Zen in the Art of Eating
If one really wishes to be a master of an art, technical knowledge is not enough. One has to transcend techniques so that the art becomes an "artless art".
D.T Suzuki Zen in the Art of Archery
From my lifelong training in the martial arts, I've always held a fascination in the concept of Zen. The ideas of moving meditation, mindfulness, removing obstacles, flowing like water, absorbing what is useful and disregarding what is not, all have lineage to Zen.
It is Zen that inspired Deconstructing Diabetes. The concept of simplicity. "Simplifing dietary advice for people with diabetes".
The quote at the top of this blog is taken from the gem of a book Zen in the art of Archery, which the title of this blog is adapted from.
So what is "Zen"?
A couple of definitions:
"A practice of emptying the mind and giving the attention to only one thing".
"An approach to an activity, skill, or subject that emphasizes simplicity and intuition rather than conventional thinking or fixation on goals".
I was conducting an activity as part of a bariatric group, teaching mindfulness where each individual in the group had a square of chocolate on a plate in front of them.
One member of the group stated that she usually eats a block of chocolate at a sitting. Semi expecting this activity to end in disaster, I was however suprised when she did not even finish the single square she had in front of her.
She said during the exercise it was the best piece of chocolate she had ever eaten (Yes, I had provided quality chocolate for the activity).
By paying attention to the clean table we were sitting to, the sight of the chocolate, the sound of the chocolate break in the fingers, the smell before she put it in her mouth, the mouthfeel, the texture, the characteristics, flavours, the saliva production, the pleasure in one bite...was enough.
She had never done this before.
The Process. The act of eating doesn't start with eating.
Of course, mindfulness doesn't start with the food on the table.
Doing a cooking class in a foreign country teaches more than just kitchen skills. Appreciation for the selection of ingredients, the quality of ingredients, the recipe itself and often the history behind the recipe (I was taught this by my grandmother, who, learnt from her grandmother...), the preparation of the meal itself is a ritual, and a source of respect and pride.
It may be cliche, but the French eat one croissant, not a tray of croissants.
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness
What is mindlessness in regards to eating?
It's not caring about the quality or quantity of the food being eaten, the speed of eating, or the location of eating.
It's eating at the same time as watching TV/ browsing the internet/ walking down the street/ sitting at the office desk/ driving the car.
When it's a meal time, sit, enjoy and savor the meal. Avoid distractions.
I sometimes tell my clients to make eating a mutually exclusive activity (with the exception of enjoying the meal in the company of friends and family!).
Each bite serves as a metaphor.
I've written before about the importance of reinforcing positive behavours rather than focusing on weight or glucose endpoints or outcomes.
Each bite becomes a metaphor for the meal, and each meal becomes a metaphor for the diet.
Every. Bite. Every Meal. Every Day.
My next blog explores the idea of "Addition and Subtraction".
Is it more important to add, or subtract. Should you remove food from the shopping list/ plate, or is it more important to ensure you have the essentials on your plate. Do you do one before the other, and in what order? Does it make a difference if you add, or subtract?
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