my nice clothes if I lost another 5 or so pounds.  But the only way I'm going to get there (if at all) is by slow, deliberate, sustainable (and therefore permanent) lifestyle change. 

There may come a day when I know I am eating mindfully as consistently as possible, and I still don't fit into some of my pants.  I'm OK with that.  What a weight off my shoulders!