Mindful Eating ? Mindful Meals with the girls at Discovery Ranch
Mindful Meals with Marliett on Mondays
Marliett Davis, CSW
“Welcome to Mindful Meals with Marliett on Monday!!!” I said as I walked into the dining hall. The girls always burst out into applause and whistling when I do this, it feels like a weekly celebration of mindfulness.
The girls always get their meals and a worksheet that I bring and sit down. Every week I lead them through a short mindfulness exercise to help them soothe their unpleasant emotions and to get them into a place where they are more in tune with what it feels like to be in their bodies.
Knowing what they are sensing and feeling is the most important thing at Mindful Meals. After the mindfulness, we always take the first bite together. So, again they bring their attention to their senses and choose a food they’d like to try first. The girls write down everything they can learn from their senses about their food: texture, smell, temperature, colors, etc. This is vital because it brings them into the present and helps activate the neural centers in their brains to prepare the mouth and the stomach for the food they are about to eat. Research shows “that approximately 40%-60% of your metabolic power at any meal, meaning your digestive and your assimilation power at any meal comes from cephalic phase digestive response, the head phase digestion meaning taste, pleasure, aroma satisfaction and your visuals” (Marc David, Psychology of Eating: Mind Over Nutrition, http://psychologyofeating.com/mind-over-nutrition/).
There are so many reasons why it’s helpful and important for these girls (and every other human on the planet) to bring their mindfulness to the moment that they are eating in. Not only does it activate the cephalic phase of digestion so that they are able to digest their food more effectively, but it also helps them to learn that they can soothe themselves in other ways than their previous and often destructive ways of coping.
We all find ways to cope with our unpleasant emotions, healthy or unhealthy: drugs, therapy, sex, food, alcohol, exercise, etc. Oftentimes, we want to blame the coping skill and make that the problem, but the issue is deeper than this. In the book Intuitive Eating, it states the following:
“Eating doesn’t occur in a void. Regardless of your weight, food usually has emotional associations. If you have any doubt, catch a glimpse of food commercials. They push our eating buttons—not through our stomachs but through the emotional connection. They imply that in sixty seconds or less you can:
-Capture romance with an intimate cup of coffee.
-Bake someone happy.
-Reward yourself with a rich dessert.
Eating can be one of the most emotionally laden experiences that we have in our lives” (Tribole, E. and Resch, E., Intuitive Eating, p. 148, 2012).
Mindful eating teaches us that our struggle is not with the food, it’s with the initial struggle that caused the pain: loss of a loved one, abuse, disappointment, etc. Food is not the problem, but it becomes something to blame for the pain. In Anita Johnston’s book Eating in the Light of the Moon, she writes the following:
“Coping with the ‘real problems’ requires skills that you may not have, and resolving them may seem like an impossible task, as difficult as climbing a rainbow. When you embark on a journey to uncover and resolve underlying conflicts or feelings, and don’t allow yourself to be fooled by any illusions of what is truly troubling you, you may learn something important about the function and purpose of your disordered eating. You may discover how it helps to distract you from the issues in your life that overwhelm you that you haven’t yet learned how to deal with effectively” (Johnston, p.29, 1996).
With this in mind, Mindful Meals on Monday with Marliett becomes a chance for the girls to learn more about their struggles, whether or not they experience difficulties with eating. It becomes yet another avenue for them to be honest about their emotions and talk about their struggles.
It is such a pleasure to work with these girls on learning to eat more mindfully. It teaches them to eat when they’re hungry and to stop when they are full, to tolerate being in their body, to show compassion for their emotions, and most importantly to love themselves.