Eight pounds in as many weeks. Painlessly (and surprisingly) gone. Not enough to drop a dress size, but enough to send me hunting for a belt. And I credit…mindful eating. After a lifetime of core health beliefs built on the twin towers of eating less and moving more, this stuns me. Does it really come down to mind over matter?
When I started Project Me in April, I limited my rules to a handful of simple actions that could easily slide into my over-committed days. Down a water/vinegar cocktail on rising and up my activity level. Go near-teetotaler, with no at-home alcohol. Eat more soup. Record what I ate, and what I weighed. An honest assessment of my past two months’ performance shows I earned a C+. At best. Yet I still lost weight.
Not bad, especially in light of how this venture started: sipping coffees in an Amman restaurant with a good friend, talking about shared fitness goals. It was nearing lunchtime. We ordered up salads and continued to map a plan to smaller jeans. Waiting for the check, the restaurant manager approached. He explained that the place was looking to revise its menu and would we taste-test a few items for them? The gods howled.
A chef appeared and asked us to fill out a multiple-page checklist with our reactions and observations. She then sent out three full meals – plus dessert! They were delicious. And being chosen as Taste Testers just when we decided to get fit served up an equally delicious anecdote. Ironically, it also mirrored the very method that I had kicked off my project with: mindful eating.
The survey demanded that we look at the food. See it. Smell it. Chew and release its flavor. Taste it. We had to move beyond, “Wow, that’s nice!”, into a considered evaluation of what was on the fork. And it prompted Food Network-worthy discussion about what we like about Middle Eastern cuisine (fresh produce, judicious use of spices) and what we didn’t like – but ate anyhow – because, well, it was there (rice, bread, rice, potatoes, sugar, more rice).
Mindful eating is easier said than done in this region where food sharing is as laden with as many meanings as calories. Weak protests of food allergies or stomach bugs only get you so far. I found that a PC tack is to swap that slab of knafeh or hunk of mansaf mutton for a single, small bite. Add an appreciative smile and energetic pat on your belly and maybe distract an aggressive hostess from pressing more food on you. And, chin(s) up, there is a way out: when surrounded by culinary traditions that don’t serve your own preferences, just refuse to be bullied into belly busting consumption.
So Lesson One is be mindful of what and why and how you eat. And when you eat, just eat. Drop the Kindle. Take out the earbuds. Push away from the monitor and sit at a proper table. You can find guidance on Pinterest, Google, and Facebook. Check out YouTube, where you can have rock-star Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh walk you through the process:
What’s next? As befits the first day of Ramadan, I will try fasting. Made simple as all the Amman bars and many of its restaurants shut for the month. Over 90% of my compatriots will be living food-free during daylight hours. I lack the stamina to stay awake through late night iftars to graze. Dare I say this will be a ‘piece of cake’?
Green Prophet has written about fasting, a dietary tack once a favorite of ancient prophets that has strong support from contemporary science, with notable aficionados in between. Did you know that American author Upton Sinclair was a fasting fan?
His 1906 novel The Jungle exposed unsanitary and inhumane conditions in the nascent Big Food business (specifically the Chicago meatpacking industry). Sinclair was keen on alternative health practices, preferring a predominantly vegetarian diet based largely on raw food. In fact, he wrote another bestseller in 1911 titled The Fasting Cure. The unusual little book is available as a free read (link here).
“I had taken several fasts of ten or twelve days’ duration, with the result of a complete making over of my health”, said the prolific writer. Um, he also believed in ghosts.
So here goes (literally) nothing.