Mindful Eating: coping with the food court at the motorway services on a bank holiday
I spent the August bank holiday weekend at the glorious “Into the Wild Festival” in Sussex enjoying music and meditation, yoga, alternative therapies, drumming and crafts and a very chilled atmosphere. Festival food is always a great delight for me and this was no exception with a fantastic range of delicious food for vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters. Bee Wilson in her book “First Bite, How We Learn to Eat” points out the enormous influence the food environment has on our eating and food choices. Her argument is that the single most influential step a government could take to improve the population’s diet would be to legislate to create a healthy food environment on our supermarket shelves. The festival provided a really healthy set of food choices: super-tasty and fresh vegan and veggie curries, salads, soups and snacks and some sweet treats in the form of raw chocolates, homemade cakes, great ice-creams and sorbets. Sunday night I queued for handmade sourdough, wood-fired pizzas and chai tea so popular they had a vat constantly bubbling while they grated and ground fresh spices for it at the back of the stall. It also helped that the festival is a drug and alcohol free zone. I felt really well fed all weekend without being overfull or uncomfortable and my digestive system was very happy. It was easy to make good food choices all weekend.
Leaving a festival bubble for the “real world” is often a bit of a shock and on the way back we had to stop to get some lunch at a motorway services. I had already touched base with my tummy and planned in my head the tasty salad I would buy at M&S (I really like it that they have their outlets at motorway services now). Walking in through the automatic doors of the service station my senses were met with an avalanche of temptation as I stepped into one of the most difficult to manage food environments: a food court. There were doughnuts in many shapes and colours, fried chicken and burger bars, pasties and chips, Mexican food, Indian food, fish and chips, pizza and sandwiches, ice-creams and sweets in giant sized bags, coffee with syrups to add, crisps on special offer, Chinese noodles and spare ribs and everywhere advertising, aromas and other people eating. How to resist the temptations and stick to the plan to have the salad my body really wanted?
There is a very powerful mindfulness meditation called “Who is hungry in there?” I learned this from Dr Jan Chozen Bays’ book “Mindful Eating – A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food”. The meditation takes you through an investigation into each of the seven hungers we commonly experience: eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, mind hunger, heart hunger, stomach hunger and cellular hunger. This is easy to do as a practice and I recommend it to really understand the nature of hunger and cravings and be in closer contact with eating for genuine stomach or cellular hunger; that is because your body needs fuel of a particular kind. If you only ever learn one mindful eating practice make it this one and do it at every eating event until it becomes an automatic habit. You can listen to me guiding this meditation here:
So how did I manage the food court? By tuning in to what my stomach felt comfortable eating, the clean food the cells of my body craved and at the same time understanding that the food environment was specially designed to activate my eye hunger, nose hunger, mind hunger and mouth hunger by using advertising, images, aromas, messages to appeal to me on every level. Then I put my head down and like an SAS commando I got into M&S and out again as fast as possible!
I run mindful eating courses lasting 4 weeks and 6 weeks: why not come and learn to tune in to your real hunger to enjoy the food your body needs without guilt?