Group Forum: Developing Mindfulness: Enjoying the Food and Loving the Self

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Joined: Sep 08
Posts: 2

Posted: 14 Oct 2008, 15:42
Success, whether you are trying to maintain your weight or want to lose weight, depends on a number of factors. Personally, I believe that the most important of those factors is mindfulness.

Today I wanted to talk a little about the teachings of mindfulness by the Buddha. And if any of you are wondering why I would bring the Buddha to our table, so to speak, it is because I wouldn't be able to talk about mindfulness without talking about the Buddha.

The Buddha is not and was not a god. In fact, Buddhists don't believe in God. They even have libraries which are philosophical reasons as to why there CANNOT be a god, though I have never once heard any Buddhist teacher mention this at a public talk!

If you have seen statues of the Buddha, you might think the Buddha struggled with weight gain and weight loss. In fact, he did, sort of.

The Buddha practiced austerities, a sort of self mortification, similar to the Catholics who flagellated themselves, or wore hair shirts (or forced their four year olds to their knees every night of the week to do the rosary, as in my case).

Statues of the Buddha do exist where he is emaciated—his ribs are visible and he is seriously malnourished. And then there is the fat Buddha, a statue we have all seen in some Chinatown shop. The fact is that the statue of the emaciated Buddha is an accurate depiction of the historical Buddha, while the fat Buddha is not. The fat Buddha may have been a monk, but is not a depiction of the historical Buddha.

The truth is that in trying to attain enlightenment, the Buddha did, for several years, practice these austerities, but he wasn't dieting. Even prior to his attaining enlightenment, the Buddha certainly had almost total control of his body and mind. I say almost because we don't have "total control" until we reach that state that he did several years later.

The "mortification of the flesh" seems to have been—and still is—quite popular amongst Hindus and Christians, to name a few. I saw these "ascetics" practicing various "austerities" when I travelled to India and asia a couple years ago. Sometimes they stood on one leg for days at a time, sometimes standing in the hot sun with one leg crossed at the knee and one arm raised high in the air; sometimes they walked around with nothing but a huge padlock and chain strapped to their "sacred" body parts!

But the Buddha knew that we could in fact control our desires, and not by practicing austerities in the way of these spiritual seekers. He knew that because he tried it. He had some actual experience. Though the Buddha did practice these "austerities" for several years, he eventually found them unsuitable for himself and his followers: this belief, like the caste system, are but a couple of the Hindu values that the Buddha did not incorporate into his teachings.

Imagine if everyone who wanted to lose a few pounds, or those with eating disorders started fitting ourselves with similar mouth locks because we did not feel we could manage our own weight loss! Indeed, it would be a pretty funny sight!

I opt, instead, that by practicing "mindfulness", of simply by becoming more aware of what we prepare, buy, and eat, we will become healthier, and will meet with greater success in achieving our goals.

The fact is that many of us have not been as vigilant as we could have been. Isn't that true? Were we not in fact "unaware" of what we were eating, and of what was in the food we were consuming, for many years? I can say that this is true in my case. For example, who puts a teaspoon of salad dressing on a salad? Or who uses a teaspoon of peanut butter to make a sandwich? And who thought that the Big Mac had ALL THAT FAT in it?

Being aware of what we are eating means being aware of both what we are consuming AND of the "effect" it will have on us. For example, certain people may be allergic to glucose, or sucrose, and may experience bloating, gas, and stomach cramps when they consume those foods. Similarly, some of us may be sensitive to wheat, or other foods, and so we must learn to listen to what our body is telling us. Science knows, for example, that food is a drug. Why? Because like a drug, ALL FOODS produce an effect when consumed. If we truly understand the implications of that, we start looking at nutrition as a way of maintaining the function of the body. The truth, though sad to admit for many, is that we have been using food as a drug for many years.

By being mindful, we can return to the basics of food and nutrition. If we agree, then, that being mindful means being aware of what we are doing to ourselves, and to those around us, it means simply being aware.

Increasing our ability to be aware and to be mindful will thus help us recognize our emotions, our state of mind. For example, if we are feeling angry we might use food to deny that anger. For some, with episodic "binging" when stress strikes us. If we are feeling sad or "low" we now know that our bodies may be low in serotonin and that eating chocolate will help us increase our levels—and it will even give us a feeling of... happiness, euphoria, a buzz. Notice how the language suddenly becomes the vernacular of the drug addict who says "a buzz"? No wonder Campbell's Soups, Inc. bought the Godiva chocolate company so many years ago! So being mindful may help us understand the connection between eating and our emotional states, telling us when we are hungry or whether we are using food as a way to feel good, or to get that "rush".

We learn, like the Buddha did, in practicing mindfulness, that we too can be mindful all the time, but for our purposes we need to be mindful when we are preparing our food. We need be mindful when adding ingredients to our menus, and we can increase our mindfulness to include examining the ingredients and considering whether or not they are are helpful in building healthy bodies—or, if you are so inclined, you can think of the negative properties of some of the ingredients you are adding to your food, and eliminate them totally, or remember that they are to be used in moderation. As such, prior to sitting down to eat, we have considered the ingredients and even the caloric qualities so that while we can enjoy the meal.

With mindfulness, then, we learn to take care of our bodies, and to love ourselves and those around us. We learn we must feed bodies and not our emotions. In short, the more mindful we are of of what we eat and cook, the more we will love ourselves, and the more success we will have in meeting all our personal goals— not just our weightgain/weight loss goals.