Whole Body Eating

I’ve been playing with Marc David’s (founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating) Whole Body Eating.  This is a simple yet profoundly challenging 5-step process:

  1. Make a conscious choice to eat
  2. Ask your body what it wants
  3. Eat with awareness
  4. Listen for feedback
  5. Release the meal

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I read this about two years ago, and the practice sat there, words on a page.  And life moved on – I continued to eat, imperfectly, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not.  But the idea stayed with me, and I was moved to start playing with this approach again, on my return to Brighton after three months away.  This is what I’ve noticed.

  1. Make a conscious choice to eat

This often happens for me as an after-thought.  The food is already there, in front of me.  I’ve picked up the piece of fruit from the bowl.  The meal is sitting on the table.  The snack is in my hand.  Oh right – I say.  Make a conscious choice to eat.  OK.  I am choosing to eat this.  I am choosing to eat this.  I am choosing to eat this.  I like this step because it slows me down, gives me a second just to be with the food in front of me.

  1. Ask your body what it wants

This is such a tricky step for me.  I am practising being in my body more than ever before, with a committed and daily practice of feeling my insides.  And yet, really knowing what MY BODY wants to eat is still rather mysterious.  And often, I’ve already presented my body with a plant-based, non-stimulating option that I know to be nourishing.  I haven’t actually given my body the chance to choose that option.  It’s what people might call a top-down approach – give someone what you think they need – as opposed to bottom-up, which is about tuning in and responding to what emerges.  But despite feeling wobbly around this step, messages do get through.  Waking up thirsty in the night – the body is communicating.  Feeling cold, needing something warm – the body is communicating.  Being present to the vast array of processed food, and feeling how dead it is – the body is communicating.  So even though I don’t quite feel that I am at the stage of asking my body what it wants, and then acting accordingly, I know that my body communicates with me, and I do what I can with this new information.

  1. Eat with awareness

Wow.  The pull of the phone, the radio, another person, the TV, social media…  we will do ANYTHING rather than we present to the act of eating.  If, at some point in your life, you believed your eating to be wrong (which is a LOT of us), it’s normal than you’ll want to avoid being totally present to what can feel like a shameful act.  This is a HUGE step for a disordered eater.  And what I don’t see being recognised, in the whole ‘mindful eating’ movement, is the massive challenge that mindful eating entails for disordered eaters.  We have learned to use eating to NUMB out.  We are being asked to use eating to FEEL our insides.  This is a complete u-turn in behaviour.  No wonder we struggle with this.  I needed weeks of quiet solitude and low stimulation in the wilderness of the Galapagos islands before I experienced complete presence with my food.  Now, back in the highly stimulating environment of Brighton, I feel myself pulled in all directions.  Work.  Family.  Friends.  Life.  Shopping.  Eating.  Consuming.  Other people’s lives.  Partner.  Goals.  Dreams.  Memories.  Unconscious habits.  Cultural norms.  Societal expectations.  Body image.  Money.  The list goes on…  and on…  So if eating with awareness feels impossible for you at this stage – don’t worry.  Maybe you could take just a bite, just one bite, and be with that internal sensation.  Tiny moments of awareness grow and deepen over time.

 

  1. Listen for feedback

This is where my yoga comes in, and hallelujah for yoga!  This is where I reap the benefits of months of rolling around on my floor, noticing what feels good, breathing, being present to the sensations of my body.  Yoga, for me, at this moment in time, means FEELING MY INSIDES.  And now I have this piece of my puzzle, I won’t let it go.  I need to feel how the meal sits in my belly.  I need to feel the buzzy lightness of the sugar hit.  I need to feel the tight drum of a bloated belly.  If I can base my eating decisions on how my body feels inside – wow, that’s a massive win for me.  If I can’t, that’s OK.  Just feeling what is, and DOING NOTHING with that information is good enough.  Just feeling your insides, without any ambition or expectation that you need to change your behaviour or somehow “do better”, is hugely liberating.  Otherwise it turns into a new rule, a new stick to beat yourself up with.  Beware.  There is a big difference between “I’m interested in how my belly feels.  I’d like to investigate sensations of hunger and fullness” and “I can only eat when I’m feeling physically hungry.”  Don’t make intuitive eating another prison to lock yourself up in.  Feeling what you feel, and just allowing that to be there, is the most transformative practice you can do for yourself as an eater.  Just feel.

 

  1. Release the meal

I’ve only just started playing with this one.  It’s an interesting process of letting go.  This is how it went for me yesterday:

-Ate something in a restaurant.  Belly feels full and satisfied afterwards.

-Mind yells “ice cream!”

-Two options here – Identify with the thought and say yes – I need ice cream.  I definitely need this.  Start to feel resentful because I know my natural eater husband will not entertain this desire, he won’t collaborate in me getting my hit.  Store the craving up for a later moment – when I’m alone.  I won’t have the ice cream now, but tomorrow, I can have…  everything.  Anything.  Deprivation followed by binge thoughts.  A classic!

-The second option – Wow.  What a powerful memory.  A good 15 years ago, this particular food was always followed by ice-cream.  It was a highly stimulating and exciting combination that my teenage self really loved.  I often had it with school friends, we bonded over this stuff.

What’s going on here?  This is a memory of a previously pleasurable behaviour.  My mind is desperately trying to give me that pleasure again.  But my belly is clearly not agreeing with the mind on this one.  Putting ice cream on top of what sits heavily at my centre will not be pleasurable.  It will be uncomfortable.

Walking home, I stay present to my belly.  I carry my meal within me, and I release the thoughts of it.  I let go of moral judgements for having eaten this food (I’m a bad person because I ate this).  I let go of future imperatives for having eaten this food (I must do something tomorrow because I ate this).  I remember that my body anchors me to THIS MOMENT NOW and in this moment now, I am not eating.  I am digesting.  I let go of the meal.  It is over.  I do not know what is coming my way.  But, for now, I am full.  That is my truth, now.  All else is habit, memory, old patterns of thinking and behaving.  I can let them arise, and practise letting them go.  Goodbye, meal.  Goodbye, old memories.  Goodbye, old judgements and criticisms.  Hello body.  Hello kindness.  Hello forgiveness.  Hello new responses, new ways of being, new neural pathways being forged into my wonderfully plastic and adaptive brain.

 

So that’s my practice friends.  Interesting how internally, this all felt difficult, wrong, not good enough, frustrating.  Yet, in words, I realise how deeply I am engaging with these practices, how perfectly my fumbling around it getting me to where I need to go.  In conversation with another IEWINer, you might find that you are transforming in quieter yet more profound ways than you realise.  Hope to see you at a group or workshop soon!  Check out our events to come and play…

https://www.facebook.com/pg/ieatwhatineed/events/?ref=page_internal

 

 

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