September 3, 2013

Compassionate Un-Dieting.

Source: couragehopestrength.tumblr via Andrea on Pinterest

Is it possible to eat what I want/ figure out what I really want to eat?

To begin, a shout-out to Waylon for his raw and real piece on his own struggles with eating/dieting.

I have always struggled with comparing “gentle” versus “indulgent.” At a month-long meditation retreat (called Dathun in the Shambhala tradition) about ten years ago, a teacher told me this, during a private interview:

Just look them up in the dictionary—gentle and indulgent are not the same word.

I grew up in a family of skeptics, relatively hard-minded intellectuals who didn’t talk about feelings much and often over-indulged in food to compensate. Not much gentleness around, and if it appeared, it was associated with indulgence. It’s taken me a lot of practice, exploration and experience to come closer and closer to believing her.  I trust, as the years continue and I practice with curiosity, I’ll grok what she meant even more.

Here’s what it means to me now.

Last night, as I was falling asleep, I was mentally digesting the book The Self-Compassion Diet, by Jean Fain, which I have been reading alongside UnDiet by Megan Telpner (whom I was introduced to by this interview).

Summer, especially late summer in Madison, WI, is a time when I feel naturally inclined to eat more healthy—light meals, lots of fruits and veggies (we even get Wisconsin peaches in August!). It is a time, not in spring as maybe some habitual dieters are prone to, when I tend to try out new eating habits.

I have struggled my whole life, since I can recall, with overeating. I wouldn’t call it a disorder, rather, as Fain says in her book, a disturbance. That’s exactly what it feels like when I begin to eat more than I need. I get, again, another Fain-ism, mental static. Some kind of disconnect, despite all my long hours of meditation, writing practice, yoga and contemplative arts up the wazoo, kicks in.

Telpner insists that you can eat as much as you want—of mostly plant-based and whole grain foods.

Fain insists pretty much the same, but she’s even less focused on what one eats, rather, how one eats.

I need a bit of both—a reminder to love veggies and fruits, and a reminder that chocolate isn’t evil (nor am I when I eat it). Actually, my weak spot is tortilla chips. Telpner might say they are a no-no, and I appreciate her reasoning.

However, Fain’s insistence that treating myself with awareness and self-compassion means I won’t overindulge in them is what really reaches, shall we say, the heart of the matter.

By heart, I mean self-compassion, not just cholestorel. I know it is possible you have tried eating mindfully and it hasn’t helped much. Believe me. I try tasting exercises similar to Fain’s raising exercise in some of my classes. And it works, when I recall that doing it is a good idea.

I am hoping that this time, the magic of the season and it’s plentitude, mixed with a self ready to really love itself more, I can make a difference—a long-standing one. To get off the diet bandwagon, but also lose weight. To find the energy that eating fresh has already given me more of this August and carry it into the late September dogs and beyond.

Won’t you try with me?

Work with Maitri/Metta.

Work with Tonglen.

Learn some hypnotism to help out-trance the unworthiness-trance you are already in, especially when eating.

Learn some real ways—through mindful eating or whatever method – to know when you are hungry/full.

If food is the last, or first, dark corner of mindlessness practice for you, it’s never too late to shine some love in there.

I didn’t learn gentleness growing up. In the end, that wound up being my advantage. Over time I started to feel out – and am still feeling out—that I learned plenty of indulgence. None of this strange beast called self-compassion or it’s equally unbelievable cousin called gentleness.

Since they are the only things I hadn’t tried, I figured they might help.

How about you? If you know doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results, makes you nuts, why not try something else?

Try on some self-compassion, whether to lower your cholesterol or your weight, or simply to help the joy of summer abundance carry you through the lean months of the year. If you’ve tried them in other areas, you know they work. If you haven’t, it can’t hurt to try something new.

Find a book or group, a few friends or two.

Give yourself the only diet that works: restrict the consumption of your own self-hatred. That’s where you’ll find the energy to get moving, help others, help yourself and make any changes you need.

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