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The Deliciousness of Curiosity in Becoming Peaceful with Food

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness practice, and how beautifully gentle, compassionate and kind a practice it is. There’s no pushing and striving with it. There’s no shoving of oneself towards a goal. Yes, we have goals. We have aspirations. We have things we want to create. But the energy that’s invited through mindfulness practice is not a left-brained-top-dog one, if that makes sense. For me, one of the most delicious of concepts in mindfulness, is curiosity. Sometimes new clients are a little aghast when I suggest that all they do is become curious. There’s something about not trying to change (which suggests efforting, pushing, making yourself do something) that’s almost rebellious! I’m having a little giggle because many people who come to me for help recognise that much of their eating is out of rebellion. So if you’re a little rebellious, perhaps the idea of not trying to change, will appeal to you! Back to curiosity. When you hear the word curiosity, what imagery and feeling state does it conjure up inside you? For me, the best imagery of curiosity involves children. That’s before they have a bunch of expectations about how they or the world should be. They’re taking things as they come: observing, without judging, or even interpreting. For example, a tiny baby first becoming aware of her own hands – you can see the curiosity on her face as she watches how she can twist her wrists this way and that. I remember when Queenie first came to us as a puppy, she was very attentive to each new smell and sound when she first forayed into our...

Building Emotional Resilience to Eat Like a 'Normal' Person

Everyone eats emotionally from time to time – it’s part of the human experience. ‘Normal eaters’ will sometimes eat to distract from disappointment, hurt or fear and they will also overeat while celebrating. However what they don’t do, is feel guilty about it, or consistently eat to resist their emotions. Building emotional resilience is a crucial skill to be able to eat like a ‘normal’ person. Emotional resilience, is the ability to be with your emotions, to allow and fully experience them, in a way that they don’t engulf you. Mindfulness is paying attention to your full experience in the present moment, without judgement – but rather with curiosity and kindness. Much of our attention on our emotions is not about our present experience. It’s about the past: Feelings of e.g. sadness, anger, hurt, shame when you remember that so-and-so said/did something (recently or long ago) Those same feelings when you remember something you’ve done or even thought about Feelings of despair/anger when you remember that you ate xyz list of foods (5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days ago) It’s about the future: Feelings of fear or anxiety when you think about having a conversation with a particular person Feelings of fear or anxiety when you think about an exam, a party, an event, a meeting you’re planning to attend Feelings of panic when you think you ‘should’ be a certain weight or size by a certain date Our present experience is the felt sensations in our bodies, right now. It’s the explosive heat in your belly and/or chest It’s the sinking punch-in-the-stomach sensation It’s the tightness in your throat and/or shoulders It’s...

Peaceful Eating and the Pursuit of Perpetual Summer

Summer in the northern hemisphere has drawn to a close. We’ve harvested our apples and grapes, and the leaves are changing colour and dropping. I’ve noticed how resistant I am (as are some of the people around me are) to the letting go of summer. We don’t want to get out our winter clothing; We don’t want to put on the heating; We’re feeling gloomy at the thought of winter approaching We’re resisting the impending discomfort of winter: cold, damp, reduced access to sunlight and the outdoors… and we wish for perpetual summer! I think all dysfunctional eating comes down to a difficulty in tolerating discomfort. Physical discomfort and emotional discomfort. Read this, from Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness: ‘We continually try to get away from pain by seeking pleasure, and in doing so, we just keep going around and around. I’m so hot I open all the windows, and then I’m so cold I put on a sweater. Then it itches, so I put cream on my arms, and then that’s sticky, so I go take a bath, and on and on… We are always trying to get out of the boiling pot into some kind of coolness, always trying to escape and therefore never really fully settling down and appreciating…’  I don’t know about all cultures, but certainly in the ‘western world’, we pursue happiness, success, achievement, pleasure and excitement – and want to avoid painful emotions, our yearnings, neediness, compulsions and cravings. We’ve been brought up to believe they’re wrong in some way; or that they mean something shameful about us: that we should be managing better; know better; or be doing something differently. Woven into our language...

You, Peace with Food and the Number 50

Oh my heaven, I’m going to be FIFTY in a few weeks! It’s interesting to observe all the meanings that we can put onto age (or anything really!). We talk about ‘looking young for her age,’ or being ‘well-preserved.’ We have cultural demands around ‘dressing for your age’ – very short skirts or very tight clothing aren’t socially acceptable on a woman over ‘a certain age.’ Exactly what age that is, isn’t overt – you just know… or maybe you overstep the mark, and then you find out – from the stares, or subtle (maybe not so subtle) comments: ‘You’re very brave to wear that!’ I was contemplating how or indeed whether to celebrate my birthday, and I asked myself – why is it any different to turning 27, or 32 or 48 – and why is a birthday different from any other day? It’s another day – it signifies a full revolution around the sun. I am still me. In the present. A minute older than I was a minute ago. And that’s how it has been since I took my first breath. It’s simply another moment in time. I’m not saying each moment doesn’t count or doesn’t matter – it does to me – but why is the moment at which I’ve completed 50 years of breathing any different from any other moment? I remember reading some years ago about a tribal culture (it may even have been fictional – can’t remember!) that doesn’t celebrate one’s birth. They celebrate developmental milestones instead, and the person’s name changes with his/her new skills or qualities. I prefer that idea!...

Comparisonitis: The Body Image Disease

It’s very common for people with body image issues to compare themselves frequently to other people. Well, to compare their bodies to other people’s bodies, I should say. Comparisonitis is a compulsion to compare oneself to others. It’s as if you can’t help it, and it has a life of its own. We can do this in a multitude of ways. But when it comes to body image, you’ll be comparing: parts of your body to someone else’s then comparing those parts of your body to everyone else’s in the room size of clothes the types of clothing in your wardrobe how you look in your respective clothes your complexion or signs of ageing accessories and shoes suitability of hair cut/ style/ colour posture fitness levels and flexibility you’ll also be comparing your former thinner/ fitter/ younger body to you present body what did I leave out? In what other ways do you compare yourself to others? Does this sound familiar? Comparing yourself to others, or indeed comparing yourself to your former self – whether you’re comparing your body, your achievements, clothes, home, car, bank balance, children’s achievements, is a very fast route to misery. It fuels suffering. Either you compare yourself unfavourably – in which case you feel sad, hopeless, anxious, dejected, desperate, angry etc, or you compare yourself favourably – in which case you might feel proud, big, pumped up, happy, elated or worthy. The downside is that when you compare yourself ‘favourably’ it doesn’t lead to a genuine feeling of happiness, does it? There’s always the lurking fear that someone else will beat you, take over, be better, that you’ll slip up, regain the weight, lose your muscle tone,...

Identifying the Story That Is Creating Your Problematic Relationship with Food

Have you ever thought about how you identity yourself in terms of your relationship with food and eating? Put simply: If you strongly identify yourself as someone who: can’t stop eating xyz once you start struggles with food is a binge eater, bulimic, anorexic, compulsive overeater, food addict, sugar addict, emotional eater or overeater has always (struggled with food, been an overeater etc.) that’s likely to be the reality you keep creating for yourself. As my friend Sophie Sabbage says in a beautiful piece she wrote about living with ‘terminal’ cancer: ‘There comes a time when the labels we wear become the skin we inhabit. Their meanings permeate our consciousness and create narratives we live by. The story becomes the reality. The fiction becomes the fact.’ The brain follows instructions. If you identify yourself as any of those descriptions, what you’ll be affirming to your brain is, for example, ‘I am a sugar addict,’ …. and… you’ll keep eating sugar like it’s about to disappear off the planet. Labels are sometimes useful. Some people I’ve worked with have felt relief about their ‘diagnosis’ of Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, or Compulsive Eating, etc. It can help you get out of denial, find appropriate support and ways you can help yourself to gain more balance. You learn that you’re not alone. But if you’re still identifying yourself as a person who…. can’t stop eating once you start; struggles with food, is an emotional eater etc… then you might struggle to shift that. This is where mindfulness practice is so, so helpful. As you practice, you learn to distinguish between your Self and your experience. You begin to see yourself as separate from your behaviour. You...