Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,
of being in your body so completely,
of being in your life so completely,
that what you knew and what you didn’t know,
that what had been and what was yet to come,
and the way things are right now
no longer held even the slightest hint of anxiety or discord?
– Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Tasting Mindfulness"
An interesting thing about growing up is that the older you get, and the more the world changes, many things that were once considered healthy are often revealed to be exactly the opposite. In the ‘90s, when I was a kid, we all ate processed lunch meat and sugary cereal, drank “juice” loaded with high fructose corn syrup, and were raised to have high “self esteem.” All of these things have been proven to be cons – especially “self esteem,” which has inadvertently led to a generation full of anxiety, depression, and unearned participation trophies. (The healthier new alternative is self-compassion, which is less dependent on favorable comparison with other human beings.)
One of the best examples of the above phenomenon is dieting, which was all the rage in the ‘90s, from Weight Watchers to Jenny Craig, and all their “dietetic” and “low fat” foods, but has continued into the 21st century with the Atkins Diet, Paleo Diet, and juice cleanses. Here’s the problem with diets, although I think you already know the answer – they lead to an all-or-nothing mentality, where the hard restrictions they impose often eventually lead people to crack under the pressure, cheat, say “what the hell”… and resume another cycle of overeating. Therefore leading to… a fancy new diet. “Dieters show cognitive differences in how they view things,” says Dr. Janet Polivy, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. “It’s not just being on a diet per se. It’s these chronic dieters who are always on and off diets. It becomes part of their identity."1
Our co-founder, Lucas, has spoken openly about his own struggles with bulimia – an extreme example of a vicious cycle of binging and purging – but the high costs of our culture are everywhere. We can see similar all-or-nothing patterns in many of our modern coping strategies, from our social media addictions and Netflix binges, to our burnout-inducing “hustle culture” and January gym memberships. As we talked about in a previous piece, the combination of stress, unhealthy eating, and other coping habits has led to an increase in acid-reflux related issues in Western countries, even more than in the developing world (where there’s less access to things for consumption).
So… how do we stop dieting from becoming another addiction? According to a growing body of research and supporters, the answer isn’t a specialty diet at all – it’s mindful eating. In short, mindful eating is a combination of mindfulness, the practice of being “in the moment” derived from meditation and Eastern spirituality, combined with the act of eating. According to the Center for Mindful Eating: “Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating. Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, reconnecting us with our innate inner wisdom about hunger and satiety.”2 (“Intuitive eating” is a related but broader concept, developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, based on their work in eating disorder recovery. It expands the idea of mindful eating to more actively rejecting the “diet mentality,” and replacing dysfunctional beliefs about eating with a combination of external knowledge and internal wisdom.)3
Compared to dieting, mindful eating isn’t necessarily about losing weight – although losing weight may be an additional benefit. According to Dr. Judson Brewer, the director of the Brown University Mindfulness center and the creator of the Eat Right Now app, the goal of mindful eating is to listen to the signals our bodies give us, with each bite of food – both the physical and emotional responses. “Your body is designed to stop when it’s full,” he says. “We overeat only when we’re not paying attention. It is all right to eat as much as we want, but if we listen to the wisdom of our bodies, we’re not going to overeat, and that’s where we can shift our behavior.”3 Once we’re able to become more mindful when eating, we can expand our awareness to the sensations we have before and after eating, as well as the urges that go into our grocery shopping and restaurant ordering habits.
There is no stronger signal from our bodies than painful, searing heartburn… so it’s definitely a message worth listening to. What is your body trying to tell you, when heartburn or indigestion strikes? If it’s telling you to pop a Wonderbelly Antacid to help douse the firestorm, we’re happy to help… but we’d be even happier if you listen to the more subtle signs your body gives you, during each bite of those habanero hot wings, and each sip of that triple-shot latte. We’d love to hear more about your experiences in mindful eating here at the Guts & Butts blog, and in our growing, super-conscious community. Here at Wonderbelly, we believe that world peace starts with dinner peace… we can feel it, deep in our guts.