Last night I sat parked in a gas station lot, by myself, eating ice cream. Sounds a bit desperate, doesn’t it?
Every summer when the weather turns nice I get this inexplicable urge to have a Dairy Queen, chocolate-dipped, soft ice-cream cone. It’s not because it’s the best ice cream. It’s probably about the act of going for ice cream.
This has become a repeated, summer experience grooved into my brain, but probably goes back to my childhood. Going for a car ride and the occasional ice cream cone on a Sunday afternoon was a big event. If dad was feeling really flush we’d get a ride on the merry-go-round at OK Economy. Most of the time it was just a car ride. Yes, those were exciting times.
I can hardly believe it myself, but my sons had better plans last night than to go for ice cream with me. And my husband was busy playing golf.
The Car Ride
Seeing as how I was taking my son back to his apartment and I was in the car anyway, I thought I might as well just stop in and get my chocolate dipped cone. Just because no one else wanted one, doesn’t mean I should go without. My friends just wouldn’t be interested. It’s the warmest and longest night of the year. And so the story went.
Apparently others shared my compelling urge last night. The line-up at Dairy Queen far exceeded my patience. But the desire for ice cream was still alive. I crossed the street to the Shell gas station, marched right in and bought a chocolate drumstick-y sort of thing, sat in my car and slowly savored every lick.
I could have avoided the embarrassment of eating alone in a gas station parking lot (being a weight and wellness coach and all) and driven home with it. But eating while driving compromises both the driving and the eating. Or I could have saved it until I got home and eaten a less icy, more creamy confection.
Well, you already know what I did. So what is this about? It’s definitely not a confession.
4 Aspects of Mindful Eating That Will Reduce Overeating
1. If you want something specific to eat you should have it, or you will drive yourself crazy, and likely overeat, trying to avoid it. Choose what you want and pay full attention to your object of desire.
2. Tell the truth about what you’re doing and take full responsibility for it. Don’t make up stories like, “There’s milk in it. It’s good for me.” What is your eating really about?
3. Explore the emotions behind the story. “It’s a warm, summer day. I’m supposed to have ice cream.” While my dad, long gone, can’t provide the experience, sometimes understanding the background (the joy or the pain) is the key to emotional eating. Attending to what you really need will solve the problem, if there is a problem.
4. If you’re going to eat, just eat. That means no driving, reading, watching TV, etc. while you eat. Be present. Mindful eating will accentuate the experience so that you will really enjoy what you eat. And you will eat less.
A client exploring the concept of mindful eating explained how she felt tortured trying to focus exclusively on the delicious sushi while dining out. Because her eyes and attention often drifted to the aquarium of fish she felt she had failed the experiment. Not so.
Here’s the thing. While we are alive, our brains never shut off. Even while we don’t appear to be doing anything, there is a lot of work going on in the background, like breathing and digesting. As far as distractions go, watching fish is probably the least harmful thing you can do while you eat.
You can close your eyes for a while, which can enhance the eating experience, but you can’t turn the brain off or control it. We are much more dynamic than that. But we can be in charge.
The important thing is to always come back to the food: look at it, smell it, bite it, feel it, chew it, swallow it. For many who struggle with food and weight, a rapid, uninterrupted stream of biting, chewing and swallowing is more typical.
The goal with mindful eating is to slow everything down so that you are in charge of what can be a happy, healthy experience rather than a numbing, unhealthy one. It takes practice. Just try it and see what happens.
While I felt a little silly about eating ice cream in a car by myself at a gas station, I was really just practicing mindful eating. It was divine. Though nutrition is very important, there is much more to food. We all need and deserve to receive pleasure from food, just for the sake of it. And that’s the truth.