Monday, January 10, 2011

Being in the moment.

These days, it seems that everyone is into extreme multitasking. I have no idea why this makes me think of one of my favorite youtube videos, Powerthirst.  That always makes me laugh. Anyway, when the trend is driving, texting, and having a conversation all at the same time, it's hard to find times where one can be in the moment. As a runner, much of my energy was spent visualizing the future. This included seeing in my mind how a race would resolve, anticipating where to push it on the course and calculating when to eat, so that stomach issues wouldn't occur. Of course after the race, it was all about how things could have been better, or how the race was in comparison to other races. During the race though, there were more in the moment moments. In rare cases, it became almost an out of body experience, where, not only was it about being in the moment, but there was also a sense of connectedness with the world around. People say that this is how children experience their environment, with no thoughts of the future or past, just the here and now.

Time gets even more distorted with an eating disorder. So much energy and focus is wasted on meal planning, and then regretting having consumed the meal after. It's so much nicer to be able to enjoy a bite to eat, and let it go or even feel good about it after.

I noticed that many recovery books on eating disorders and on dieting too have "breaking free" in the title. I assume it's because having food issues is like being in chains when you're struggling, and recovery feels like you're breaking out of them. Actually, for me, coming out of an eating disorder felt more like emerging from the depths of Hell and despair. Looking back, much of my life in the chains of the illness is a bit hazy. Mostly I remember being miserable. It was an interesting concept to think about being in the moment, and something I hadn't been doing. A book that maybe takes this concept a tad too far, but still offers some sound advice and definitely helped me is Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth.

In the book, Geneen talks about really getting in touch with your hunger. While I just mentioned getting in touch with your passion in the last post, this is more focused on knowing what hunger and body sensations really are, and being able to know the difference between feeling a vague "hunger" and actually needing food. So often we eat for any reason other than actually being hungry. We eat to celebrate, to console ourselves when we are sad, to shove our anger down or out of boredom. It's actually OK to do this on some level, but it's important to be aware when we do.

Geneen offers all kinds of exercises to help get in touch with hunger, and if we all lived on a quiet mountain top surrounded by blue skies and chirping birds, we might actually be able to eat only when we're hungry and stop when we are full, a big problem for some, especially those of us who were told starving children in Africa would die if we didn't clean our plate. Sorry, the world doesn't work like that. Sometimes we have to eat for the hunger to come. If we know our shift at work is 5 hours and there's no time for a break that day, sometimes it's just fine to eat a bite before leaving, even though real hunger hasn't yet hit. It's also fine to celebrate with a piece of your niece's birthday cake, even though you're not all that hungry after lunch. As long as we're not completely oblivious to our hunger, eating when not hungry can be OK in moderation. The big key is to know the difference.

Here's a fun little experiment. Take two chocolate kisses, and eat one randomly. Don't think about it, just pop it in your mouth at any given time and eat it. A little later, take the other one and unwrap it. Look at it, smell it, and after some focus, put it in your mouth. Let it sit a little bit before you start to chew. Think about the texture, the taste and how you might describe it to someone. Now, which one tasted better? When we focus on our food and are aware of our eating, our bodies respond to food differently. It becomes easier to tell when we are hungry and full if we are present in our bodies. That's why some people will suggest turning off the television and avoiding other distractions during meals.

Being aware and present can apply to other areas of life as well. It doesn't have to be about food and hunger only. It's often hard to not get distracted. I'm checking out my facebook profile as I type this. heh. Well, my point is that being centered and aware can help with many issues related to eating disorders. Not only does it help with feeling the body's actual needs, it helps with some of the anxiety that can arise around meals. One important thing I learned in the hospital when I was there so long ago is that feelings can get confused with body sensations. It takes time to separate feeling fat (my code word for anything from I'm angry, hurt  or upset to I feel worried and unloved) from feeling full from eating. I used to hate the term "food feelings", but it's important to address feeling that can come up after or around eating. A good little trick I learned when I start feeling confused between the various hungers in life is HALT. Well, obviously it's good to take a moment and stop to think, but it's code for possible things that might be going on other than real hunger. Am I truly Hungry? Or an I Angry, Lonely or Tired? Any of these other emotions can cause one to feel hungry when the body isn't actually in need of food. These feelings can also be triggers that will lead to an increase of the disordered eating, whether it's overeating or starving, so it's important to know the difference between real feelings and those that mimic hunger.

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