Mindful eating. It sounds so simple. I would think we are all born with the ability. Whatever happened to mine, I’m not sure. But somehow, very early on along the way, eating became mechanical, emotional, social, comforting, and generally filled with mindlessness.

I would like to blame my culture, my environment, my parents, my friends, my pregnancies, my hormones, my religion!—the Jewish tradition of fasting or feasting to death. That would get me nowhere. I’ve done enough blaming in my life. Not so helpful.

Having been raised with reciting blessings on my food—thanking G‑d for the gift, and acknowledging the source of our food—mindful eating should have been an automatic part of my life; but mindfulness is anything but automatic.

Mindfulness is anything but automaticA mindful eater is one who eats without judgment or guilt. A mindful eater eats when hungry. Mindful eaters do not graze, multitask, skip meals, ignore body cues, eat when they’re full, eat because it’s there, it’s so good, or because it’s left on their child’s plate. Being mindful means knowing exactly how your body feels at all times. It’s being in touch with what is going on inside. Mindful eating comes with an awareness of tastes, textures, smells. Mindful eating is a state of consciousness in which we appreciate where our food comes from, acknowledge the energy that goes into its creation, and express gratitude for the nourishment we are provided.

Eating without guilt and judgment—is that even possible? I started the Weight Watchers diet at the age of eleven. That’s my earliest recollection of dieting. I have spent the next quarter-century battling my weight or trying to get “in control.” I can’t honestly say I’ve tried every diet, but suffice it to say that I’ve tried many. The Blood Type Diet, Fit for Life, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, etc. I went vegetarian, vegan, and back to carnivore. I’ve been on and off carbs, on and off proteins. I have gorged on fruits and vegetables. I have (a very long time ago) subsisted on Diet Coke and canned green beans. I’ve been thinner and fatter. Healthier and less so. I have made many health commitments to myself—most of them related to my diet. I no longer eat wheat, dairy, yeast, corn or sugar. I try to avoid processed foods. This sounds really good, but the reasons behind—not so good. Certainly not from a source of strength. Probably fear and shame. I’ve called myself big, fat, pig, glutton, out-of-control, ginormous, elephant, etc. Then there’s the great combo, “You out-of-control big fat pig elephant.”

I denied myself some great food pleasures because of my love/hate relationship with foodI denied myself some great food pleasures because of my love/hate relationship with food and the inevitable negative body image that follows. Who goes to Israel and doesn’t eat ice cream? Me. That’s who. I’m sure there are some other martyrs out there too. I don’t regret not eating ice cream; I regret the spirit in which I denied myself that pleasure.

So goes the domino effect. From being discouraged about my weight and body size, to self-inflicted mental abuse—the things I think to myself, I wouldn’t dare say them out loud. (I’m talking “big fat pig elephant” sounding like a compliment.) From the abuse to feeling downtrodden. From feeling downright miserable to reaching for food . . . It’s good, healthy food! What’s wrong with another bowl of split pea soup? Eating for the wrong reasons never ends well. Of course, there are a number of things that could happen along the way. Feeling badly about myself and passing on the pain to the next person I encounter. Feeling guilty for being obnoxious. Bickering about nothing. Feeling some more guilty. None of them pretties up these (actual) case scenarios. I promise.

After decades of trying to control, it suddenly dawned on me that I need to stop thinking I’m in control. I am not in control. I need to surrender. To listen to my body, to tune in to my feelings. To respect food and to respect my body. To allow the voice of my intuition to speak louder than the myriad of negative messages. It’s fairly early in this new journey. I’ve been trying . . . trying to let go of control. Trying to tune in. Trying to accept myself. Trying to eat mindfully.

I’ve been trying . . . trying to let go of controlAs I reach for food in this enlightened state, I ask myself:

Am I: Hungry? Sad? Angry? Tired? Lonely? I don’t generally find myself looking for food when I’m happy. In fact, when I’m happy, I sometimes forget to eat. (Okay, this doesn't happen all that frequently.)

While eating, I make an effort to:

  • Focus on the food and how I feel as I eat
  • Be aware of the aroma, appearance and texture of the food
  • Eat more slowly and savor each bite
  • Chew thoroughly
  • Eat while sitting (why is this so hard?)
  • To quell the feelings of guilt that (still!) come
  • To accept my imperfections

In the short time since getting on this mindful program—and I haven’t been totally consistent—old habits die really hard . . . (Why am I making excuses?) I’ve derived greater pleasure from the food I eat. I’m satisfied with less—not just food, but in general. I’ve noticed improved digestion. I’ve lost a few pounds (but trying not to focus on that). I’m slowly learning to forgive myself, and that’s probably the hardest part of the process.

Things I still need to work on: Balance, balance and balance. I’m afraid of certain foods. Well, afraid of myself consuming certain foods in an “out of control” way. I would like to be able to eat a slice of bread instead of half a loaf; I’d like to eat a cookie and not twelve cookies. I will need to feel much more mindful before I venture that way.

In the meantime, I’m taking baby steps. Taking baby steps reminds me to appreciate the small accomplishments. It serves as a reminder that all I can do is to take baby steps, and helps keep my need to control in perspective. I am not in control. I am mindful that there is a much greater Power than I, who is in control, provides for my needs and watches over me.