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Food, Life

Mindful Eating – The Seven Hungers

June 16, 2015

This trimester in school, I am taking my first elective: Mindful Eating and Nourishment. Mindfulness is a truly burgeoning area of focus in the health and wellness industry. Mindfulness training is being applied as part of the treatment plan for many psychological conditions including addiction and anxiety. The basic premise behind mindfulness is to observe the thoughts and the body WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. This means being open to whatever comes up, working to retrain the brain away from its ingrained reactions. Becoming more mindful can greatly improve many areas of your life.

While it is clear there is disorder in the food we as a society are eating, the method in which we are eating is an even bigger problem. Compared to other countries, we as Americans eat faster and with much less awareness and appreciation for what is in front of us. You will hear many people claim to absolutely love food, but if you watch them eat, they don’t actually take the time to savor and enjoy their food. We keep ourselves so busy that we eat and drink while reading, watching T.V., responding to emails, or driving. Instead of staying in its place of importance, the food on our plate takes a backseat to our other concerns. We realize halfway through a meal that we haven’t even tasted our last 10 bites of food.

Because we are eating so rapidly, our body does not have enough time to send us a signal that it is full. If we eat this way often enough, our mind starts to be unable to even understand the signals coming from the body. Eventually, our body might decide to stop sending the signals entirely.

Mindful eating is a huge area of research, so I will introduce just one of the core concepts in this post. According to Jan Chozen Bays, an expert in the mindfulness arena, there are seven hungers at work in our body: eye, nose, mouth, stomach, cell, mind, and heart hunger. For most of us, we have a narrower view of hunger. How would you describe hunger to someone else? Probably you would say something about your stomach feeling empty, or maybe feeling light-headed or cranky? There is actually a whole lot more that goes into it than that! If you have any interest in this topic, Bays’ book, Mindful Eating, is an approachable yet compelling read. It even includes a few brief meditations relating to mindfulness.

Eye Hunger: The first hunger comes from our ability to see our food. You have experienced this any time you finish a meal at a restaurant and feel so full you could burst. But then, the waiter comes by with a tray of meticulously arranged desserts and maybe you could have a little something more. This comes in to play in advertising in a huge way as well. In both cases, it is the beauty of food that is drawing your attention and desire. You can use this to your advantage. Take an extra few seconds to create a nice arrangement of your food when placing it on a plate. Before digging in to your food, spend a moment or two appreciating the visual appeal of what you have in front of you! Notice the different colors, textures, sizes, and shapes of your food. This will increase your enjoyment of your food, and perhaps help you to slow down while eating. If you tend to overeat, slowing down can help you eat less.

Nose Hunger: We have probably all heard how important your sense of smell is to the taste of your food. You’ve experienced this fact every time you have had any congestion from a cold or allergies. Food seems more bland and less enjoyable. Scents can also be tightly tied to memories from your past. Foods that we have enjoyed in the past will become associated with their smells. This is why the aroma of freshly baked cookies or bread, freshly brewed coffee, or sizzling bacon can draw you into a restaurant or kitchen even if you did not feel hungry before.

Mouth Hunger: Mouth hunger encompasses the taste, texture, and temperature of our foods. We each have different preferences: sweet or salty, spicy or mild, smooth or crunchy. The food industry definitely knows about this hunger, pumping foods full of salt, fat, and sugar to overload your taste buds with sensation and keep you coming back for more. These types of processed foods are also the ones you eat quickly, not even paying attention to the subtleties of each bite. To satisfy mouth hunger, slow it down! Actually chew your food, feel the variety of different textures present. Notice how the flavors change as you chew each bite. If you keep this up for the entire duration of your meal, the mouth will be satisfied. If you only stay mindful for the first bite, and wolf down the rest, the mouth will want more and more.

Stomach Hunger: Stomach hunger may feel like an emptiness, constriction, or a grinding and gnawing feeling. It can be hard to ignore! Interestingly enough, this sensation does not necessarily mean that our body needs food. Our stomach can become conditioned by the habits of our eating. If you eat every single day at the same time, your stomach will begin to react in this way out of expectations. You may also have stomach pangs due to anxiety or stress. Stress eating can lead to guilt, creating more stress, and more eating! Quite the vicious cycle. While your stomach can mislead you into eating when you don’t really need to, you also don’t want to completely ignore the messages it sends. This is where it becomes important to check in with the other hungers, to read the full message from the body.

Cell Hunger: I will admit, this is one of the more difficult hungers to access. It requires really looking deeply into the body, and is a skill we tend to lose as we fall into mindless eating. The cells may tell you they are hungry in many ways. Headaches, dizziness, sudden exhaustion, or irritability are common hints. If you are deficient in protein or fats, you might get intense cravings for a steak or a big spoon of peanut butter. A fun exercise to try out is a simple meditation on cellular hunger using a small item of food (a strawberry, a raisin, a small piece of dark chocolate, etc). Sit quietly, eyes closed, and see how the cells of the body feel in the moment. After scanning for a few breaths, place the small food in your mouth and chew slowly. Notice if your cells start to change their tune! Do you feel any sensations in the brain, stomach or skin?

Mind Hunger: Now this is a strong force! Our minds are often the force driving our behavior. With the plethora of information about nutrition, the ‘should’ and ‘should not’s’  flowing through our thoughts are abundant. Due to this, mind hunger is often made up of good vs. bad. The problem with this way of thinking is that research is always changing. What is good for you one day leads to disease the next day. What is good for one person is completely different from what is good for another! Jan Chozen Bays mentions the Buddhist idea of the middle way, suggesting that finding a path between the two extremes will help to maintain sanity. Once again, incorporating all of the hungers and truly listening to what your individual body is asking for can make a powerful improvement in your life.

Heart Hunger: Is there a food you always ate with family growing up, one that still brings back a wave of nostalgia? These ‘comfort foods’ are one basis for heart hunger. Heart hunger can also be a desire to fill some perceived hole in life. We eat to ease suffering in the form of loneliness, boredom, anxiety or grief. Our heart longs for intimacy, whether it is with another person, an animal, nature, or art. Notice when you are eating due to some perceived sense of lack. If the rest of your hungers are telling you food is not needed in the moment, see if you can find another way to nourish your heart. Call a friend, take a walk outside, draw a picture, listen to your favorite song. If you do decide to eat, do so slowly. Truly try to embrace love through the experience.

If you made it this far, kudos! I know this is a long post, but the seven hungers are incredible!! Try checking in with these different aspects of hunger, and let me know how it goes in the comments below! Since starting this class, I already feel like I have a vastly expanded appreciation for the many ways food fuels me, body and soul.

Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 6/12/15

June 12, 2015

Another week flies by! We have a diverse collection of animals this time around. Do you have a favorite animal?

  1. Beetles are animals too! I found this one on my parent’s porch in Colorado last year. I didn’t make up the name either, they are actually called pleasing fungus beetles! If you want to get super technical, it is a gibbifer californicus. Fun name.
  2. Here is a fire shrimp at the Baltimore Aquarium. Such a vibrant red, especially surrounded by the deep purple faux coral. The actual coral species all over the aquarium were some of my favorites to watch!
  3. Our cats are lucky enough to have a fairly consistent source of entertainment right outside the window. This rabbit hung around for a few minutes before moving on.
  4. We made friends with a few pigeons on our honeymoon in Venice. We look good together, yes?
  5. In honor of Jurassic World’s release this week, here is a T-Rex skeleton from the Natural Sciences Museum in D.C.! Shout out to my nephew Andrew and mom-in-law posing in front!
Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 6/5/2015

June 5, 2015

Friday really jumped out at me this morning!! I am not sure how we got here, but I’m glad we made it! Below is a review of the animals this week.

  1. Murray is an approximately 1 year old orange tabby who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new human baby sister! He often spends his time curled up in her crib, as he is doing in the picture from this week!
  2. Cilla (short for Priscilla) and her sister-from-another-mister Madison (or Maddie) love to cuddle and keep each other well-groomed. They live in the Big Apple and were recently adopted together. I am excited to get to meet them we I visit New York next week.
  3. I promise it’s not all cats!!! Duke is a sweet black lab my husband and I met at a winery on a trip a few years ago! He accompanies his owner around the vineyard and is a great host when people stop by to visit.
  4. Visiting the Baltimore Aquarium we were able to see this huge sea turtle! I could spend hours standing and looking down on this large habitat they have set up.
  5. Finally, we have some zebras. I don’t know their names, but they seemed friendly! These are from Safari West near Santa Rosa, California. They were calm and incredibly photogenic. I had never been so close to a zebra before. There were a few youngsters in the herd who were curious little things.
Animal Photo Friday, Life

Animal Photo Friday – 5/29/2015

May 29, 2015

Animal Photo Friday is an idea my husband started up a few years ago at his job. He started a mailing list of interested coworkers where they could share pictures or videos of their own pets, or interesting animals they found online. The mailing list is still going strong and brings some much needed happiness after a long week of work. Since unleashing your Atman is all about finding and embracing joy in life, I think posting animal photos is an appropriate weekly activity. I will start off this week with pictures I found in my computer photo gallery. In the future weeks, I would love to share some of your pictures! You can submit them along with a short blurb if you like on the contact page and I will pick a handful to share each week. Happy Friday!


Wine in the Woods

May 19, 2015

The past couple of months have been a whirlwind. In the 10 weeks prior to this one, only two of them have seen Alonzo and I together at home in Arlington. From work trips to short vacations in California and NYC, visiting our new niece in Houston and my family visiting us from out west, traveling to Maryland to start the next round of classes and subbing a lot of yoga classes, it’s been basically nonstop since mid-March. Even in the time we were together, we both had a lot of work to do. Outside of his already-too-much-work day job, Alonzo has also been working on updating the website for The Brew Gentlemen (Side note: Congrats on celebrating a successful first year in the taproom!!) as well as making preparations for our eminent move to California later this year (fingers crossed). I’ve been studying for school, always planning for yoga, and thinking of new ideas to share on my site. With all of that, we needed to take a weekend off to reconnect and try not to dwell on anything at all.

Relaxing weekends go by way too quickly!!! We traveled out to Columbia, Maryland, an easy 50 minute drive north. The city was having its annual “Wine in the Woods” Festival, so we decided to check it out. I was completely unprepared for the scope of the event. In my mind, Columbia is a fairly small town. I figured there would be a couple hundred people and a few tents offering wine from Maryland. Turns out there are A LOT more wineries in the state than I expected, and A LOT (read: thousands) of people interested in trying out their offerings.

I would like to lie to you and pretend the whole day was sparkles and heart bubbles, but my anxiety reared its beautiful head at the sight of such a mass of people. It started off with my failed attempt to find a parking lot the first drive by the event area. I pulled over to let Alonzo take over, but wasn’t able to immediately let go of the tension that ‘failing’ at parking had created in me. We eventually found an open lot and shuttled back over to the woods filled with wine. My poor husband got to spend this time trying to get me to relax and shake it off (at this point, we could have renamed the event “Whine in the Woods”). Having dealt with my border-irrationality too many times to count, I know it can be hard for him to stay patient, and I could see the stress creeping into his body. He just can’t catch a break. Thankfully, after not too long the initial shock wore off, and we wandered around the nicely wooded grounds sampling a variety of wines. After a while, my taste buds could not tell the difference between anything. We left just before the sky broke open into some heat-relieving thunderstorms, and checked into The Columbia Inn bed and breakfast. After a nice nap and a walk down memory lane with a visit to Pei Wei (a favorite cheap date night spot of ours back in high school days), we rounded out the night with a dessert from Wegman’s and another blast from the past, watching Rush Hour in the plush king size bed back at the inn. Made to order omelettes with home fries (plus some sides of meat for the husband) and a fantastic whirlpool bath rounded out our trip, and we drove back the following morning.

Just a 30 minute walk down the street, the annual “Taste of Arlington” was going on, so we took a leisurely stroll down to Ballston to check out some local food. I thankfully had the foresight to bring along some Tupperware, so we were able to carry some food home for dinner using our remaining tickets once we couldn’t eat any more. We made it home in time to collapse on the couch and catch the last quarter of the Rockets game. We both made it through the weekend without spending more than half an hour working, so Monday was an abrupt shock back to reality as we remembered the heavy load of busy-ness that grasped for our attention.

The two big take-aways from this weekend:

  • No matter how proficient I think I am becoming at calming down that seed inside of me that needlessly brings up anxiety, doubt, worry, and fear in social circumstances, I still have a ways to go. I have become much more aware of  how unnecessary the feelings are, but need to continue working to change my mind’s natural and abrupt reaction.
  • I have decided that we should look for a new hobby as a way of taking a step back from the ‘busy-ness’ that seems to overtake our minds during the week. I have found that TV is our go-to, as it is a way to completely disconnect from our world. I would like to instead have an avenue of staying connected to our passions, without the added stress that accompanies our work lives. A few ideas I have come up with so far:
    • Conduct physics experiments…this is as far as the idea has progressed. Alonzo loves physics and gets really fired up when we talk about it, so I think this would be a great way to unwind. We ran our first experiment yesterday while having coffee in the morning. Alonzo dropped a piece of biscotti into his cup and it floated. Buoyancy test!
    • Photography. We got a nice camera for Christmas and still haven’t really figured it all out.
    • Something physical. Maybe rock climbing or some type of martial arts. I know there are SO MANY different styles, and I haven’t done any research yet. If you have any recommendations, please let me know! I think that, like yoga, martial arts would be a great way of strengthening and connecting with the body, and using movement to release stress.

Whew, now back to the daily grind of the week. Happy Tuesday!!!

Life, Yoga

Who turned out the light?

February 17, 2015

I’ve spent much of my life living in fear; fear of judgement, of failing, and even deeper down a fear of even trying. I can attest to the fact that it is so easy to allow fear to hold you back, to use it as an excuse to hide from yourself and from life.

I was painfully shy for much of high school and college (and, to be honest, even now). Social situations would find me standing in a corner trying to blend into the wall. When I went off to college and left the comfort of the friends I had made as a child, I completely fell apart. My freshman year, I exclusively spent my time with two friends I had from high school. If they were busy, I stayed alone. My friends and family would say I just needed to “get out there”, say hello to whoever I met. I would get so upset, thinking they didn’t understand, that it simply wasn’t possible.

It’s a spiraling path that is hard to escape. The more you avoid life, the harder it is to get back out there. Starting this blog, the hardest part by far is putting my life out there, sharing myself and opening up to the ‘judgement’ I so fear from my peers. A fear of being measured and found to be inadequate.

I absolutely love this quote as a source of inspiration. It helps drive me to power through the fear when it starts to overwhelm.:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  -Marianne Williamson

Even during my weakest moments, I have always felt that I have this inner light. I have just struggled with the shade that hovers on top of it. Struggled with why I worry so much about the parts of life I can not control (like the thoughts of other people, the events of day to day life). This is a big reason why I am so enamored with the notion of the Atman.

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