Today, I sat down to eat lunch, and I was also catching up on my emails. I was trying to eat this beautiful leftover pasta dish with homemade pesto from the basil I grew right outside my front door, and I’m fiddling with this electronic device. I tried to eat and not worry about my phone for a few minutes yet my mind began to wander to the phone. I became frustrated with myself. Why can’t I enjoy a meal without multi-tasking?
Why is this so hard?
I’ve had a binge eating problem since about the age of seven. As a kid, I scarfed down a dozen Pecan Spinwheels in one sitting. I planned and fantasized about binges. I spent hours thinking about what I was going to eat and how good it was going to make me feel. I would hide food to binge in secret. I became obese by the age of 11, and I joined Weight Watchers. I lost weight, and with it I gained this sense of “good” food and “bad” food. The Pecan Spinwheels were bad, and carrots were good. So, as long as I shunned the bad stuff, and ate the good stuff I should be okay, right?
My yoga practice actually was the thing to get me consider changing my approach to eating. If I could be mindful about my movement, could I be mindful about what I put in my body? What if there was no “good” or “bad” food? What if I could learn to listen to my body’s needs? What if I ate food that I really loved and enjoyed making until I had enough and just got on with my damn life already? This is what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half. I have slowly lost weight (steadily at about a half a pound a month), and I don’t feel like I am torturing myself anymore. After a life of being in this cycle of bingeing that turns into feeling guilty that turns into restricting diets that end up with me bingeing again, it feels damn near revolutionary. It’s also a process. I mess up a lot, and the good news is that I get to start over a lot.
I rarely binge anymore, but I still have difficulty eating without multi-tasking. For a brief period of time I had convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I checked my email during dinner, but it matters quite a bit. Studies show that distracted eating causes us to eat more. We eat more of what we are currently eating, and we will eat more later because we didn’t fully remember eating in the first place.
… but back to that damn phone.
There I was…a woman torn between her smart phone and her homemade pesto. (Did I mention that I grew the basil myself?) In yoga practice, in eating lunch, in life in general, we have these desires for comfort, habit, and safety that are usually juxtaposed to what the moment actually requires. The tension and frustration here is because I wanted to eat mindfully, but I wanted to check my email. Like a toddler, I want it all and I want it now. In my frustration, I took a deep breath and this question appeared in my mind:
“What is important?”
I could answer this question instantly with certainty. Giving single-minded attention to something I spent hours making was important. All of the work that went to make this food possible, the plants that gave their lives for it, the farmers that worked to harvest the ingredients, the people who worked at the pasta factory, the truck driver that delivered the other ingredients to the grocery store, and the people that work at that store, all came together for my sustenance. Why wouldn’t that deserve my full attention, respect, and gratitude? Even if you are sitting down with a box of Pecan Spinwheels: someone had to harvest the wheat, make the flour, work the machines in the factory, deliver them to the store, and work at that store so you could enjoy them. Yes, even those delicious cinnamon rolls deserve your attention and reverence.
I sat and enjoyed my chicken and pesto pasta. I may have even made pleasure groans because it was pretty dang tasty. I stopped when I was satisfied, and I felt happy. I don’t know if that would have been possible if I was also checking my email. When I am eating while multi-tasking, food becomes another chore. Eating single-mindedly feels kinder. It feels less stressful to relish in the meals that give me life instead of treating food like an obligation or a punishment. My relationship with food has been rocky almost all of my life, but I have seen how things can change with being brave, patient, and strong enough to give my undivided attention.