Monday, May 2, 2011

Mindful vs. Mindless - Week 11

So it went down like this:

Husband was at the hospital for tests. Daughter was at a friend's. I was a little on-edge about the outcome of husband's tests, had some inane TV show (I think it was "Access Hollywood") blaring, and before I knew it, I was reaching into the Easter centerpiece on our dining room table which still held some leftover candy. In about four minutes, I had unwrapped and eaten: 12 mini Lindt chocolate eggs, 3 mini (for some reason I feel I need to specify "mini" ... does it really matter?) Reese's Peanut Butter eggs, and a handful of way-too-sugary and marginal quality jelly beans. Down the hatch. Just like that. Addict-like. Without even thinking about my past ten weeks of near abstinance from refined sugar.

Three hours later: sitting outside the O.R. with a headache, waiting for my husband to have his appendix laproscopically removed. (Happily, all is well.) Next day: caring for husband (which was actually a wonderful experience)and "too busy" (or was I?) to get out there for my Saturday Long Run. And: continually revisiting the delightful mini (there's that word again) loaves of banana bread that a sweet friend had dropped by for Husband.

Monday morning on the scale: after losing two pounds a few days before, I had gained one back. Despite sinking disappointment, I had to chock it up to pure justice and made myself feel fortunate that the damage wasn't worse.

So what are the take-away messages here? First: For the first time in an awfully long time, I made the conscious decision to quickly put the weekend binge behind me. No guilt, no dwelling on it. Realize that life happens, and that I am not yet strong enough to navigate perfectly through the curves thrown my way. And may never be. And that's okay! The key is to recommit and jump back on the wagon ASAP.

Second: Unless I have developed the willpower of Super Woman, don't keep chocolate and other treats hanging around waiting for my judgment to waver. If it's not there, I won't eat it, simple as that. I know my trigger foods ... why tempt myself with them?

Third: Remember that getting out for that run that I had planned for would have quite possibly turned the tables on my slippage a day earlier. Replace the thought "I don't have time to exercise" with the thought "I don't have time NOT to exercise." I totally could have gotten out that day, but CHOSE not to.

I was writing in my inspiration journal last night (yes, while sitting on my Chinese stool!) about the word "mindful". This word has quickly moved to the top of my "favorite words" list, right up there with "becoming" and "stepping-stones". My friend Jenni has a blog titled "Mindful Serenity", and my friend Brooke commented recently that she feels the desire to live more "mindfully", and it seems that I am hearing that word EVERYWHERE lately. You know how what I mean??! I started to ponder, then brainstorm on paper, about the concept of "mindful eating", what that means, and its opposite, "mindless eating".

Mindless eating, I think, can be perfectly defined by my above pathetic encounter with the Easter candy. It is characterized by some of these qualities: eating with the intent to gorge (rather than slowly enjoying each bite), eating until stuffed (versus satisfied), eating on the run (instead of taking time to sit down and relish in the experience), eating while doing something else (like watching TV, reading, surfing the net, talking on the phone), or eating out of the bag / carton (instead of preparing a serving and putting the rest away). I have personally proven over the years that mindless eating equals poor nutrition, weight gain, passing poor habits on to children, health problems, and an overall feeling of personal discontent.

Let's revisit some of our early childhood habits around the family dinner table. My husband, the youngest of four children, "learned" quickly to eat as much as he could as fast as he could to claim "his share". Being a member of the "Clean Plate Club" can be important as a child is encouraged to finish her broccoli or beets, but it isn't necessarily such a stellar achievement as an adult! And perhaps "remembering the starving children in Africa" is better done in ways other than feeling we have to eat all that is before of us.

Mindful: "pure awareness", "attentive or careful to all dimensions"

Our lovely, older, married daughter was home for a visit with her handsome husband over Easter weekend. My younger daughter and I love to quietly watch the WAY SHE EATS. Our oldest loves to sit down for a family meal and always comments on how delicious everything looks and thanks me profusely for preparing such a beautiful meal. Then, she serves herself small portions of everything, commenting positively throughout her meal. She puts her fork down between her small bites, and seems to be as interested in sparkling conversation and being with us as she is with eating. She does not rush, she does not stuff, she does not (gasp!) talk with her mouth full. And, to the fascination of my younger daughter, she always leaves a little bit on her plate. She is far from uppity or stuffy ... I guess the words to describe her eating habits would be ladylike (is this even politically correct to say?) and controlled. I don't think it's any wonder that she has never struggled with her weight. Here is an example of how our own children can become our teachers.

I realize that for me, I need to be very careful and deliberate, even "mindful" about my eating habits, or I will, in the blink-of-an-eye, revert back to my "mindless" habits. Here are some thoughts that I scribbled in my journal last night that work for me ... I realize that your and my life / home situations may be very different, but perhaps something below will ring true to you.

Even, or maybe especially, when you are eating alone, set a nice little spot for yourself to enjoy your meal. I snapped a picture of a breakfast last week (above) that was not only delicious but a delightful little experience all-around. (I have my share of a banana-on-the-run, or a quick bowl of cereal, but I do try, as often as possible, to make it look like what you see above.) A couple of specific thoughts from that morning:

1. I love the idea of combining different colors, textures, and patterns at the table. My favorite placemats right now are woven bamboo, and they look great (I think) with all-white dishes, a flouncy, ruffled spring napkin, and a tortise-shell glass. Somewhere I heard someone say that we should not be too concerned with matching everything, or sticking closely with a particular style, but to just buy what we love - what speaks to us - and what will emerge is our own signature style. I love this. I also like the idea of picking up singular, pretty cloth napkins and glasses, soon creating a one-of-a-kind collection to mix-and-match with.

2. I moved part of my Easter centerpiece in from the dining room table that morning (above photo) so that there would be something beautiful, living, and colorful to enliven the breakfast table. One of the most influential books that I have ever read is called "Living a Beautiful Life" (by Alexandra Stoddard) and the author's message is that the ability tolive beautifully is really in the small, carefully-chosen details.

3. The oatmeal du jour was cooked in lowfat vanilla soymilk with a sprinkle of cinnamon, then topped with a heaping tablespoon of flax and chopped, defrosted peaches. The toast: my new favorite brand, Rudi's Organic Honey Sweet Whole Wheat with a little bit of real butter. (I refuse to give up butter for any spread / margarine / spray!)

4. A new favorite CD was playing in the background: Jim Brickman's "Home" ... mellow piano solos that encourage a peaceful feeling. I am big into lovely music in the home, and will share some more ideas for this soon.

A few more general ideas for encouraging Mindful Eating:

* I try to clean up my kitchen prep area as I cook. It is not as pleasant to sit down to eat when you're staring at counter heaped with dirty dishes!

* Blessing the food: when we acknowledge from Whom our food has come and what its real purpose is (to nourish us and give us strength) it elevates eating to an almost sacred ritual. I am trying hard to remember to do this, especially when I'm home alone. I know I am less likely to overeat when I have taken the time to pray over the food before me.

* When I view my cooking efforts as an offering of love to my family, I am more careful with WHAT I am serving and HOW it is presented. Rather than "throwing something on the table" (which I've done plenty of times) I try to view feeding my family as part of my sacred responsibility as a wife and mother. Looking at it this way makes me more likely to plan menus early in the week, and prepare them with love and care.

* It's not always possible, but when my family slows down and allows time for conversation, catching up from the day, and laughing, it makes our time together about more than just the food.

* I would really love to get into the habit of serving an earlier dinner if our schedules would allow it. I like the idea of eating at 5:30 or so, rather than at 7 or 7:30. That way, it is easier to go to bed on an emptier stomach, which is just healthier all around.

* I read the most wonderful book last year called "The Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner. He identifies four "zones" in the world where "common elements of lifestyle, diet, and outlook have led to an amazing quantity - and quality - of life." (The Zones: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica) I would highly-recommend this fascinating book; in fact, I just pulled it off my shelf and am going to read it again. One point that I loved was shared by an 102 year-old woman. She eats a diet mainly of vegetables from her garden, supplemented with a bit of fresh fish and tofu, and before each meal, she takes a moment to quietly bow her head and say "hara hachi bu", which is a Confucian adage loosely translated to mean "may I eat only until I am satisfied" (or, the author says, 80% full). Isn't that so wise?? I think I'm going to post that beautiful little Asian gem in my kitchen.

Well, friends, I'm now into Week 11 of my Excellent Experiment, with two weeks to go until my birthday and goal-date of having lost 30 pounds. I have lost 21, and the prospect of losing nine more in two weeks is a bit daunting. But, I choose to press on in faith, and do all that I can to reach my goal. Miracles can happen, and I'm a-lookin' for one! I ran 4.0 (let me spell that out for emphasis: F-O-U-R) miles today, and am shooting to run 5.0 by May the 14th. This is miraculous in itself.

Thanks for visiting my blog ... I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE running into you readers and hearing what you find inspiring here. I equally LOVE, LOVE, LOVE listening to you talk about what you're doing in your lives to become your best selves. I am blessed to know each of you and continue to wish you the very best in your own journeys to better health. xoxo Macy


  1. You.
    Mom, thank you for the compliments. That made my day and gave me a new excitement to keep on improving my own habits.
    I especially love what you said about thinking of another way to help the starving children in Africa. We are not obligated to finish everything that's on our plates! The way you put this inspired an epiphany with me, and I will no longer (ever!) feel bad about not finishing my plate.

    Keep these incredible words coming! I look forward to them every week.

  2. I don't know how long or how often you read at my blog, so I'll drop you a couple of links here. My blog has only had the title of Mindful Serenity for a few months, and it really started here :)
    My integration of pagan holidays and the wheel of the year has been an amazing exercise in mindfulness. Every 6 weeks there is another sabbat--an observance of the seasons of the year, but also of the seasons of life (birth, death, fertility, planting, harvest, etc). I also find I am tuning in to whether the moon is new or full, and even that is a remarkable thing. I see why ancient cultures looked to the moon as a deity, she is so beautiful, and her cycles so gentle yet unwaveringly consistent.
    I blogged a list of things I do to increase my mindfulness--I love your food/eating list--this doesn't really include food, but perhaps it's a nice compliment to your list :)

  3. Macy, I love the idea of 'Mindful Eating'. I think I am going to be pondering that wisdom all day long. I needed a reminder of that today! The first trip we made to France 13 years ago to visit Eric's family really changed my whole life as far as my eating habits. I just 'felt' different after meals there. I wasn't 'weighed down' and had more energy. There's a lot of differences in eating culture there, but after that trip, I made note of how food makes me 'feel' and have tried to teach my kids to notice those feelings in regard to things they eat.

    Reminds me a bit of a book I have '10 Essential Foods' where the Author Lalitha Thomas talks about a practice called 'Intuitive Eating' which involves being conscious of bodily sensations and signals from the brain about what we are needing to eat, and when we feel full. Our bodies are such marvelous creations, makes me wonder if we have untapped god-given potential for understanding what we should put in them by natural instinct.

    Though I've messed up so many things with my kids, at least I feel proud when one of them says, 'Mom, I think I need to stop eating this, I don't like the way it is making me FEEL.' Like you Macy, I think I've got a lot to learn from my kiddos too!

    Am enjoying your inspiring blog!

  4. I attended your class today (May 21, How Does Your Garden Grow?) and was very touched by your story. It was a new perspective to things that I have been trying to do in my own life. Recently a friend & I read "Intuitive Eating" which goes along with your post on May 2 and provides a spiritual side to the information in this book. I am so grateful that you listened to the promptings of the spirit and am left desirous of praying about this. Thank you for having the courage to share this journey!