Thursday, 11 December 2014

The (persimmon) Tree of Knowledge

Do you even know what a persimmon tastes like?

I had no idea, but I thought I knew what they looked like.  I am a biologist who identifies trees for a living, after all.  My sweetheart and I were recently on vacation on the U.S. Atlantic Coast where we encountered an enticing tree with succulent orange fruits hanging from its boughs.  We were in a state park, so we knew that we shouldn't pluck the fruit of the tree. However, like any good omnivores, curiosity took hold of us.  This story may be familiar to you.

No, we were not visited by a talking serpent, banished from the park, or smited (smitten? smote?).  Instead we experienced an indescribably unpleasant mouth experience.  It was truly shocking.  Have you ever eaten a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide?  Don't.  You can just eat an unripe persimmon instead.  According to Wikipedia, which I checked out later that night to make sure we weren't going to die, I learned that persimmons: are unpalatably astringent (or "furry" tasting) if eaten before completely softened.  You don't say.  I also learned that if we ate too many unripe persimmons we could develop an adhesive "foodball" in our stomachs.  The stuff of gum-swallowing children's nightmares.

Beware the beckoning fruit
I just finished Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma".  The dilemma is this: when you are an animal that has evolved to be able to eat many, many things (in contrast to animals like koalas, who can only eat eucalyptus leaves, or monarch caterpillars, who only eat milkweed), how do you choose what to eat?  My sweetheart and I had undertaken the timeless omnivore's experiment when confronted with a novel food item: try a tiny bit, see if it tastes good, and wait to see if you get sick. Very much like the "mindfulness classic". 

This problem was much more fraught when we were foraging on the savannah in our loincloths.  Today we are surrounded by such an abundance of food that our omnivorous brains say "Yay! Eat everything!  It's ALL good!".  And so, we are a society of mindless eaters.  Surprise?  

I had forgotten about the persimmon experience until I discovered the online mindful eating tracker, created by Pavel Somov, the author who inspired me to begin this blog a year ago.  A woman describes the taste of eating a RIPE persimmon, for the first time.  Very, very different from my experience, but both were mindful in their own special way.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A year of eating mindfully

Or at least, a year of THINKING about eating mindfully, and many days of actual mindful eating.

I started this blog just over a year ago as a way to motivate myself to eat mindfully more often.  Accountability through the creepiness of the internet.

As Jon Kabat Zinn, the grandmaster of modern mindfulness says, you've got to walk the walk.  You can't just agree with the principles, or read about it, or think about it.  Mindfulness is a way of being.  He admonishes: every time you think about talking about your mindfulness practice, shut up and DO it (I'm now about to ignore that great advice and continue writing this post).

Mindful eating is becoming a way of being for me. (Dear sweetheart: Yes, even that last long day on our recent roadtrip counts!  I was fully aware of how mindlessly I was eating ALL of the crappy weird American junk food and I consciously made that choice because I was being bored to death by the audiobook we were listening to.  I didn't actually mean it when I said it was your turn to choose.)

You mean nothing to me.  Today.
What really transformed mindful eating from a nice idea that I studied thoroughly to something that is part of my lifestyle was participating in the online course based on Jan Chozen Bays' work.  Having a supportive, if virtual, community to share experiences with and learn from created a quantum leap in my mindful eating practice.  So, I'm so excited to be launching my own mindful eating introductory course in my city, with real live people! (Send me a comment in the box below if you want to learn more.) I have some more blog posts simmering, but I'm going to be focusing on the course for the next few months.

There were recently 2 huge validations of the progress I've made on my mindful eating journey.  I'm sharing them so that you might be inspired on your path too.  

Huge Validation #1:
I read some of my earlier blog posts from a year ago.  There's no better evidence of your own transformation than seeing your thoughts in black and white.  That's why so many different kinds of programs advocate using a journal.  
Tip for you: If you're trying mindful eating, consider keeping some notes on your experience.  The "Before I Eat" mindful eating app is one handy way to do that.

Huge Validation #2:
I attend many meetings each year where meals are provided.  I just came home from yet another one, where the food was plentiful and quite tasty.  There were yummy desserts at every meal, and - get this - hot chocolate AND chocolate milk dispensers!  And, of course the best part was I didn't have to shop, cook, or do dishes.  

In such circumstances I used to struggle with the temptation to eat so much that I was uncomfortably full, to eat desserts every time they were available, and to drink chocolate beverages all day.  This time there was no struggle.  My body wanted to eat mostly fruit and veggies.  I didn't even think about the chocolate milk.  I quickly recognized that the hot chocolate was sub-par.  I chose to have 2 chocolate desserts over the course of a few days, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I was not a perfect mindful eater.  But, I was not a total mindless eater, either.  I'm talking sea-change here!  
Tip for you:  If you've been trying to eat mindfully and feel like you're not getting anywhere, try to notice if there are any specific habits, cravings, or ways of thinking that have changed for you.  Even if it's something simple like putting down your fork between bites.  That's a big deal!  You've changed a lifelong habit, and if you look at the people around you, you'll notice that you're having a regular moment of awareness while you eat that few others are experiencing.

3 more tips for you:
Be patient.  Try again.  ENJOY eating!