I’ve been a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh for years. He’s a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has written a number of books on Buddhism, meditation and mindful thinking. I recently read Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, a book about mindful weight loss. I could relate to a lot of things in this book and I think it would have been a helpful book to read when I was first contemplating losing my weight.
“Identifying and acknowledging the nature and depth of your suffering may be difficult, You may want to suppress it and not deal with it. However, our first step toward healing and transformation is to recognize the existence of our suffering and not run away from it. [pg 20]“
Wow, did that speak to me or what! I suppressed the unhappiness and the drive to get healthy for years. I ate food to self-medicate my unhappiness which in turn made my unhappiness worse. I needed a wake-up call to realize it was time to make that change. It definitely wasn’t a pleasant wake-up call and obviously I had to go through a transformation mentally in order to get to the point where I was ready to lose weight.
You Can Identify the Roots of Your Weight Problem
I knew the roots of my weight problem. They were extensive and I’m still working on them. It might be a lifetime of work for me.
Hanh goes on to describe something that Buddhism calls pretas, or Hungry Ghosts, “who have insatiable appetites for food, drinks, and other cravings. They are desperate beings who are always hungry…The act of eating does not help them overcome negative emotions and cravings. Eating more only causes them to have more pain and agony. [pg 21]“
I really liked the concept of a Hungry Ghost. I definitely have hungry ghosts. They were always there when I was obese and no matter how much I binged, it never satisfied them. Do I still have Hungry Ghosts? Yes, sometimes. It’s not as often and not as bad as it used to be. That gives me hope that I can overcome it completely some day. What about you? Do you have a Hungry Ghost that is never satisfied?
“To understand our shame of being overweight, we must acknowledge and accept that we are embarrassed, angry, and filled with despair. By becoming one with our suffering, we can feel it. We acknowledge the feelings; we do not reject them or push them away. [pg 68]“
I don’t think I felt shame as an obese woman, but I definitely felt anger and despair. Once I realized why I was feeling that way, it became clear what changes I needed to make. He went on to describe how overweight people often feel negatively about their bodies (I definitely did) and that we need to stop and recognize what parts of our bodies DO work well. “Our body may have been calling out for help, but we are so preoccupied with our life’s demands that we ignore our body’s SOS signals. [pg 74]“ Boy did I ever ignore my body’s SOS signals–high blood pressure, diabetes, body aches…
The book is definitely a good book for someone thinking about losing weight. It wasn’t that helpful for me at this point in my journey, but there were definitely some good reminders in there that helped me. I have been struggling lately. The injury that I’ve been dealing with since October has been depressing and ongoing and I have most definitely turned to food at times for comfort. I hate that I reverted back to that mode, but I did do a pretty good job not completely falling off the wagon. Still, there were some good reminders for me to be mindful of WHAT I am eating and WHY.
Small Steps = Big Results
I’ve said it over and over again: when desiring to lose weight you have to start small. Starting too big too soon will set you up for failure.
“By accomplishing little steps, you start to have a taste of what you can do. You begin to have a taste of success. Every day, allow yourself to witness that it is possible for you to make changes in the right direction, no matter how small. Success breeds success. It is contagious. [pg 33]“
This was TOTALLY true for me. I was over 250 pounds, unhealthy, inactive, in pain all the time. I was a couch potato that binged on junk food. I found that when I started counting my calories and swimming, I started to feel better. I felt more active, I felt healthier, I felt happier! It really did work! Doing just a little bit got me out of my funk and on the road to health. Once I started to feel better and I was seeing results on the scale, I CRAVED healthy foods and exercise. It got easier to make good choices. I was being rewarded with progress.
Mindless and Mindful Eating
Have you ever heard of the phrase “mindful eating”? It’s a really simple concept that I think we as Americans have gotten so far away from that it’s probably a reason for our weight issues. As a whole, we’re overscheduled, eating on the run, grabbing a quick to-go meal. Gone are the days where we sat down and enjoyed our meals together. It’s protein bars and meal-replacement shakes as we race to get to work on time.
“Moviegoers who were given stale popcorn said the taste was ‘unfavorable.’ Yet when they were served stale popcorn in a large container, they ate 61% more popcorn than they did when it was served in a small container while they were watching the movie — and they underestimated the amount of popcorn they ate. [pg 25]“
How interesting is that above quote? It’s so true too! Think about the last time you ate something that wasn’t very good but you kept eating it. I’ve given myself permission to throw out food I don’t like. For example, someone brought some cookies to work and I walked by them all day long thinking, Those look so good! I finally broke down and got one. I took a bite and discovered it wasn’t as good as it looked. It was dry, flavorless and just not great. I took one bite, discovered that, and then threw it out. Why keep eating it? I wasn’t enjoying it. It was a waste of calories!
He suggests an experiment: the next time you eat an apple, look at it before taking a bite. Really contemplate it and ask:
“Am I really enjoying eating it? Or am I so preoccupied with other thoughts that I miss the delights that the apple offers me? [pg 39]“
Reading that line I had to stop and think — do I really enjoy and savor my food? Or am I eating too fast and in a distracted manner? Am I reading? Watching TV? Doing chores while I take bites here and there? Or am I focused and mindful on each bite I eat and all the glorious flavors I taste? The sad answer is that I don’t eat mindfully often enough.
“The first thing is to give your undivided attention to eating the apple…Don’t think of anything else. And most important, be still. Don’t eat the apple while you are driving. Don’t eat the apple while you are walking. Don’t eat it while you are reading. Just be still. Being focused and slowing down will allow you to truly savor all the qualities the apple offers: its sweetness, aroma, freshness, juiciness, and crispness. [pg 40]“
How often are you eating on the run? Grabbing bites, eating on autopilot, eating our worries and anxieties and sadness, eating the stress we had during the day… “If we are not conscious of the food we eat, if we are not actively thinking about that apple, how can we taste it and get the pleasure of eating it? [pg42]“
I challenge all of my readers to try that experiment. Slow down. Enjoy your food. Contemplate it. Really taste every flavor.
A lot of the book was pretty basic. I didn’t find anything of value in the first half of the book, really. It wasn’t new information on how to eat healthy. What was helpful for me was the second half of the book that talked more about mindful eating and learning to enjoy my food. I did like that part a lot!
I’ll end this post with his “Seven Practices of a Mindful Eater.” I don’t want to give the whole book away!
1. Honor the food.
2. Engage all six senses.
3. Serve in modest portions.
4. Savor small bites and chew thoroughly.
5. Eat slowly to avoid overeating.
6. Don’t skip meals.
7. Eat a plant-based diet for your health and for the planet.
If you take anything away from this post and don’t read the book, at least take into consideration the above 7 tips. They are great tips and pretty much what I do. Smaller portions, don’t skip meals. Personally I need to work on honoring my food and eating slowly.
QUESTION: Have you read this book? Do you practice mindful eating?