The Simple Path is the Clearest Path
During my twenty years as a medical professional, I have seen, read about, and personally tried countless weight loss methods. And they ALL work. That is, of course, until they stop working, and you find yourself heavier than when you started the remedy. There is also another trait they share: they are not fun. In fact, the biggest obstacle I have encountered when trying to counsel people to lose weight is the barrier of pain. Everyone knows (or think they know) that losing weight and getting healthy will be painful. I can easily paint a picture for my clients of how wonderful they could feel if they were lighter; how much more energy they will have, how they can kiss their diabetes and arthritis goodbye, how much power and joy they will feel when they are healthy, medication-free, and thin. But most people can’t see through the discomfort of getting there.
So what if I were to tell you that I had come upon a “pain-free” way to lose weight? Would you jump at it? What if I also told you that this pathway was not only going to bring you the health you seek, but also make every other aspect of your life more enriching and more real to you? And here is the kicker… it is free.
I have several thousand books in my personal library; most of them are on topics of health: psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. There is not a lot out there that I haven’t at least heard of if not studied. So the power of a weight loss technique that I literally stumbled upon earlier this fall caught me fully off guard. This past September, my wife and I attended a meditation retreat with the venerable head of the Vietnamese Buddhist movement, Thich Nhat Hanh. We wanted to learn “mindfulness” from one of its pioneers, the author of 111 books on the topic, and a man whom I had revered since my college days. Though we expected a relaxing and serene week (after all, the retreat was held on the grounds of the Magnolia Grove Buddhist Temple in Batesville, MS), we were happily surprised to learn that the retreat was designed to be a totally immersive experience. We practiced mindfulness from the moment our eyes opened at 5 am with the sound of the large temple gong being played, to the last cricket chirp we heard in the evening as we fell asleep in our tent (yes, we camped out!). Meals played an important role in this practice. We were told that we would split into teams, each of which had a specific role in the meals: cooking, serving, dishwashing, etc. To keep our focus on the task at hand, we were asked not to speak; of course, laptops and cell phones were also off limits.
The first couple of days were almost agonizing, as my mind ached for stimulation. It was very quiet outside, but my mind managed to make the internal dialogue quite prominent and busy: “What are you really doing here? What are you accomplishing? These people are silly; you’re not like them… you produce!” But slowly, steadily, the noise in my mind and body slowed down. On the morning of day three, I found myself sitting on a picnic bench and eating a very bland bowl of oatmeal with pecans and sliced bananas. The sun was just beginning to rise, and I felt the warm glow on my face. I was surrounded by other retreat attendees, also eating in silence. The monastery bell rang, reminding us to come back to our bodies and the meal in front of us. I closed my eyes and took two deep breaths. Opening my eyes, I raised a morsel of oatmeal to my mouth, then put the spoon down, and started chewing. For the first time in years, I actually tasted oatmeal. It was not just sweet or salty, but was an entire story being told as I chewed: I felt the sun shining down on the oat grass as it grew, and the journey that the grain took after it was harvested. The earth, the sun, the rain– it was all there in my mouth, being enjoyed. The feeling of deep connection between all that there was hidden in the grain, as well as the collective energy of all of the retreat goers around me was all-encompassing. Though I could only hold all of this for a few seconds, time seemed to stop during this moment. It was as if I was seeing things as they actually were… for the first time.
After the retreat, things returned to life as usual, with one exception: I ate more mindfully. I slowed my eating, and tried to regain the sensation I had experienced that morning at the retreat. I thought about the journey the food in front of me had taken from start to finish, and I stopped myself from preparing the next bite on my fork while I was chewing. I paid careful attention to how different foods made my body feel, both immediately and the next day. Awareness made decisions regarding what to eat easier: Did I really want to down that Milano cookie (produced in a huge factory with completely artificial ingredients by an uncaring company that markets to my kids)? or that piece of organic broccoli (raised in all its beautiful bright green glory by the sun and earth)? Not a hard choice when the light of awareness shines! By two weeks after the retreat, I had lost 8 pounds without even trying to!
“So how do I eat mindfully, Dr. H,” I hear you asking? True, it’s one thing to know what the right thing is to do, but another thing entirely to put it into play in every day life. Here are a couple of real-life tips you can use:
Food used to be an event — a time to reconnect with family, and recharge your batteries. You can make it so again!
Studies have shown that eating in front of the television results in overeating… every time! There is nothing better for creating a lack of awareness than the TV.
This is a game I play with myself frequently. Righties: Can’t eat as quickly with your left hand? That’s the idea!! For the competitive folks out there: try this with chopsticks (yes, you can eat just about anything with them).
In other words, fight the urge to prepare your next bite as you chew the present bite. What’s your rush? Really delve into the “why” of your behavior here. Your food isn’t going anywhere, right? Ask yourself, “Why am I picking up the next bite? I haven’t even finished chewing THIS bite!”As my late mentor Herb Smith said, “If you are thinking of dessert all through dinner, you probably won’t enjoy that either.” (This principle can be extended as far into the rest of your life as you like… but that is for another discussion!)
Salt and sugar trigger your brain to speed up your eating. Real food actually tastes great without much seasoning! Challenge yourself to TASTE food, not the salt, sugar, and fat added in by foodmakers.
So there you go. Pretty simple, huh? I know it’s easier said than done, but bring mindfulness into your eating and you will see that it’s worth the effort. This is all about incremental improvement, not perfection. If you want to learn more, feel free to contact us at email@example.com or visit our website: http://www.sriinstitute.com. On the website, there are lots of other articles on the topics of mindfulness and better eating.