MINDFUL BEGINNINGS

Sweets Image.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I was feeling a bit tired and glum. Over decades, when I’ve been in this mood, I’ve trained my brain to tell my mouth that it needed food – sweet food – for comfort. How did that work out for me over many years? Not so good. Besides creating  bad habits, the empty sugary calories definitely bore out the saying, “one minute on the lips and a lifetime on the hips.”

And so, two weeks ago, I reached for the container of grated dark chocolate (I like to sprinkle on my cappuccino as a treat.) Granted, it was a tiny storage container, but it was watching TV and mindlessly dipping my saliva-wet finger into the grated yumminess and licking the container clean that brought me to my senses. Not a sensible choice, I chastised myself.

As I’ve incorporated the practice of mindfulness in other areas of my life, I Googled “mindful eating” and came across Dr. Jan Chozen Bay’s book,  Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food from which I will heavily draw.

Poring through this fantastic resource, I became aware of these bad habits I needed to work on:

1. Eating my meals while watching TV.
2. Slowing down my speed of eating
3. Engaging all the senses involved in the act of eating.

Dr. Chozen Bay’s book educated me about the seven kinds of hunger:Seven Hungers Image

Eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger and heart hunger.

EYE HUNGER
I’m dining at the restaurant with a group of friends. The food is scrumptious and I’m happy with my choice. My stomach is pretty full and my cells are satisfied. My stomach and cells tell me they really can’t eat another bite what with being full from the drinks on top of the food. The waiter does the rounds with the dessert tray. My eyes roam over the tempting treats and my mind tells me, “It doesn’t hurt to look.” Hmm, Belgian Chocolate Mousse, French Creme Brulee, Southern Pecan Pie, Apple & Mixed Berry Crumble served piping hot with vanilla bean ice cream… My mind reasons, “Go with fruit, it’s healthier than the others.” I cave in. Eye hunger has won.

NOSE HUNGER
I remember when I was younger and I went to the mall, I literally followed my nose to Annie’s Cinnamon Buns. Today, although I enjoy that cinnamon waft, my stomach in no uncertain terms tells me, “Eat that and watch me bloat!” Yesterday, at the movies, the popcorn aroma was overwhelming. My nose hunger was trying to influence the other senses. They weren’t hungry, my mind held fast and the nose lost out.

MOUTH HUNGER
Bite into a sensational hand-crafted, liqueur-filled chocolate and an orgy breaks out in your mouth. Being the most sensual part of the body, think of all the sensations the mouth, tongue and taste buds can be engaged in: sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, crunchiness, creaminess, amino acids (protein-like taste) textures, movements, food sounds, drinking and swallowing. Dr. Chozen Bay says, if you want to feel satisfied when you eat, the mind has to be aware of what is going on in the mouth. In other words, if you want to have a party in the mouth, the mind has to be invited.

STOMACH HUNGER
From an evolutionary aspect, the stomach’s hunger pangs is a good thing because if we didn’t perceive them as unpleasant, we might starve to death. These uncomfortable sensations will cause an urgency about doing something to relieve them. Dr. Chozen Bay uses the metaphor of hunger “gnawing as if an animal were eating at our insides. It growls and complains until we throw food down the tunnel to placate it.”

CELLULAR HUNGER
Nursing infants are tuned in to signals from their bodies telling them when to eat and when to stop. We have an instinctive awareness of what foods, and how much our bodies need. As we grow older, this inner wisdom becomes lost in a stupefying host of other internal and external voices that influence our eating habits. The body has an amazing capacity to know what’s good to heal itself. When a tummy bug hits, the body expels foreign interlopers, and afterward the stomach and cells instinctively know that chicken broth is the best remedy. Cellular hunger also self-regulates as the seasons get warmer or colder in terms of what foods and how much the body needs.

MIND HUNGER
Mind hunger is based on thoughts. It is influenced by what we take in through what we read and what we hear through the media. There is no shortage of diet books that provide food for the mind. Dr. Chozen Bay writes, “Mind hunger is often based on absolutes and opposites: good food versus bad food, should eat versus should not eat.” I remember my friend and I driving ourselves crazy with different diets. The cabbage soup diet, that didn’t even make it to supper time, just about did us in! I like the good doctor’s aphorism, “Food is food. The rest is mind games.”

HEART HUNGER
Many years ago, I came across a very helpful book, titled Love Hunger by Frank Minirth, et.al. This is where I learned about the reason people typically binge on food is because of trying to meet their emotional needs. I could mindlessly eat something sweet that I didn’t even particularly enjoy, like cheap, chocolate-flavoured decoration sprinkles, but with heart hunger it’s not the particular foods, per se, that was important to me; rather than the mood or emotions involved that drove me to medicate myself on them.

As I learned how to tune into these different kinds of hunger, using mindful strategies, I could now sit down and to do a quick assessment before eating. Because I’m a visual learner, I write my assessments and observations in a notebook between forkfuls. Cultivating the habit of putting one’s cutlery down between bites, helps slow down the speed of eating.

Before I eat, I ask myself, on a scale of 1-10, (1 being the least hungry and 10 the most) what is my level of eye hunger? Of mouth hunger? Of nose hunger? Of stomach hunger? Of cellular hunger? Of mind hunger? Of heart hunger? Once I know that, I can eat appropriately and satisfy all the parts of me that are hungry. I’ve been aware that there’s another hunger that is actually just thirst. So, particularly in the afternoon, when I think I’m feeling peckish, I ask myself, “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

The most important change in my eating habits I’ve had to make was to eat meals at my grossly underused dining room table. In so doing, I’ve come to appreciate so many different components to my dining experience at the table. Now, my senses engage in my place setting, shapes and arrangements on my plate, smells, colours, textures, as well as the view from the window. There’s something new to observe everyday in nature. I invite you to follow my journey in the practice of mindful eating.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindful Eating

Just recently, I discovered that my health scare last year involving blood pressure spikes and feeling like I was going to die, was not heart-related, but a series of panic attacks.

I had no idea how acute anxiety could present symptoms that feel similar to someone who is having a heart attack. This hit me out of the blue. As I was trying to keep things together what with the stress of a cross-country move coupled with  maintaining my perfectionist tendencies, it seemed like my nervous system was screaming “Enough!” Perfectionism can lead to chronic exhaustion, I discovered. I went for all manner of medical tests only to be told there’s nothing medically wrong with me.

Having signed up for psychologist, Dr. David Purves’ Cognitive Behavior Therapy course, The Panic Pit Stop, I learned the brain is extraordinarily complex. It is hard-wired to be able to respond to threat at a moment’s notice. When the threat is detected, the brain springs into action delivering the necessary biological resources, e.g. stress hormones to respond to the threat accordingly. A panic attack is thus the inappropriate trigger to a perceived threat.

I can see now how my brain finally flipped my body into panic mode what with years of catastrophic negative thought patterns caught in a perpetual loop. My body automatically carried out actions based on negative beliefs.

Case in point, I was tired because I participated in a pretty strenuous (for my ability level) yoga session the previous evening. My warped thinking told me tiredness is a bad thing. It equates to laziness or being less than perfect, thus effecting my value as a person.

My body has been trained to psychologically and physically feed low moods because for a brief period, certain foods elevate my mood, but then I feel badly for not exercising discipline over what I put into my mouth – something I have to be mindful of as I’m carrying too much weight. So, this kind of perpetual anxiety-inducing thinking (not only about food) but about all aspects of my life was bound to escalate into full-blown panic attacks.

Because I was focusing on correcting negative thought patterns in other areas, I allowed myself to have a nap (without feeling guilty.) When I awoke, as though on auto-pilot I went straight to the fridge to fix myself a snack of whole wheat crackers and salmon cream cheese (reduced fat) before going to my yoga class. Okay, it’s not an unhealthy snack, but it’s my body’s automatic association with food to medicate tiredness that I needed to be aware of. Let’s see how I fared on the Hunger Scale:

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
1 1 3 5 7 10 10

Clearly, my mind and heart hunger were highly in need of nourishment other than food. Now, I’m writing this particular post with a view to exposing and breaking my perfectionist tendency about feeling the need to have PERFECT mindful behaviour about my eating patterns. I wanted to be able to write that I practice Mindful eating with fantastic results!  Who am I kidding? Only myself, right?

Together with the practice of Mindfulness, I first need to break my habit of negative and catastrophic thought. Dr. Purves says automatic behaviour (like feeling the need for food to comfort low mood) is likely to be habit of thoughts that take you down that slippery slope. Unfortunately, most of us in our modern, frenetic world, operate “mindlessly” on auto-pilot, as it were. Dr. Purves says once you become aware (mindful) of your behaviour, you have the beginning of CHOICE. You have the awareness of the option of undoing a negative thought pattern.

Dr. Purves’ The Panic Pit Stop offers techniques and strategies to break the loop of a negative thought pattern. So, today, instead of putting pressure on myself to “perform” in order to feel validated, I chose the option to be kind to myself instead. Unlearning bad habits is by no means easy but the more diligently one practices to be Mindful, the “choice muscles” get stronger.

I would like to be able to post more frequently, but I need to not feed perfectionism as I try to better balance my life. So, bear with me as I continue on this quest in the spirit of Mindfulness – “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, moment by moment.”

I would love to know how you cope with overcoming anxiety and perfectionism and how you practice Mindful eating. I look forward to reading your comments.

For more information about David Purves’ The Panic Pit Stop click on the following link: https://www.drpurves.online/blog

 

THE MINDFUL EATING OF A RAISIN

We so take the act of eating for granted. Think about the perfect gross motor function of arm and hand bringing the food to the mouth, an act that at eight months old left food all over our faces and surroundings.

Which brings to mind my sweet grandson’s experience with eating a cupcake on his first birthday. I got such a kick watching all his senses engaged in encountering this curious object that everyone seemed to be making a fuss about.

Photo collage by Jennifer Graham

First his eyes zoomed in to the cupcake, then his fingers touched the frosting while he observed its soft squishiness. Next he instinctively brought his icing-covered fingers to his mouth. His brain registered sweet yumminess. Endorphins kicked in to give the feeling of pleasure. He went for more while his hands engaged in mashing and squeezing the sticky, crumbling texture of the rest of the cupcake. Since then, my boy was hooked! Six years later he is a committed Candy Man.

Sadly, as we grow up, most of us lose that sensory engagement when we eat – the act of eating becoming quite a mindless activity. The definition of Mindfulness according to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
So the purpose of Mindful eating is not to achieve a particular goal, but to simply engage moment by moment with each bite of food. In the practice of Mindful Eating, I followed Jon Kabat-Zinn’s audio-guided Eating Meditation of a raisin. This is my experience:

Perched on a high stool at my kitchen island, I place the raisin in front of me. Bringing myself to stillness and focusing on my breathing, I wait for the soft chime of Jon’s bell, and tune into his guidance.

Holding the raisin between my thumb and index finger, I bring it up toward my face for closer inspection, drinking in its shape through my eyes as if I had never seen such a thing before. I blot from my mind that its name is raisin.

I take in its surface features – its sun-drenched, brown hue; its wrinkly; transparent skin still holding some plumpness; its tiny, dry stalk reminiscent of a belly button, shriveled up, evident of having been connected to a larger whole.

Closing my eyes, I engage my sense of touch fingering the object to register the ridges of its texture and squeezing it gently to feel the give of its plumpness.

Rubbing it gently, I lift it to my nose and smell its musky sweetness. I linger in the sense of smell emanating from the raisin, moment to moment, paying attention to whatever is here to be smelled in each intake of breath.

Opening my eyes and holding the dehydrated fruity morsel, I continue to gaze attentively at the hues and shadows of this familiar object. Now I bring it up to my ear to listen. Some foods do make sounds – fizz, crackle, snap, or pop. Hmm…I don’t hear “I heard it through the grapevine!” My raisin is conspicuously quiet.

I lower it back to center. Then gradually bring it up to my lips. Before it touches my lips I notice something happening in my mouth. It’s the strong secreting of saliva as mind and body synthesize the release of enzymes in readiness for eating.

My lips welcome this pleasant object to my mouth. My saliva-coated tongue rolls out its moist, carpet receiving the raisin as a special guest – its taste buds jumping for joy at its sweetness. Without engaging the teeth yet, my mind listens to the narrative of intelligent interaction between tongue, teeth and touch.

I slowly engage the teeth, clamping down, feeling the squish of the molars beginning to grind the raisin. Then I take a total of five deliberate chews. I can hear my teeth enamel click together, feel the engagement of facial muscles opening and closing my jaws. I feel the masticated raisin now a mass of wet, sweet pulp swishing around toward the back of my tongue as I continue chewing and tasting, deliberately, moment by moment.

I am aware of my keen intention to swallow and how the wet pulp gets positioned for the act of swallowing and feeling the pulpy fruit being ushered through the esophagus to the stomach.

With my eyes closed, I contemplate the aftermath of the raisin eating experience. In my mind’s eye I visualize the rest of its journey into the stomach where it will come to rest, ready for its nutrients and minerals to be processed and distributed to the rest of the body.

The practice of mindful eating is simply to be in the present time as it’s unfolding moment by moment.

I come to rest in my awareness of this eating meditation and its aftermath till I hear the sound of the bell.

BELOW IS A YOU TUBE VIDEO OF A GUIDED RAISIN EATING MEDITATION

Mindfulbites: Getting Back on the Horse

canstockphoto19973911Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
1 1 3 3 3 10 10

I have been putting off writing this post for months now because I’ve fallen off the proverbial horse and have been trying to get back on. The more I put it off, the more difficult it was for me to get back on the “writing” horse. So this morning, I’m going for broke.

Last summer, I’ve had a life-altering cross-country move. A good stress (because we moved much closer to family and grandchildren) but still mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting and incredibly stressful.This past year has been rougher on my nervous system than I had anticipate.

In the middle of the move, boxes and chaos all over the place, I was rushed to the ER due to crazy heart palpitations and sky-high blood pressure spikes. I had never experienced anything like it in my life and thought it was definitely curtains for me. I told the paramedics as they hooked me up to monitors in the ambulance, “Please, keep me alive! I’m too young to die now! I have so many unaccomplished things yet in my life.”

Thankfully, after months of tests and blood pressure regulatory medicine, my vital organs have been functioning well. However, I’ve been devastatingly tired. I go to bed tired and wake up tired. The most frustrating thing has been the spirit being willing but the body being incredibly fatigued. Fatigue being no stranger to me as I have suffered with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia for over two decades.

This time, it’s just taken me longer to climb back in the saddle and with that the onset of anxiety which has its roots in perfectionism, and its tap root, fear of failure. My procrastination is exactly that – because in my mind, not being able to report perfect mindful behaviour and produce the “perfect” post. So, with this self-revelation and confession, here I am having made it back into the proverbial saddle.

In reviewing my Hunger Scale, eating my breakfast of bran flakes and granola, I didn’t do well on mindfulness this morning. Because of the tiredness, for the past couple of days, I’ve been medicating myself with chocolate. But I console myself that it’s bitter-sweet, dark chocolate – 70% cocoa bean, and therefore qualifies as a vegetable, right?!

Eye hunger was not particularly high as the chocolate buttons were not as appealing as if they had been presented in a swirly, silky ganache, say. So I gave eye hunger a 1. Nose, stomach and cellular hunger were also low, but mouth, mind and heart hunger, scored high because I am mindful that my emotions are highly involved.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m an avid admirer and follower of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness practice which he defines as “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, with non-judgement.” To this end, in this present moment, I will refrain from judging my behaviour at breakfast or yesterday’s non-mindful behaviour. I will instead engage in the living experience of this breath and this moment. My favourite Jon Kabat-Zinn quote is, “For as long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you, even if you’re two days away from dying.” Let me encourage us all to hold on to that thought when life becomes seemingly unbearable and/or unmanageable.

I would find your engagement and comments most encouraging and look forward to hearing from you.

WHAT FOOD DO YOU TURN TO FOR COMFORT?

Tiredness is my main trigger for mindless eating. That is because on my Hunger Scale, my heart hunger flips back to its default of reaching out for certain kinds of food for comfort.
canstockphoto21924510 (1)

For instance, my day started off well during which I chose a healthy nutritious breakfast and lunch. By 3 pm, I was feeling mildly peckish as this is the time of day that I usually flag energy-wise. I made myself a small fruit plate of bite-sized orange segments with a splatter of blueberries.

At 5:30 pm, I had pesto linguine and salad for dinner. By now, I was quite fatigued what with my reserve energy depleted from added (unavoidable) stress in my life at the time.

At 8:30 pm, my mouth and heart hunger switched into default mode of thinking that my body needed crunchy food. I usually don’t buy junk food, but my husband had bought those heavily seasoned, artificially orange-coloured ringlets from the Bulk Barn. Yeah, blame it on him!

I popped one in my mouth, when my cells and stomach and even my mouth hunger complained vehemently  about this poor choice. I immediately corrected the situation by choosing five Melba toast crackers with about 1 oz of cheese, followed by half a banana. Stomach hunger was at 6 on the Hunger Scale and felt quite satiated after that snack. Below were my scores before the snack.

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
 6  6 9.5 6 6 9 9.5

What triggers cause you to indulge in emotional eating? What foods do you typically turn to for comfort? How do you score on the Hunger Scale just before you pop that food item into your mouth?

To learn more about Mindful eating see my post, Mindful Beginnings.    https://mindfulbitesblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/mindful-beginnings/

THE MINDFUL EATING OF STEELBACK TROUT

Salmon Veg SteelbackI could happily live on seafood. Tonight stomach and cell hunger call for Steelback Trout. I was going to label this as the tastiest in the salmon family but then Google tells me it’s unquestionably not salmon, but trout. It looks like salmon and it tastes even better than salmon, but it’s not salmon. It’s Steelback Trout.

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
 6  7 8 9.5 9.5  7 6

It’s dinner time and as you can see from my Hunger Scale, I’m pretty famished! My first impressions of tasting the trout is that the meat is naturally sweet and the texture flaky. The taste of the spinach on its own is not so great cooked on the grill, I’m discovering.

Mm, I love the earthy, sweet and creaminess of the forkful of new baby potato. Food cooked outdoors seems to make it taste more flavourful. Perhaps it engages all the senses, especially the nose, what with aromatic smoke permeating the air.  Slightly charred ribbons of zucchini on the grill is particularly delicious. I had parboiled the butternut squash finishing it off on the grill.

My favourite vegetable, by far, is onion, for without the humble allium cepa  most foods would be bland as bland could be. The magical caramelization that emanates from onions grilled outdoors (think public hot dog stand) immediately arrests the olfactory sense triggering the mouth to salivate like crazy.

Coming back to my trout and veggie meal,  my taste buds simply revel in the variety of textures and tastes – tartness of fresh lemon juice drizzled over the salmon, earthiness of potatoes, slight bitterness of spinach, natural sweetness of fish washed down by chilled tangy, light crispy Riesling with delicious fruity tones. I’m particularly partial to German Riesling from the Mosel region.

I have two little potatoes on my plate. My stomach is pretty full and tells me it doesn’t need those extra bites, so I leave them on the plate. I wait for about twenty minutes and check in with the senses. Mouth Hunger requests fruit. Mind and cell hunger approve because it’s a nutritious and healthy choice.

FRUIT PLATE

Fruit plate
The Japanese have a mindful way of cooking and serving their food, cut up into small, bite sized piece minimally arranged on the plate. Sushi comes to mind.

I’m inspired to slice the globe grapes in half, as well as the banana. The eyes take in the firm, rich claret grape skins plump with juicy flesh. I’m trying to figure out the smell of grapes. It is fresh but not strong. The banana has a distinct ripe aroma – not overripe and not under ripe. To quote Goldilocks, “Just right.” I munch on a banana disc first because it’s the most satiating.

The banana is delicious and wonderfully squishy mashed between my chompers. The grape is sensational as the sweet juice squirts over my tongue. My molars act as a grape press leaving just the chewed up skin behind. I spit the skins out as they tend to ferment in my belly. I don’t want to discharge any more methane gas into the environment than I need to!

New Zealand has cultivated the Kiwi Gold kiwifruit that I much prefer to the the more acidic green kiwifruit. I’m thrilled that they’re exported and available at some Canadian supermarkets.

An orange can be a wonderful eating experience when it’s sun-kissed and sweet. To me, it’s the most refreshing fruit for a sucrose fix as well as a palate cleanser. Now if only I can be mindful of this when I’m tempted to reach out for a sugary dessert.

CHECKING THE HUNGER SCALE

Five Senses2
Image by canstockphoto.com

In my previous post I mentioned Dr. Chozen Bay’s seven kinds of hunger.  I’ve charted a “hunger scale” that I use to weigh up how hungry I am and what kinds of hunger are involved in my decision to put something in my mouth. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the least hungry and 10 the most) I check to see what hungers are nudging me – eye, nose, mouth, stomach, cellular, mind or heart.

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
    5     5       6         8        8      3     0

The numbers in the above table indicate my seven hungers for breakfast on my first day of eating with intent and awareness. Breakfast, for me, is pretty predictable and not what most would perceive as exciting. My daughter and son charmingly call it “old people food.” It’s good ole bran flakes with a sprinkling of Harvest Crunch granola bathed in half a cup of 2% milk.

Bowl of BranEYE HUNGER On the surface of things, to the eye, the bowl of bran flakes admittedly looks just meh. But when I mindfully study what’s in front of me, the place setting is pleasing to look at. Especially as I’m using for the first time one of the place mats that my friend, Cathy, in South Africa, sewed for me. This is one of six beautiful place mats of various tribal African women which you will see in future posts.

Before I decided to embark on this mindful eating journey, I used to eat my breakfast standing at the counter, checking email and social media on my iPad while waiting for the kettle to boil. None of my senses was engaged in my eating experience.

Window view
View from my dining room window

Now I try to approach what’s in my bowl or on my plate as if I’m seeing the food for the first time. Each bran flake although not uniform in shape, has a grainy, brown colour. Its surface is  rough and speckled. Ah, is this what my grandmother meant by ‘roughage?’

I like the texture of this particular brand as it has just the right heft. What is also appealing to the eye is sitting by my dining room table and paying attention to the slow unfolding of spring through the window. When one is not in the present moment, you miss out so much on what to see, smell, taste, touch, etc. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the peaceful view from my window. I gave my eye hunger a score of 5 in comparison to food and setting that would really wow me, like feasting on seafood looking out onto the ocean.

NOSE HUNGER When I lean in to smell the cereal, the sweetness, especially coconut in the granola clusters, is strongly evident. In the background, the bran flakes and oats emit a faint, grainy smell. I try to determine the milk smell, but it is overpowered by the granola. The aroma of the cereal takes me back to a moment in childhood, growing up with my grandmother. It elicits the pleasant emotion of comfort and nurture as I remember one particular incident when I was sick in bed and Mama brought me my breakfast on a tray – a bowl of Post Toasties (cornflakes) sprinkled with sugar and bathed in warm milk. The smell of my cereal connects with my heart hunger taking me back to that time.

MOUTH HUNGER  The score for mouth hunger,  for the most part, has been around 6-8 although some mornings I’m hungrier than others. I raise my spoon slowly to my mouth feeling the rough cluster of granola contrasted with flakes of bran softened by the milk that brings a coolness to my tongue. I can hear my molars do a great crunching job, the sound also enjoyed by the other components of the hunger experience. I count how many chews it takes to eat one spoon of cereal. Thirty six chews till my mouth is clear and ready for the next spoonful. It’s taken me twelve minutes to consume the contents of my bowl.Granola2

Now only milk is left and I almost flip into default wanting to drink the milk from the rim of the bowl, but I catch myself. I focus my attention on how the milk tastes as I bring each spoonful into my mouth till the last one. It’s taken on the lingering sweetness of the granola. My tongue deftly swabs over my teeth and gums to clear away remaining bits of masticated cereal while my mind registers the bits of desiccated coconut. I love the sensual smell and taste of coconut.

STOMACH HUNGER is at 8 on the Hunger Scale. My tummy is grateful for the healthy cereal and milk that are easier to digest than, say, bacon and eggs. It’s never happy with greasy food for it’s first meal of the day.

CELLULAR HUNGER works in tandem with stomach hunger because if the stomach receives healthy food, it benefits and nourishes the cells. My cells are grateful for the good carbs of the oats and bran, as well as the protein and calcium in the milk.

MIND HUNGER The workings of the mind are very strange indeed. There’s constant chatter going on in the brain – especially mine.

“You shouldn’t eat that tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream.”
“Yeah I know, I’ll go on a diet on Monday. What the heck this feels so good. Sin in haste, repent in leisure, ha ha ha!”

Afterward, the bugger heaps a pile of guilt on me like a stack of pancakes drowning in syrup. My mind and I have spent close to sixty years living in conflict.

Dr. Chozen Bay writes, “The mind is truly content when it becomes quiet…When the awareness function is dominant over the thinking function, then we can be fully present as we eat. When we are filled with awareness, we become filled with satisfaction.” I can attest to this as I endeavor to continue this practice.

HEART HUNGER As I mentioned under the nose hunger heading, the nose and heart formed an emotional connection to the childhood memory of feeling comforted and nurtured by my grandma.

However, for most of my adult years my heart hunger was off the scale and my relationship with food was sorely unbalanced. Of course, I was unaware that my emotional eating episodes stemmed from a malnourished heart hunger rooted in unresolved personal conflicts. Depression demanded that I feed the starving heart with food – sweet, sugary content, that sent me into the abyss after the sugar buzz wore off. My mind liked to play silly games. Again, to quote Dr. Chozen Bay, “Food is food. The rest is mind games.” Once I informed the mind about the different kinds of hunger, we could get a better perspective on things.

I am also educating my mind that heart hunger cannot be filled with food. I am learning to satisfy the heart’s need of emotional nourishment through my own intuitive wisdom and cultivation of a deeper awareness of my relationship with matter around me. Meaning that I am ‘seeing’ in a different way as though I’m seeing say, the sky, a tree, flower or piece of fruit for the first time, really engaging with each in the present moment. In eating mindfully, I find myself not only eating slower but also eating less, because I’m not eating unnecessarily. Practicing mindfulness in all aspects of my life, including the act of eating, is helping me to live a more balanced and stress-reduced life. And as Martha Stewart used to say on her TV show, “It’s a good thing.”

MY DECADENT CAPPUCCINO EXPERIENCE

The high pitched whir of my electric coffee grinder pierces the peacefulness of my country kitchen, beginning my post-breakfast ritual. The intoxicating aroma catapults my nose hunger to the top of the hunger scale.

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
 9  10  10  2  2  10  10

Coffee ritualI pour boiling water on three heaped teaspoons of ground beans in the single-cup French press. (I have a preference for the mellow blend of medium roasted beans over dark roasted.)

While that brews, in the glass frother cylinder, I heat a quarter cup of two percent milk in the microwave for one minute.  Then, with my right hand, I vigorously piston the plunger into the hot milk until I achieve a smooth foaminess. Slowly, I pour the coffee in a circular motion around the rim into the cylinder. And now for my piece de resistance, I sprinkle a teaspoon bitter-sweet grated chocolate on top.

coffee cappThis is where my mouth hunger skyrockets right up to 10, maybe even off the scale! My upper lip takes the lead with the first sip skimming a bit of chocolate and froth off the top before tasting the seriously wonderful cappuccino. My taste buds do a Java jive. Each sip is tantalizing to every cell in my mouth – roof, sides and every taste bud. My tongue gleefully swipes off the chocolaty mustache.

The delicious brew travels through my anticipating throat right down to my happy stomach. I hear myself moaning like that girl in the Herbal Essence shampoo commercial. The last drop is the best because what is left in the bottom of the cup is a fusion of coffee and melted chocolate – a veritable, velvety ecstasy on the tongue.

After it has slid down the hatch, I let out an “Ooh yah!” The tasty sensation is long-lingering even as I step out the door for my morning walk. I don’t want to break up the party in my mouth. I’ll leave the brushing of my teeth till later.

JEN’S JAZZED UP CREAM OF CHICKEN SOUP

I always keep a few cans of low fat cream of chicken soup handy in the pantry for when I need to whip up a meal for when Eye, Nose, Stomach and Cell hunger are close to tipping the Hunger Scale.

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
 9  10  10 10 10  10  10

Early spring was still pretty nippy and my Cellular Hunger was definitely hankering after wholesome, hearty soup. We had come in from running errands in town and got home fairly late in the afternoon. As you can see from the above scale, I was ravenous!

IMG_3302My trusty standby Jen’s Jazzed Up Cream of Chicken Soup to the rescue. I begin most meals with sautéed onion and garlic, adding to this two strips of double-cured bacon (from my gourmet supermarket) cut into tiny pieces. This kicks the flavour up to a new intensity.

Then I add a teaspoon dried sage, 1 grated carrot, 1 cup of fresh corn kernels I had stripped from their cobs. Now to finish the dish, I add two cans of cream of chicken soup, 600ml chicken stock and 1 cup of milk. I mix all the ingredients together and slowly bring everything to a gentle boil. And voila, there’s my hearty, healthy, satisfying quick and easy supper. I serve the soup in my favourite vintage soup cup.

As a side, I toasted one slice of home-made (bread machine) whole wheat bread, spread it with a thin layer of butter and a quarter avocado sliced on top of it seasoning it with salt. Pepper makes me cough and splutter. The soup is a tad too hot on the tongue. I blow on the contents of the soup spoon and take my first sip. It’s mmm..mmm…good! I love the corn kernel texture against the smoothness of the creamy soup. I always enjoy corn with chicken. The onions, garlic and bacon are the main players that make the soup pop with flavour.

Now I bite into the avo-topped toast. My bottom teeth cut through the crusty bread making a delicious crunchy sound while the creamy avocado cools the roof of my mouth. I pay attention to the number of chews it would take to masticate my mouth’s contents. Twenty eight chews! As I chomp-chomp my eyes notice the still sparse lilac tree outside the window getting greener by the day. All my hungers are totally satiated and hope springs.

MINDFUL EATING AND CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
0 0 0 0 0 10 10

As you will observe, my Hunger Scale looks markedly different from previous posts. Why? Because of a (sometimes for me) debilitating condition known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
It takes great effort to practice Mindfulness in eating, more so, when my coping mechanisms are depleted due to the over two-decade affliction of this malady.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) presents physiological symptoms involving neurological, endocrine and immune system dysfunction affecting the nervous system. I go to bed exhausted and wake up exhausted.

When my energy level is manageable, I have to pace the intensity of my day to day exertion. But sometimes (on a down cycle) I simply wake up with like what I envisage a massive hangover would feel like.

This past week I could hardly think straight, let alone have the cognitive energy involved in mindful eating. My brain felt like molasses. My head leaden, hungover and feeling pressurized. I didn’t even have the strength to cry to relieve the pressure as would a faucet letting out water. I’ve plummeted to chronic exhaustion. My neck and shoulder muscles aching, and hip sciatica aggravating the situation.

Since I’ve discovered Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction strategies for pain relief, I’ve been able to weather this ME/CFS down cycle during the past week. Using the Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief practice has helped to ride out this cycle. Thankfully, I can dance again in my kitchen to tunes of Creedence Clearwater Revival!

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine Health Care at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

How I implement the Practice of Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief as prescribed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I drop into the present moment as it is and turn my awareness to whatever it is that’s calling out for attention.
I acknowledge the chronic tiredness.
I acknowledge my leaden and fuzzy brain.
I acknowledge the neck and shoulder muscle pain.
I acknowledge the nagging hip pain.

I hold in awareness these intense sensations and the story line I’m telling myself about them – like, “I can’t take this anymore! How long is this going to go on for? How will it be tomorrow? What brought on this cycle?”

Rather than struggling against these sensations or wishing them to go away, I allow them to be here. I tune into the sensation of breathing and notice its ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean washing to shore. The sensation of breathing is the very essence of life itself. As a mother cradles a baby I cradle these sensations and emotions I feel, breathing into each. The more I practice, the more I am able to stay in awareness of what is happening in my body.

Kabat-Zinn says discomfort does not have to be an impediment to Mindfulness practice. However unpleasant, don’t STRUGGLE against the discomfort, but keep breathing into it till something shifts. I REST in awareness, letting the discomfort come and go, breathing in this breath in this moment and exhaling, moment by moment. Sometimes I sit quietly tuning into the awareness of breathing and other times, I meditate on the breath while going for a gentle walk.

Have these activities or practices been easy? By no means! I’ve capitalized the words “Struggle” and “Rest” which are key to the understanding of the Mindfulness practice. The more you struggle against the discomfort, the more suffering you create for yourself. Resting in the discomfort is a much better way of coping, in my experience.

Since this blog is about following the progress of my Mindful eating journey, how did I fare on my Hunger Scale?

For Eye, Nose, Mouth, Stomach and Cellular Hunger I scored zero because as I said earlier, my physical and cognitive coping mechanisms were down. However, for Mind and Heart Hunger I scored ten because the need to be comforted was so strong. I wasn’t hungry in the morning and relied on coffee for an energy boost and for comfort I reached out for crunchy food – and I’m not talking about carrot sticks! canstockphoto3641458 (1)

One of the tenets of the Mindfulness practice is non-judgement. Whereas before, my perfectionist tendencies would have been engaged in grave self-judgement, now I simply observe my condition and behaviour of the past week with empathy and self-love.

My blog is not about achieving results for weight loss or dieting, but rather about the eating component of Mindful practice in all spheres of my being. I hope anyone reading this who also suffers with ME/CFS may find this post helpful in relieving their own suffering.