Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Little Less Mindfulness?

There's a movement in the field toward mindful eating, focusing on our meals and attuning to hunger and satiety, pace of eating, etc. As a mindful eater, you might tune into the texture and flavor combinations of certain foods. You might revel in the color palette on the plate before you, or the warmth of a reduction as it first hits your palate. Perhaps you'll focus on the people and process that culminated in the fare in front of you. A move toward mindfulness can promote intuitive eating and reduce inattentive (or dissociative) overeating in those who identify this as a concern, and a likely majority of eaters could benefit from a more mindful approach.

But I think there's a limit to all this mindfulness.

I've heard some people report that they have trouble going out to eat because it interferes with their conscious eating. And sometimes, we're so focused on the need to eat mindfully, that we counter-intuitively forego eating when we're hungry because we're in the middle of something else.

One of Geneen Roth's eating guidelines, for instance, suggest you "Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music."

While I like Roth's guidelines in general, I think it's possible to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, even if you eat with music or television in the background, or (gasp!) with a book, magazine, newspaper, or your smartphone in front of you. When I used to lead meal process groups at an eating disorder treatment center, we often had music on to accompany our meals. And, with increasing frequency, I eat at my desk with my computer as a backdrop to my meal. Sometimes, I even eat in my car.

There, I said it.

But, this doesn't mean I'm 100% checked out. Conscious eating starts when you decide what to eat and when you plate your food. It means checking in to hunger signals before you begin to eat. And it means checking in with your body for fullness and satiety at times throughout the eating experience. It doesn't mean sitting down at your computer with a Costco-sized meal, checking out, and letting the chips fall where they may. 

Where I differ from many of the mindful eating folks is that I think it can be healthy and flexible to tune out, too, as long as you check back in. Granted, this won't necessarily work for someone early in process of recovery from binge- or emotional eating, but I see it as a goal for most. Perhaps some meals we'll eat mindfully, and some we'll go back and forth. 

Having to eat always with no distractions seems overly rigid to me, the kind of rule that gets people into trouble with food in the first place. To me, fluidity in conscious eating seems more on the mark. It's a commitment to responsibility and pleasure. It allows you to converse with others, to watch your favorite program, or listen to some background music, while enjoying the food in front of you. It allows you to eat at movie theaters, ball games, and on the road. It allows mealtime to be a pleasurable, engaging process that is adaptable and flexible, ultimately aspirational, in my mind, for every disordered eater.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We're Up on Amazon!

Check it out - my book is now available to pre-order!

If you'd like to read what people are saying about the book, take a look.

Reserve your copy here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Countdown to June 1st!

"What happens then?" you ask. . . .

The unofficial start to summer?

Bikini season? (ahem)

The anniversary of when Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England?


It's the publication of my book!

Stay tuned for more information and thanks, as always, for your unrelenting support.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exercise in Peace

Coming to the end of a challenging spin class, our instructor walked us through the readouts on the gym's new bike consoles.

"Now look down at the most important number on your console: the calories."

I disagree.

As a fitness professional, I think the most important number on the bike console is the watts, how much power generated during the workout, followed second by miles, how much (albeit fake) distance traversed. Calories? Eh.

The calories listed on any workout machine are grossly inaccurate. The instructor completely missed the boat on this one, stating that the caloric reading was accurate, independent of height and weight and other individual variables. Not so. Calories burned during a workout are a reflection of the energy used by the heart and muscles, and each person uses a different amount of energy to complete a workout. If you're less fit, you'll burn more calories at the same level of work than your marathoner friend. Your heart rate can typically predict caloric output, but unless you're wearing a heart rate monitor, this measure on cardio machines is inaccurate, too.

The instructor then went through a crowd-rousing competition. "Who burned more than 400 calories? 500? 600? 700?" Participants cheered out in celebration of their (inaccurate) caloric burn.

As a psychologist, I think there is no number tied to a successful workout. My biggest gripe with this ending to a positive and inspiring class is that, even if the readout were 100% accurate, it doesn't matter how many calories you burned. Spinning classes, like any workout, are about increasing fitness, strength, endurance, and power. It's a time to challenge yourself and clear your head. It's a celebration of being healthy and alive.

When you start measuring calories, you miss the point. For some, this turns into a compulsive relationship with exercise, where movement becomes penance for intake. Workouts become painful, instead of challenging, punishing instead of inspiring. For the class participants who struggle with an eating disorder or body image concerns (and yes, they are taking these classes), comments about calories can be difficult to hear and can even trigger disordered behavior.

Join me in challenging the fitness industry's focus on exercise as compensation for meals. Choose a goal for your workouts that is independent of calories burned (think goals related to speed, distance, experiencing feel-good chemicals, just getting out the door). Explain to your trainers and group fitness instructors why a focus on calories is tangential at best and harmful for many.

Exercise in peace.