Now that it’s a new year, the CCRB is humid with the sweat of resolutioners. Because the holidays are about family and adding another layer of warmth for the coming winter months, we seem to eat more than usual. Is it because a new year means a fresh start, and the holidays represent that one last chance to ride a sugar high before hitting the elliptical? Or does mindless eating really stop with the flip of a new calendar? And how could the start of a new semester at school possibly encourage a new outlook on food, when cheap pizza joints like Backroom and Diag Party Shoppe lurk around every corner?
Mindless eating is everywhere. It’s a TV dinner on a couch; it’s a plateful of good food while reading the newspaper. I am a culprit, and it seems that when I’m at home and away from my apartment kitchen I tend to hit the cookie jar. A 2000 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that Americans gain about a pound between Thanksgiving and the New Year, and rarely shed it. During my holiday break I picked up a book, grabbed a sandwich and learned what I was doing wrong.
“Peace Is Every Step,” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, is all about regaining touch with the peace every moment offers. It has a section about eating mindfully, which suggests that “the purpose of eating is to eat.” I had to quickly swallow my bite of sandwich to try and understand this. I eat for energy, for enjoyment, for camaraderie, and cannot fathom eating just to eat. However, Hanh’s explanation goes much deeper, and fits very well into my distrust of New Year’s fitness resolutions.
Mindful eating means thinking about our food, where it came from and what it will do for us. This doesn’t mean staring at our plates for 10 minutes, slowly imagining the process from vegetable seed to manufacturer. It means taking just a moment to understand that everything we eat comes from the earth and gives us strength. Not everyone has food to eat, and when Grandma used to say that children in China are starving, maybe she had something there. We don’t need to hold hands and sing kumbaya at every meal, but enjoying food for what it is makes it real.
So for a while I tried to eat mindfully, and it was hard. I ate breakfast by myself, without a book, and it was boring. But afterward I felt full. I knew exactly what I had eaten. It was a bit difficult to pretend that the processed sugary bits in the dining hall’s Lucky Charms came directly from the earth, but you have to start somewhere.
Of course, the holidays got the best of me, because they are the best of times and the worst of times. I ate candy at the movies and cookies during familial arguments. So what to do now? Hanh didn’t write a section about what to do when you’re feeling mindless. Luckily, Psychology Today published an article about coping with mindless eating. Perfect.
There will be mindless eating, perhaps even more during the holidays and weekends due to stress, parties and those Oreo-peanut-butter-chocolate-covered bites of heaven. Dr. Susan Albers, author of the Psychology Today article as well as her own book “Eating Mindfully,” proposed a coping mechanism that offers a glimmer of hope in trying buttery times. My favorite is to “get some perspective.” How big of a deal is this in the overall scheme of life? Learn your lesson, and move on.
As Thich Nhat Hanh put it, peace is every step. We won’t always eat mindfully. But being aware that mindful eating exists is the first step. The holidays are just days on the calendar, and we should treat them like it. Eat to eat, not to suppress stress.
Now that school is back in session, we’ve all returned to our old eating habits, for better or for worse. If the new year means a strict exercising regimen and the end of sugar, think again. For me, it means trying to be happier with what I’m eating, not necessarily decreasing the amount, even though they seem to go hand-in-hand in most resolutions.
That isn’t to say exercising takes a backseat — everyone knows bikini season is only six or so months away. Hopefully, we’ll still be frequenting the gym, seeing as it’s February. January is unstable, much like the mentality of getting back on track in the new year. So cheers to a new semester and a healthy, food-tastic year, and may you learn to un-multitask and separate homework from eating.