A Zen’s-Eye View: Are you really hungry?

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You’ve been working hard preparing garden beds, and it’s time for a treat. You know you deserve something tasty because you’ve been burning calories like crazy. What will you have? Chocolate ice cream? A donut? A lemon danish? Something sweet and creamy. The first bite sends you over the moon. The second is pretty good, but by the third, you’re back to planning your garden. You get out a book about growing perennials and eat as you read. You turn a page and reach for another bite. But the treat is gone. Where could it be? There’s a bit of cream on the corner of your lip but no sign of that Boston cream donut anywhere. It snuck down your throat when you weren’t paying attention. You forgot to enjoy it. Hmmmm, you think. I’ll have another one. Guilt, disappointment and fear about getting fat set in.

How did food and eating become a root of unhappiness? One of the most pleasurable human activities is fraught with suffering for many. In Creston this is not because there is a lack of good food. It’s not hunger that makes food a source of misery. As a culture, we are out of balance with food and eating; we’ve forgotten how to be fully present with choosing, biting, chewing and swallowing. In other words, we eat mindlessly.

A recent study reports that 25 per cent of Canadians are overweight. Our health-care system is reeling from the cost of treating illness that could be avoided by eating healthy foods in reasonable quantities. We have blamed the food, used chemicals to remove calories, fat and sugar. We have blamed ourselves for not being weak or not exercising more. But food and lifestyle are not the problem. The problem lies in our minds. It lies in our inability to accurately read the messages about hunger and satisfaction that come from our bodies. But when we incorporate mindful eating practices into daily life, we begin to respond to our natural desire for healthy foods. We know when we are hungry, eat to satisfy that hunger and then stop when we are sated.

But many of us have forgotten how to distinguish true physical hunger from boredom, loneliness or simply from taking a break from what we are doing, whether it’s playing the piano, gardening or working on the computer. Instead of sitting quietly or going for a walk, we head straight to the fridge to find something to eat, even though we are not hungry. Recognizing hunger and then eating appropriately to satisfy that hunger is the first and most important practice of mindful eating.

Suggested practice: This week, before you eat anything, check in with your body. Are you physically hungry? What sensations in your body tell you that your hunger is real? Just pay attention, and then rate your hunger on a scale from one to 10. If you rate yourself below six, don’t eat yet.

Kuya Minogue is resident teacher at Creston Zendo. This spring and summer, in co-operation with College of the Rockies, she is offering courses on mindful eating and on mindfulness, stress and chronic pain management. For more information, call her at 250-428-6500.