By Patrecia Lenore Like all the Mindfulness Trainings, the fifth one on mindful consumption-has been a process for me. In my younger years, I drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes. In my early thirties, I gave up smoking, and sometime in my forties, I discovered that alcohol increased the symptoms of my illness, fibromyalgia, so I stopped drinking too. By the time I received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 1993, drugs and alcohol were not a problem for me. But I did have an eating disorder that began in my childhood as a result of the unhealthy eating patterns in my family, and even more because of the abuse and neglect I experienced.
Food was my favorite escape and comfort during those very difficult years. When I baked cookies, half the dough went into my stomach before it was even baked. I would sneak food into my room when I could. Whenever I visited friends, I ate as much as I could. (My family also was very poor during my latter years at home and we often didn't have enough, except for starchy foods.) When I married, I remember eating huge steaks and whole ice cream pies, not to mention a variety of other foods. I sometimes ate so much that I felt like I couldn't move. I ate to cover up my feelings and my depression, and afterwards, I hated myself for doing it. All too often, it took me days to recover from eating binges, and I was not able to be very present for my husband or children, because I felt so sick and ashamed.
Eventually, I found a Twelve-Step program, as well as therapy, to address my eating disorder. Both helped. But when I read the Fifth Mindfulness Training in 1993, I felt a little panicky. I immediately thought of my eating disorder and knew I was still not able to eat mindfully. Indeed, the silent meals on retreat were very difficult for me. Oddly enough, it felt okay to eat a lot very quickly, but to slow down and feel the entire eating process felt like torture. Sometimes I would find a place to eat alone. When difficult feelings came up at retreats, I wanted to binge, and, sad to say, often did.
At one point someone suggested that I stop, breathe, and ask myself what I was feeling, before I took that first bite leading to a binge. Later I also began to ask myself what I really needed in that moment. Often the answer was-and still is-love. Sometimes the love can be contact with a friend, receiving a hug or deep listening, or spending time with my daughters and grandchildren. Sometimes I try to nourish the seeds of joy in myself by resting, reading something wholesome, walking, listing things I'm grateful for, or reaching out and helping a friend. All of these things were what I needed in the past, but I didn't know what to do and used food instead.
I am happy to say that this year I have been able to consistently refrain from overeating-at retreats and in my "regular" life. Sometimes it is very difficult. But when unwholesome food thoughts arise, I use the gentle practice of mindfulness to check in with myself, asking how I feel and what I need. Because mindfulness practice and the fifth training are always with me, I do not have to feel the terrible loneliness and fear of my childhood, and if those feelings do arise, I am learning to treat them gently, knowing they will pass.
I no longer need to hide in food. Food is just food, for the nourishment of my body and mind, so that I may live fully in the present. What a gift!
Patrecia Lenore, Flower of True Virtue, teaches mindfulness in stress reduction courses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and practices with the New York Metro/Community of Mindful Living.