Mindful eating : A Place For Vulnerability
How would our professional approach look like if love and connected presence would be the priority? Would a mindful eating program then have a weight loss or eating behavior focus?
No doubt, mindful eating has a very specific entrance gate which is less broad than, for example, a MBSR course where coping with stress is the initial focus. However, I’ve noticed after all those years of offering mindful eating and MBSR courses, that mindfulness has nothing to do with striving towards a certain goal or outcome. In both MBSR and ME-CL programs, our starting point is that every participant is already good enough and whole. This is a radical position statement in the Western world but crucial for the wellbeing of our patients and participants.
Living out of love, on physical, social, psychological and spiritual level, is maybe the essence of our existence. It is only when we have enough attention for these four dimensions and acknowledging our human vulnerability and strength, existential wellbeing has a chance to manifest. Interesting enough, in order to experience our own nature, first we have to fall into pieces and go to a place where there are no longer certainties and nothing more to grasp. Pema Chodron says in one of her books : “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”. We haven’t learned how to stop running from fear and definitely haven’t been told to move closer or to befriend with anxiety. In general, the advice we get (from an early age) is usually to sweeten it up, to distract or to take a cookie (or the whole box).
What I’ve realized as a mindful eating teacher is that those, who use foods to cope with fear, are in general very sensitive individuals with a strong preference for soothing and calming environments. Paul Gilbert would explain this behavior from evolutionary perspective. More than 10.000 years ago, individuals with this emotion regulation system were the ones who cared for the elderly and young children in the tribe, who would keep the fire burning while those with a stronger drive system would go out hunting and taking the risk of being killed.
Nowadays, at least in the Western world, there is a bias for people with a strong urge to achieve goals, and they are rewarded for this mindset. Not only at work but also in the gym or weight loss centres. It seems an ideal way of living but as a health professional I’ve seen too many patients where the drive system went into overdrive, ending in a burn-out or a severe eating disorder.
The bottom line is that both groups –the ‘soothing system group’ and the’ drive system group’- experience moments where everything falls apart and no more options for escape seems to work. There is nowhere to hide. This is the experience most participants have when they apply for a mindful eating course. They’ve tried every possible diet and subscribed for countless gym sessions.
With this feeling of vulnerability and desperation they enter the classroom, or better said the arena. Roosevelt said in his speech of 1910 in Paris : “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (or woman) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
With admiration and love I embrace all those men and women who dare to walk in the arena of a mindful eating course. They have had the courage to show up and let themselves to be seen, knowing “I’m enough”.
Caroline Baerten, Belgium
How do you create a safe and holding environment where vulnerability is allowed? What do you say, embody or do in a mindful eating course?