Today’s guest blog is by Benjamin Gladden, a busy father of three who lives and writes from his home in Framingham, MA.
For the last few years, I’ve been thinking and praying more about what and how much I eat. For me, it’s not about dieting or trying to lose weight, it’s about taking a look at how I think about food and the role it plays in my life. Everyone has to eat, so how can we do it so it doesn’t play too much of a major or minor role in our lives? Balance is what I’m after. So I wanted to know more when I saw this headline recently: “Better Eating through Mindfulness.”
The article describes the work of Jean Kristeller, a professor of psychology at Indiana State University. Dr. Kristeller is pioneering a new approach to weight loss and healthy eating involving the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. I wanted to know how this lined up with how I’d been praying and thinking.
According to the article, “Researchers are learning that teaching obese individuals mindful eating skills—like paying closer attention to their bodies’ hunger cues and learning to savor their food—can help them change unhealthy eating patterns and lose weight. And, unlike other forms of treatment, mindfulness may get at the underlying causes of overeating—like craving, stress, and emotional eating—which make it so hard to defeat.”
One of the exercises in mindful eating involves taking almost 10 minutes to eat a single raisin – smelling the aroma, feeling the texture, tasting the juice. Ten minutes!
Being mindful of eating also involves being aware of where food comes from and appreciating all the work that took to get it to your table–gratitude for soil, the rain, the seed, the farmer, the harvester, the truck driver, and the cook!
Turns out Dr. Kristeller’s research is based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Kristeller’s work applies to obesity the principles described by Dr. Kabat-Zinn.
More than 30 years ago, Dr. Kabat-Zinn started the program “as a bit of a lark—an attempt by a molecular biologist to bring Buddhist meditation (minus the Buddhism) into the mainstream of medicine.” In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn describes “mindfulness” as “moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives.”
This research really caught my attention because I’ve been trying to think less about food, not more! Well, I say “more” but my desire really is to think less about it – I want to eat less and focus less on the foods I eat. I want to be less guided by my desires for sweets or chips.
How much attention do most of us pay to what and why we are actually eating? I think this is an important perspective in being healthy – minding the way we think about food. Not in the sense of counting calories or trying a new diet, but really changing the way we think about eating. For me, that’s involved a conscientious approach to finding answers in the Bible and my prayers about the issue. Jesus counseled, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat…is not the body more than food?”
Maybe it’s less about the what and more about the how? Less about food and body and more about grace and gratitude.
A couple of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University did some research that complimented the “mindfulness” approach. They found that “repeatedly thinking about eating a certain food — M&Ms or cheese — led study participants to eat less of the food once it was presented to them.” (“Thinking About Eating May Mean Eating Less”)
In this case, the researchers and dieticians tell us that the more we slow down and think about the value of our food–the symbolism and care behind it–the less we consume. I can see how appreciating the food itself, and the work that went into getting it to our table, will make us satisfied with less of it. And I can see how putting less emphasis on quantity for our satisfaction is equally beneficial. By slowing down we become more aware.
I would say this principle applies to other areas of our life as well–slowing down to appreciate the little moments that mean so much. Although I’m not sure I’m quite ready to spend 10 minutes savoring a single raisin!