The mindful diet

First. Let yourself get hungry. Abstain from eating so that you feel hunger. Check in with what your body is feeling every so often for an hour after you first feel hunger. Notice whether the sensations stay the same or change.

Drink water and notice what happens. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger. Learn the difference.

Savor these sensations. They are wisdom from your body. They are real, present sensations. Hunger for them. Trust them. You may have been ignoring them. You may have trouble recognizing them.

(Don’t worry. If you are reading this post, you will not die from hunger in one hour, or thirst, although your mind may be telling you differently. Your mind has been conditioned to mindless eating. That’s what is changing.)

If your mind starts thinking about food, write about it. Make a list of foods you daydream about. Evaluate this list. Is it good for you? If not, could something else satisfy you — a hug, a walk, dancing?

Notice the difference between what you feel with your body and what your mind is doing. Each way of being has a signature.

What would your life be like if you only ate after you fully and consciously felt hunger? Would you eat at certain times, or might the times vary? How often do you really need to eat to maintain or improve your health?

Second. Eat. After an hour of hunger and its sensations has gone by, eat. Eat some food that is healthy. Eat it slowly with an eye to noticing the sensation of satiety, of having eaten enough.

Do not eat with the goal of cleaning your plate. Give yourself a small serving.

The goal is to really notice eating and “enough”. Take one bite. Chew it. Taste it. Notice as many qualities of the taste as you can. Swallow.

Take another bite. Chew, taste, swallow. Move your arm slowly as you pick the food up with your fork or spoon or fingers and bring it to your mouth. Chew slowly.

After the third bite, pause for a minute. Notice the sensations in your stomach. How have they changed? Do you still feel hungry? Do you feel less hungry?

Remember that your empty stomach is the size of your fist, and your full stomach is the size of both fists. You don’t even have to fill your stomach to feel satiated.

Eat ten bites and notice your stomach sensations.

You might decide to stop then, or you might decide to eat 15 or 20 bites. But stop when you’ve eaten less than you would mindlessly eat.

Then see how long it takes for you to feel hungry again, and do it all again.  It might mean you need to have food available as you go through your day, perhaps some nut butter, a banana, an avocado. Just enough to stave off your hunger pangs. You could eat half a banana or avocado, or a teaspoon of almond butter.

You might also think about where the food came from, plant or animal, soil, rain, sunshine, farmers, and all the places it has been and hands it has passed through to get to your mouth. With gratitude.

Third. Do this often. It’s a great way to lose weight, because it’s portion control, but more importantly, it gets you back in touch with your body, and it extends your experience of gratitude and connection to the planet.

Also, if you are only eating when hungry, and only eating enough to stave off hunger for a couple of hours, you will want every bite of food you eat to be nutritious as well as delicious. No HFCS, please.

And that’s it. I’m posting this to remind myself that I can eat like this, because I have put on a little more weight than I’d like. I’m having a small cup of quinoa tabouli for breakfast, then it’s off to work.

Breaking a habit: change the cue and reward first, and the routine will follow

Steve Silberman, science writer (whom I adore and follow on Twitter: @stevesilberman), has just posted a new piece on NeuroTribes: mind, science culture, one of my favorite blogs. It’s a Q&A with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg on his new book The Power of Habit.

(And I must say that after the William J. Broad experience — “yoga is not only killing us but began as a Tantric sex cult”– it is sweet to learn of a Times reporter who’s really done his homework and offered something very valuable. Kudos, Charles Duhigg.)

Silberman lets us know up front how habitual we are.

Indeed, we spend more than 40 percent of our precious waking hours engaged in habitual actions [PDF], according to a 2006 study at Duke University. Welcome to the machine.

No wonder mindfulness has become something we seek. To connect with someone or something not out of habit, but out of something like our original self — that’s the stuff that peak experiences, connecting to the Source, the most alive life are made of.

It’s as if our brains store habitual behavior in a locked box to prevent tampering by the more mindful angels of our nature…

In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg … pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.

Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop) into three component parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion…. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit….

Duhigg … maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life….

We know from studies that almost all cues — the stimuli that elicit the habitual behavior — fall into one of five categories. It’s time of day, or a certain place, or a certain emotion, or the presence of certain people, or a preceding action that’s become habitual or ritualized….

Then you focus on the rewards. The first couple of times you go running, you’re not going to enjoy it. No one enjoys it the first time they run. So you have to give yourself a piece of chocolate when you get back from the run. You have to have some immediate reward.  And we know from studies that within two weeks, the intrinsic reward of running — the endocannabinoids unleashed by exercising — are going to become enough of a reward to create that habit. But you have to trick your brain into it by giving yourself a piece of chocolate the first couple times….

If you want to start running every day, just start by putting on your running shoes at the same time every day. Then you’ll feel more like running. Then you’ll run!

If I want to meditate more regularly, I can tell myself that I just need to sit for 5 minutes each morning, or 2 minutes each evening. Once I actually sit for those small lengths of time, I’m much more likely to sit for 20 or 30 minutes.

These two guys then begin discussing the civil rights movement, the gay marriage movement, and more. To read the whole post, click here.

Hot buttons, EFT, and self-compassion

Ever get a whiff of your own craziness, the things you do or say that are less than kind? I did today. I caught it myself — I see myself writing that like I caught some kind of fish. Yeah, a stinky fish.

In an attempt to be thoughtful, I actually was thoughtless. When I perceived that, I felt so remorseful my heart ached.

Then I found this quote from Tricycle Daily Dharma in my inbox. I’d saved it for several weeks, not knowing why.

We all have personal sensitivities—“hot buttons”—that are evoked in close relationships. Mindfulness practice helps us to identify them and disengage from our habitual reactions, so that we can reconnect with our partners. We can mindfully address recurring problems with a simple four-step technique: (1) Feel the emotional pain of disconnection, (2) Accept that the pain is a natural and healthy sign of disconnection, and the need to make a change, (3) Compassionately explore the personal issues or beliefs being evoked within yourself, (4) Trust that a skillful response will arise at the right moment. – Christopher Germer, “Getting Along”

I want to add step 2.5 to the above. If you are feeling the pain, and you know there’s a need to make a change but the feeling is so sticky, you can’t detach enough to explore your issues, you can do the Emotional Freedom Technique (several times if needed) to reduce the pain enough to get to step 3. It helps us feeling types move on.

In step 3, I discovered that I projected something onto another that was really about me. I’m looking at a big owie in my life head on.

I’m not to step 4 yet but it feels good to just know it’s there waiting, whatever the outcome. All I can do is trust.

Meditation and creativity

A lot has been written about how the practice of meditation helps people become calmer and more centered. Here’s a link to an article about how it can help people become more creative.

…can intelligence and creativity really be as “neuroplastic” as memory and motor skills? Intelligence, much less creativity, has not been conclusively linked with any one area in the brain. The closest analogues are the so-called executive functions, brain systems involved in planning, integrating of sensory information, and abstract thinking, that are thought to be concentrated in the prefrontal cortex. There is, says Aronson, a way to improve executive functioning, and it’s the very same practice prescribed by Alexander: mindfulness meditation.

I particularly liked the description of creativity:

It involves the ability to make unexpected connections, to move fluidly among concepts, to consolidate past memories, ideas, or impressions and arrive at new insights.