I love Christmas Cookies. How about you? They’ve begun multiplying within my reach these past few days, and I’ve already overindulged in a santa-esque way. Those peanut butter cookies topped with a chocolate kiss are hard to resist. They taste like Christmas, even just the sight of them makes me think delectably of December. Yet what often happens is that I down several, not just one or two, and then feel stuffed, not wanting another but wishing for one. Somehow the joy of them, even just the thought of them, gets lost in a bacchanalian binge-fest. My joy is weighed down into an “oy vey!”
Mindful eating is an approach to eating (actually it’s just eating) that can also be a spiritual practice. It’s about paying attention while you eat with intention. That’s sounds painfully laborious even as I type it, yet it’s actually a discipline that can bring you more joy, with potentially less of you. Did you know that 2/3rds of American are considered overweight of obese? In our children and adolescents it’s 1/3. [stats] I’m part of those 2/3rds and much of why is that I stuff my face. I eat quickly and unintentionally. I know what I’m doing, and putting into my mouth, but I don’t give it much thought.
I’m hungry, feeling starved, from low and peaking blood-sugar so I grab what I can to satiate my hunger…but end up going way past that. Wether from stress, time-scarcity, temptation or just plain laziness I more often than nought eat without enjoying what I’m eating. My bulges come not only from inactivity and bad choices, but primarily because of unthinking bursts of bingeing. Where’s the joy and fun in that?
Here’s some tips I’ve gleaned from experience, reading and spiritual retreat where we did this practice.
BE MINDFUL OF WHERE IT CAME FROM:
In my family we often give thanks or the hands that prepared the meal. Usually what I eat is prepared, grown or delivered to me. It’s a gift, a grace, something I’m receiving not just in a transaction but in a relationship (however implicit it may be).
As you eat how often do you reflect (now I’m not talking about hours or even minutes…) upon where the food came from, who grew, cultivated or harvested it? There’s a reason that the tomatoes I grow in my garden taste better than any I ever buy. And it’s not because the climatic conditions of East Oakland are the best in the world for agriculture. As you eat be mindful, grateful – however brief it may be – of where the food you’re eating came from, how you received it and the many hands (and hopefully that outnumber the conveyer belts) that touched it.
From a spiritual perspective it’s an opportunity to foster gratitude within us. We can practice our inter-dependence with each other. We savor the gifts of God who blesses with abundance while we fall prey to a cultural-consciously created fear of scarcity. That there is not enough to go around.
SAVOR THE FOOD AND THE MOMENT:
Eating is something physical that’s also emotional, relational and spiritual. As you eat how often do you reflect (now I’m not talking about hours or even minutes…) upon where the food came from, who grew, cultivated or harvested it?
Mindful Eating is a practice of being intentional: slowing down to savor the food you’re eating. The aroma. The texture. The taste. The way it warms or cools you off. The memories it elicits in your body.
Eating is also a social thing. Most of our memories of good times with family and friends are associated with food, converge with meals we’ve shared or holidays we celebrate with culinary treats: turkey, ham, a glass of wine, champagne, Birthday cake, a special restaurant…even Christmas Cookies. Enjoy who you’re with, what you’re doing, where you are.
From a spiritual perspective it’s a invitation to relationship and communication. The Creation story in Genesis says that we’re created in the image of God – it’s less about physicality than it is about relationally. Eating together then is some sort of vocation for our humanity, a way in which the imago dei within us is set free and incarnated.
Studies repeatedly show that those who eat slower consume less calories, and thus lose weight (or gain less). It’s not really rocket science. If you eat quickly, you have less time and a chance of discerning when you’ve had enough. In shoveling it in you enjoy it less. Often with those cookies I eat the whole thing in one bite. My joy is transposed from the taste, the mix of chocolate and peanut butter, the sugar on the exterior of the cookie and the memories associated with the whole moment….to can I get another one into my mouth before they’re all gone.
DENY THE DISTRACTION OF DEVICES:
It’s common at restaurants these days for me to see people eating together (I mean sitting together) and all being simultaneously on their devices. Studies show that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table top (without it being used or checked) kills any chance of quality of conversation and relationship. [That’s what Sherry Turkle’s book “Reclaiming Conversation” is largely about.] Plus what chance to you really have to be mindful, intentionally cultivating the the joy of eating if you’re distracted crushing candies, killing zombies, checking your email or seeing what everyone else is doing on Facebook, or seeing what they’re eating on Instagram?
Advent is a celebration of the now and not yet. The promise of God’s reign in the world and it not yet complete. It’s the tension of living between the coming of Jesus and his return, between the creation and perfection of the cosmos. It’s a time of preparation for the great birth celebrated at Christmas, a calling our attention to the ways in which that great birth continues to create little births of God’s reign all around us. Advent is a call, a challenge and conversation in which we are invited to seek, glimpse and name those births, not out of a spirit of spiritual greatness or self-satisfaction but in order to energize our hope and course-correct the way in which we’re running the race of life. It’s not just about dogma or doctrine, theology or religion, but also about economics and politics, our bodies and our minds, our senses and our intellect.
So today – or this week – take a least one opportunity to practice that preparation of sight and listening. Eat mindfully, not while you drive your car, but throughout the week. It can be a meal, or a snack, or a break during the day. But en-joy it with intention and attention.
Here are some links to more mindful eating reading if you’re intrigued and want to go further.