How to eat

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sept. 2, 2010

Dear Pat,

Our niece Casey is staying with us for a month as she moves from one housing arrangement into another. She is a senior at the local university majoring in fashion merchandising. She just turned 23, spent last spring break in Paris and sounds eager to explore the world beyond Southeast Missouri.

Casey used to work in the mall at a shop that sold hip clothes. Now she dresses more idiosyncratically. She raids my mother's closet for clothes my mother wore in the '50s and '60s. Seeing Casey in one of her old dresses, my mother usually says she can't believe she herself was ever that slim. Few among us over 40 haven't wondered where our younger bodies went.

Diet books tell us to keep to the outside aisles of the grocery store. That's where the fruits and vegetables and protein are located. The inside aisles harbor the processed foods, the foods that swell our bellies, primarily because we don't eat them in moderation.

A few days ago I ran into an acquaintance in the aisle that runs smack down the middle of the grocery store. That would be the chips aisle. Both of us were stockpiling tortilla chips. He showed me his favorite accompaniment, Margaritaville salsa. I told him about the wacky fun people had on the water slide inside the Margaritaville restaurant DC and I went to in Jamaica. Margaritaville has nothing to do with moderation.

Moderation is one of the teachings in the book "Mindful Eating." The author, Jan Chozen Bays, is a physician and meditation teacher who says the American way of eating is the reason why so many of us are overweight. What we eat is certainly important, but how we eat is key. Gobbling burgers and fries in the car might be the worst example of drive-by eating, but lots of us eat while driving or standing up. It seems as if we're always eating or drinking something.

Even if we sit we tend to eat quickly, never giving our bodies a chance to tell us when we've had enough. Some of us distract ourselves while eating by reading or listening to music or watching TV while we eat. We go unconscious. Bays' message is this: Just eat.

She provides six guidelines:

* Eat slowly. Take time to savor the shapes and aromas and tastes.

* Eat the right amount, which is just enough.

* Balance the energy equation. Food stores energy. Activity expends energy.

* Substitute mindfully. When the hungry voice wants a hot fudge sundae, honor it the way a parent takes care of a child. Give it something, but something that's better for it.

* Out of sight, out of mind. Keeping treats handy makes them more likely to be eaten. "Anything we do not reinforce will lose its strength," Bays writes.

* Soothe your inner voices with loving-kindness. When your inner perfectionist, inner pusher and inner critic talk to you about food, remember that they are motivated by fear. They are trying to take care of you. Assure them that everything is going to be all right.

We have carefully introduced Casey to Buster and Dizzy, our new Jack Russell terrier boarders. They're very protective of us and their new home, but treats seem to be all the peace offering they require. They bark each time they see her but stop as soon as they smell what's in her hand. Food has magical powers.

"Smile, breathe and go slowly," Thich Nhat Hanh advises.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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