Have you ever been guilty of eating while talking on the phone, driving, walking, reading, working, e-mailing or watching TV? If so, you have probably noticed that the sandwich, protein bar--or whatever you were eating--vanished before you even realized you had begun eating it. And this makes you want to eat more so you can relish the taste (since you didn't enjoy the first one). This mindless eating is no doubt part of the cause of our obesity epidemic. Eating should be a sacred act, not part of our multi-tasking.
World famous Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh teams up with Harvard's Dr. Lilian Cheung in this book which is sure to make you stop and think about your eating habits. The title says it all: Savor, Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Part One is "A Buddhist Perspective on Weight Control." In the first chapter we are presented with "The Four Noble Truths of Healthy Weight:" that being overweight or obese is suffering; that you can identify the roots of your weight problem (and here we are given numerous questions to contemplate); that reaching a healthy weight is possible; and that you can follow a mindful path to a healthy weight. "Mindfulness is a way of living that has been practiced over twenty-six hundred years by millions of people to help them transform their suffering into peace and joy," say the authors. "Applying mindfulness to your suffering with weight gives you a catalyst that you can draw on at will to change your behavior." We are asked to write a "mission statement for healthy weight and well-being."
In the second chapter we are challenged with the question of "When I eat an apple, am I really enjoying eating it? Or am I so preoccupied with other thought that I miss the delights that the apple offers me?" Uh, oh. Now we realize we aren't supposed to even THINK while eating. This is getting harder than ever. But an entire page directs us on how to do it. And guess what? The apple is thoroughly savored when eaten consciously. Best of all, we don't feel the need to eat another one. We are then ready to move on to another activity outside of eating.
The third chapter lets us know that we are more than what we eat. Who we are includes three additional "nutriments:" sense impressions, volition (deepest motivations & desires) and consciousness, which are explained in full detail along with how to nourish ourselves with these nutriments. Chapter four is all about being in the present moment. Then in chapter five (titled "Mindful Eating") we get some nutritional advice, much of it good, though some of it a bit outdated. (They recommend grains though grains, even whole, are much at the root of diseases of civilization, with anti-nutrients such as phytates that bind minerals and lectins which cause leaky gut and autoimmune disorders. Also, they still blame colon cancer on red meat when recent studies show it is more closely related to blood sugar and diabetes.) The best parts of the chapter include a story of how they ate mindfully with a Buddhist chef, as well as tips on how to eat mindfully, such as "Make your first bit--and every bite--a mindful bite," and self-examination questions to get you to strategize. This is perhaps the meat of the book. I really enjoyed the "Seven Practices of a Mindful Eater." The first one, "honor the food," should especially apply for when we eat meat. Traditional people such as Native Americans would thank the spirit of the animal they ate.
Even if you already have your weight under control, implementing the exercises in this book is bound to enhance the presence and sensuous pleasure of your eating. If you are overweight, mindfulness will not only help you eat less, but also help in body awareness. When you stop and become aware of your suffering from being overweight instead of resisting it, you are more likely to act appropriately. Being mindful of the body, you become aware of the sensations and its urgent messages to you to feed it properly--before it's too late.
But as the title suggests, this is not all about only food. We need to incorporate mindfulness into every activity. Chapter six ("Mindful Moving") is all about exercise tips & motivation; chapter seven is about incorporating mindful living into daily routines. There are meditations for every activity from waking up to switching on the light, and even an e-mail meditation! I especially like the TV meditation: "Breathing in, the remote control is in my hand. Breathing out, why am I watching television?" (Most TV is such a time waster, and hopefully this will help people realize that.)
Part Three is "Individual and Collective Effort," and as the title suggests, is about interacting in the world (compassionate action, being an agent of change). We are given examples of people who changed their world. We can get overwhelmed by wanting to fix the world, so we are told about the student who asked the teacher, "There are so many urgent problems. What should I do?" The teacher replied, "Take one thing, and do it very deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time."
One thing I like about the book is that it cites many studies to support its claims. Bits of Buddhist wisdom is also sprinkled throughout. Stunning, mind-bending stories are told, such as the parable of the couple that had to eat their own son. At the end are 6 appendices, including resources and a meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh for total relaxation.
Susan Schenck, author of The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet
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