When we think of gathering in community, how many of the visions that arise have to do with food? That iconic Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving dinner; pizza and a movie on Friday night; waffles at Sunday brunch. That’s the sunlit side of eating. Not many of us would want to do without it. But then there’s the shadow side: the family-sized bag of cookies downed in fifteen minutes when the divorce decree comes in the mail – scrabbling in the bottom of the bag of Kettle chips and realizing that I just ate the whole thing without noticing it – eating dessert after a huge dinner, because “I had a hard week, I deserve this.” And I don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder. Like most of us, I have the garden-variety version of what Jon Kabat-Zinn has called “our disordered relationship with food and eating.” It’s caused me to gain extra weight. It’s cost me a few unnecessary stomach aches. But so far, that’s all.
However, for many, the relationship with food has tipped over into a true eating disorder, just as dangerous to health as a disordered relationship with alcohol or a drug addiction. The spiritual, emotional and physical agony that eating disorders cause can be devastating.
An alcoholic can renounce alcohol. A drug addict can abstain from drugs. The Refuge Recovery practice is based on renunciation and abstinence. It’s made clear that renunciation is the price of admission to start on the path to true recovery. And as difficult and excruciating as that path can be, especially in the beginning, drug and alcohol addicts have the advantage of being addicted to something you can renounce. What if you have a process addiction that involves food? You can’t renounce eating.
But our practice does include a path to recovery, even so. Remember the equanimity meditation? “Suffering or happiness is created through one’s relationship to experience, not by relationship itself.” It is possible to change your relationship to food. In her book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Jan Chozen Bays, MD, offers insight into how to satisfy the many kinds of hunger. What kind of hunger are you experiencing, she asks? And how can you truly satisfy that particular of hunger? Practice (both written and in the form of guided exercises on an accompanying CD) is provided.
Dr. Bays, also known as Chozen Roshi, is a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, a meditation teacher, and a teacher of mindful eating. She is also the co-abbott of Great Vow Zen monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. As you might expect from her background, her writing voice is gentle, kindly, and accessible.
Her videos on mindful eating have been uploaded to YouTube by both Great Vow and Shambhala Publications.
Dr. Bays concludes her book with this Dedication of Merit, and I pass it on to you:
May we all become free from anxiety and fear about eating. May we all be at ease. May we all be content as we nourish this precious human body and mind. May our hearts be happy and satisfied as we walk the path of awakening.