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  • Laura Machado, PsyD

How to Eat

It’s been a while since writing (babies, kids, they take all my time, ha! But I love them), and I always have blog ideas rolling around in my mind, so here I am on a Sunday, trying to quickly get one out because I love to write. I have a new goal: get one blog out a week. Just show up and write. Imperfectly. A little stream-of-consciousy, maybe… but hopefully someone will be helped :)

All that said, if you have a question or a topic you’d like me to write about, please let me know.

Today’s topic is just a quick tip about the power of intentional focus when eating.

Eating is primarily a body based experience. By that I mean the main characters when we eat should be our tastebuds and our hunger and fullness cues.

Yes, there is room for your mind to be a little bit of a player in your eating behavior. Your mind can gently use nutritional information to guide eating choices. But using some knowledge of nutrition to guide our food choices some of the time is a super advanced skill for someone with a history of eating disorders, and it is the topic of an upcoming blog post. So, let’s just shelve that thought of “Yeah, but what if my mind knows complex carbs are better for me so shouldn’t I always choose complex carbs over white flour?” Just shelve that. I promise to write about it soon. Yes, yes, there is space in our eating experience for our mind to have a bit of an influence in our choices, but the influence is so small and totally not the point and flat out dangerous to try too early in recovery. So, for now, eating is 100% a body based activity: Taste buds. Hunger cues. Fullness cues. The only mind part of your eating should be following your meal plan if you have one.

Okay, so onward… imagine you’re sitting down at a table with a friend and you have some food in front of you. Let’s say you have takeout - some kind of dahl. You know it is delicious! But you didn’t make it, and it kind of is all mushed together so you can’t quite tell what it is in it. If you are not intentional, your mind might command all of your attention: is this made with cream? Oil? Ghee? Is Ghee a health food or not? How many calories are in lentils? Some canned lentils have preservatives in them - was this dish made with those? Lentils are carbs, so I shouldn’t really have it on naan because that’s like two carbs. Maybe if I have it on brown rice, that’ll be better because at least the two carbs are the good kind. I shouldn’t have this at all. But now I already started, so eff it. Just scarf it down. I just won’t eat the rest of the day or tomorrow to make up for it. [Disclaimer in case this wasn’t clear: please know this is an example of what the eating disorder mind says, not what is true! Dahl is delicious and you should eat it enjoyably and then eat the next meal or snack, too.]

It’s like there’s a little flashlight hanging from inside the crown of your head and it is only shining internally at your brain. That’s all you see: your thoughts. Your eyeballs might be looking at the person sitting across from you or at your food, but you’re not seeing them. You’re “seeing” just your thoughts inside your brain, as they command all of your attention. That’s where your internal flashlight is shining.

But eating is not a mind activity. It is a BODY activity. And it is a SOCIAL activity.

So take that little flashlight and imagine it, hanging from the crown of your head, and imagine it shining on your tongue. Now when you take a bite, keep it shining on your tongue. Let that focus command your attention. Suddenly you EXPERIENCE what it tastes like (not think about it). The experience of taste - let it be a nonverbal experiences. Just zoom in on those tastebuds.

Another thing to zoom in on is the other person at the table with you. Get that flashlight to shine through your skull, across the table, and at the other person. Focus on the other person, on the conversation, on what they’re saying. Let this be filled with the experience of connection.

Now, your mind will try to command that flashlight’s attention back: Hello, you just ate most of your dish. Eff it - just finish it and go home and keep eating in secret. (Cue your body becoming hot and buzzy with anxiety).

But woah! Inhale. Exhale.

Rotate that flashlight down from your brain to your tastebuds. Take the next bite. Experience the taste.

Or move that flashlight to the other person, not your own mind. Ask them a question, pay attention to the answer. Throw yourself into connection.

Feel the anxiety rising in your body. It’s fine. Pause. Drop the utensils. Breathe. And begin again. Tastebuds. Social Connection. Rinse. Repeat.

Whatever your next meal or snack is, try keeping your flashlight on your tastebuds or on the person you’re with. If you see it getting sucked back into shining on your thoughts, say: Eating is a body activity and a social activity, not a mind activity (that is your mantra). And then rotate that flashlight.

Happy Eating!

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