As a long-time student of meditation, I have been studying and practicing mindfulness for years. As a psychotherapist I have been even more interested in it as of late from a clinical perspective. I have seen how mindfulness can be both a force for healing at times and also used as a cover for hypervigilance, as well as avoidance of intense feelings.
Mindfulness in and of itself is truly beautiful. It is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It is a cultivation of awareness and acceptance that can bring deep peace. Mindfulness has also been co-opted by the diet industry used as a tool of weight loss.
Mindfully eating in the pursuit of weight loss is not really a mindfulness practice.
True mindfulness has no goals. You can mindfully eat a Pop-Tart™ or a rice cake. Both are fine choices in practicing mindfulness.
No one gets an award for eating less and eating slower, it is one of many ways to approach eating. For some, eating more and eating at a pace that feels right to them is a more healing direction to head.
I have noticed a celebration of restriction in the popular culture of mindfulness. Like we are all somehow better if we mindfully only eat half a cookie? Nope. How we eat has nothing to do with our worth. The approach of intuitive eating supports this.
Intuitive eating is about deeply listening inward and if you want half, 1, 2…5, or however many cookies, for any reason, you have unconditional permission to eat them.
This brings me to what I have been contemplating recently as I study the work of psychologist David Wallin PhD and he references three stances on experience:
Embeddedness: When Feelings are Facts
Mentalizing: Reflecting on Mental States
Mindfulness: The Present Moment and the Awareness of Awareness
He explains in his book Attachment in Psychotherapy (Guilford Press, 2007) that embeddedness, not mindfulness, is an optimal stance at times. He gives the examples of the pleasure of being in an embedded state during sex, or while listening to music. For another example, in my experience mindful dancing is terrible, while embedded dancing is one of my favorite invigorating practices.
For many the deep work of psychotherapy involves:
Learning to understand and feel feelings, without getting lost in them
Learning to become attentive to the mental processes of both themselves and others
Learning to become more aware of the present moment
Both mindfulness and embeddedness are important concepts in healing painful patterns of living, and also eating. Understanding and allowing for both can make life richer and make eating more enjoyable.
Mindfully entering an eating experience and then shifting into a more embedded stance makes for extremely fulfilling snacks and meals. This allows for exquisite satisfaction, not as a mindfulness practice, but as a way to fully engage with the pleasure evoked by the foods eaten.
Many things are meant to be pleasurable and satisfying. How might mindfulness AND embeddedness mingle in your own life to create more pleasurable and satisfying experiences?
Jennifer DiGennaro MA, LLPC, is a psychotherapist and couples counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, MI. She is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, Certified Body Trust® Provider and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, as well as the founder of Nourished Energy. She specializes in treating chronic dieting, binge eating disorder, body image concerns, trauma, PTSD, mood disorders and relationship issues. She brings a deep passion for social justice to her trauma-informed, evidence-based and heart-centered clinical work. She is committed to ending the war that is waged against bodies in our culture. Learn more at: www.nourishedenergy.com/meet-jen/