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Harness some ancient thinking to change how you eat

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

I've been reading about Buddhism lately and there are interesting elements which we an apply to our mindful eating journey. Buddhism teaches that in order to change, we need to have insight into ourselves and our lives. This cannot happen unless we stop and take notice of what's happening around us. This process of stopping allows us to rest the body and the mind. It's only once we're in a state of calm that we can look deeply enough into our current situation to reflect constructively enough to begin to change unhelpful eating habits. When we are mindful, connecting fully with the present moment, we gain more understanding, more acceptance and more forgiveness of ourselves (and others). If we think about the negative impact of unhelpful eating behaviours, we know that this can be destructive and dominating. Stopping, calming and reflecting are essential for both understanding and healing. If we can't do this, we can't stop the kinds of behaviours which are so damaging for us.

There are four noble Truths in Buddhism:

  1. We all have suffering in our lives

  2. We can identify the causes of our suffering

  3. We can put an end to our suffering

  4. There are paths to free us from suffering

Let's think about how these Truths relate to being overweight. Being overweight is suffering - that is a first Truth which, to me is unequivocal. It is 'painful' for the body, such as the joints, the heart, the lungs. Conditions such as diabetes and gallstones are more likely; increases in infertility, cataracts and even dementia have been linked to being overweight. It is also painful for the mind if we are unhappy in a larger body.

The second Truth in this context is about defining clearly the cause of the weight gain. This means the Buddhist idea of stopping and creating calm, so that we can look deeply at the nature of our eating behaviour. Are we driven by an attachment to pleasurable desires? Are we susceptible to cravings? Buddhism describes creatures known as pretas or hungry ghosts. These creatures are never satisfied, always ravenous, driven by a desire to eat but for whom the act of eating does not overcome negative emotions. In fact eating causes them to have more pain. At the second Truth stage we might ask ourselves if our eating resembles one of these Hungry Ghosts? So if the second Truth is about understanding the suffering, then the third Truth is about ending it. In other words being able to believe that it is possible to succeed - to fix an eating disorder, to eat normally or to lose weight. In my Master Practitioner training we talked a lot about improving self-efficacy and in Buddhism it is a strong factor to determine if success is possible. With an increase in our innate capacity to succeed (we all have seeds of well-being which ca be nurtured), so confidence and mindfulness can increase. In this way we can create a self-fulfilling positive cycle of thought and behaviour.

Lastly the fourth Truth dictates that there is a mindful path we will follow to a healthy weight and a healthy life. This path is permanent and is not something we are on or off. It simply IS. I love this because it embraces perfectly the mindful eating way of life and is totally counter to any dieting yo-yo. The path has our own framework of eating, our own health goals and our own sense of self. This individualism is also very important if we are to succeed long-term

So you can see why I found it so interesting! I hope that these Truths will help you to consider what is happening in your own relationship with food and how you can improve it.

With acknowledgement to: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung


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