Compassionate Un-Dieting.

Via Miriam Hall
on Sep 2, 2013
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Source: couragehopestrength.tumblr via Andrea on Pinterest
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.

 Like elephant health & wellness on Facebook.


About Miriam Hall

Miriam Hall teaches Nalanda Miksang Contemplative Photography, Contemplative Writing and other fun practices that combine perception and creative process as a part of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Natalie Goldberg (of Writing Down the Bones,) says: “Miriam Hall has the heart, hands and head of writing practice. Study with her.” She can be found at her website, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and all over the world teaching and playing. You can also read more of her here, here and by visiting her website.


7 Responses to “Compassionate Un-Dieting.”

  1. StephanieB says:

    Oh to be mindful in every action that we take. Phew. That's a toughie. Thanks for sharing your own struggles and vulnerability around eating. It is so easy to just indulge without thinking and it's good to hear/read about others who are working on finding a way around their patterns or tendencies.

  2. Miriam says:

    Indeed. I am really realizing since I put this out there – great responses from Facebook below, as well as some private messages – just how dark a corner eating is for so many people. So. Many. People. Thin folks, fat folks, fit folks…nearly everyone.

  3. Miriam Hall says:

    Comments from Facebook, that I found helpful and thought others might want to read:

    Miriam, I would highly recommend the work of Michelle Allison ( and Ellyn Satter. Allison's work derives from Satter's (a Madisonian!), and it's very similar to some of what you posted here. They argue for adding structure to your eating (set meal and snack times; making eating a pleasurable experience, and an experience for which you should set aside time and attention) which ultimately lets you relax around it. It's a structure that allows freedom, without telling you how much or what you should eat. There's much more to it than that, but that's a teeny synopsis . . .

    Lovely, brave post, Miriam.

    Thank you times a million, Miriam. Feeling a ton of parallels with what you wrote. I'm grateful that you shared this.

    Miriam Hall I think you are stalking my brain! This is just the post I needed to read. I actually do worse in the summer with the stress of all three kids around. I search for stress relief at the bottom of a bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream or yes, tortilla chips! Thank you for sharing this part of yourself. It has been an inspiring read for me.

    so great. thanks for sharing this. i'm passing this along to my 21 yo cousin. we were talking about this very subject this weekend.

    "restrict the consumption of your own self-hatred.

  4. Miriam Hall says:

    I also got some *great* feedback from a student and friend and fellow writer who is fat-positive and for whom I have a lot of respect. She points out that I am still perpetuating this idea of fat=unhealthy and thin=healthy. Thank you for being so brave as to point this out to me! It is personal, for sure, and also clearly comes from both of the resources I mainly mention – Telpner and Fain. It's everywhere. What an important paradigm to question. Her resources here:

    "As I've been pondering your essay on Elephant. This essay crossed my path. It might be interesting to you.
    There is a reframing that I would suggest. Rather than focusing on losing weight what would it be like to focus on doing healthy practices.
    This organization ASDAH and the principles of health at every size are the foundations that I practice for health.

  5. Dana says:

    Oh what a mind-ful, and mouth-ful to read. Thank you, Miriam. My lifelong struggle has also been with overeating. I am fascinated by the sanctioned self-hatred in most versions of "eating well." When I learned to feed myself in a more loving way, as a woman in my mid-twenties, I, like many women, also found running. Because it offered a version of body-control that was sanctioned, and because I was really eating with much more love and balance, I thought I could push away any vulnerability around feeding into a past. I remember Fat is a Feminist Issue saved my life. For 12 years I felt a lot better, but the running was a crutch and mask for soem deeper healing. Then my body became a sustainer of two other bodies inside it, and I became the feeder of others that I am now, daily. That's been school! And I started in kindergarten! My body went through another massive shift of sexuality/alteration, fatigue, deep love, intense physical demand, on and on. I could not run and the fears and sad feelings came back. I search for women-friends who will bravely tell feeding truths and help feed each other–with loving recipes, love of movement and an eye to neuroses around movement and food, share soft spots, big laughter, bracing truth. I have changed how I feed myself again. I have some guiding principles that keep me feeding myself well:
    –"adding" intentions in place of subtracting intentions (ie add a big salad every day) I don't have restricted foods or categories. Restricted foods or categories, for me at least, bring up rejection, loss, a restriction on loving under the guise of being "good"
    –the word feed (vs eat) feels powerful to feel out. I ask myself about feeding, because I can hear the love in the word, or the need for it.
    — if I'd have to explain a food to my 96 year old Mexican grandmother, I don't buy it or eat it (this is wonderfully guiding for me, because her diet was traditional and connected and deeply good, I feel, in a non-fearful way.
    –Pleasure is a core value of my feeding
    –social connection–the ability to accept most food offered to me, with many kinds of people, in many settings, is something I value
    –Moderation/middle path is a value (and I find with my body, at least, that getting to know moderation may preclude the much more definitive and sometimes self-hating tendency to eliminate foods or food groups entirely. Moderation may be more healing than we know.
    Looking forward to checking out the Fain book
    thank you!

  6. Miriam says:

    Thank you, Dana. Always so good to share wisdom and experiences…

  7. Jean Fain says:

    Miriam, How did I miss this beautiful blog?? So poetic and insightful.
    Thanks for reading & writing,
    Jean Fain, author of "The Self-Compassion Diet"