As a teenager living in the north-west city of Perm, Russia, I was not very active.
One day at a wise old age of 14 I noticed that my flabby butt was beginning to creep down my leg. I came to mom asking her what I can do about my butt. Mom has always been organized about her exercise, and at the time she was exercising at home every morning. When I asked her to help rescue me from the dreaded ‘buttleg’, both of us knew that I had no patience to do one of her morning workouts. I have tried to do them with her, I have tried doing them by myself, and I failed.
What my mom told me has changed my life forever. “Just start using the stairs instead of the elevator’ she said. (we lived on the 8th floor).
So that was what I did.
Every day coming home from school, I would turn away from the elevator and go up the stairs instead.
At first, I was very unfit. Those initial few weeks, I would start out walking the stairs but after struggling up few floors, I would take the elevator the rest of the way. I allowed myself to do that, because I knew that if the exercise was too painful, I would start dreading it and gradually quit. And I wanted it to become a normal part of my day. I wanted to become somebody who climbs stairs instead of using the elevator. And that means doing it for the rest of my life.
I knew that the results will come only after a long time. Remember, I lived in Russia before commercialization of fitness and ‘quick fix’ marketing got the hold of people’s psyche, as it has with the westerners. Back then, we knew that if you wanted to be fit, you needed to know how to play the long game.
How did I keep motivated day-to-day? Rather than focusing on tracking minute changes in the shape of my butt, I decided to focus on improving my ability to climb stairs. Every day, I would make a mental note on how far I could climb and how difficult it felt. I used and tested different methods of climbing. Sometimes, I would take two stairs at a time, sometimes I would try to walk on my toes, sometimes I would run, mostly I would just walk up while thinking of something else. The key was to turn away from the elevator at that crucial moment of choice, the rest was automatic.
Eventually, I was able to climb the entire 8 floors. Before long, I was doing that without even getting out of breath. My fitness, strength, energy and mood have improved – a really noticeable thing for a hormonal teenager.
By then, I had completely forgotten that the original purpose of my endeavor was to shape my buttocks, and when I one day noticed my tush in a mirror, I was amazed at how perky it has become. And that was the first time I realized that a) aiming at consistency may be the key to log term success and b) that form follows function and that for me it was more motivating to focus on improving function rather than track appearance.
Since then, I have read a ton of scientific literature on these topics and have experimented endlessly.
And now, I subject EVERY aspect of my own and my clients’ kettlebell training to prioritizing consistency and function.
18 years and counting, this method has not failed me yet.
A few months ago, I shared my journey of beginning to eat more mindfully. I want to update that journey because I believe in being honest, and sharing the truth about the complexity and imperfection of life.
During January and February 2020, I was focusing only on eating, not watching videos, listening to audiobooks, reading or checking my phone.
Then, I decided to try out the carnivore diet style of eating – aka eating only high-quality animal products – grass-fed beef, lamb, organs, free-range eggs and seafood.
So I gave away all my roasted chickpeas (that was the hardest thing to get rid of), my rice and veggies, and began eating meat. The health effects were excellent. I no longer had bloating after every meal that I got so used to with the delicious roasted chickpeas. My skin cleared.
But even though I was experiencing less craving for junk, I quickly became bored with the texture of the food (there’s only that many ways you can cook meat, eggs and fish) and the umami taste.
So, my meals became less enjoyable than they used to be. So, eating became a chore. Whenever I do chores, I listen to audiobooks. So, I began to listen to audiobooks while eating my meat.
The the Covid-19 lockdown happened.
Bit by bit, my mindful eating decreased. On some days it was completely gone.
Currently, I’m back to mostly listening to audiobooks during my meals. The meat is very filling so it is hard to overeat even when you eat mindlessly.
I sometimes watch a movie and munch on fruit or oat crackers with peanut butter.
However, I no longer need to be eating while watching movies, and sometimes I just watch the movie. I also enjoy doing many more activities without eating. I notice when I want to eat in order to escape from reality, and I am able to redirect my focus more often than not.
I have become more mindful than this time last year. Not perfectly mindful, but a little more. To me, that’s an achievement.
This is a short post. I wanted to share this because I think it would have been wrong to leave an impression of the perfect ‘happily ever after’ of mindful eating. Life is much more complicated than what we read in most blog posts, self-improvement books and advertisements. Life is a series of upward spirals: round and round and up and up, peaks of disciplined productivity, troughs of failure and apathy, valleys of bare minimum maintenance, upward climbs of recovery and recalibration with new lessons learned, back to peaks of productivity, and so on.
I like the spiral analogy because it means that with every turn of the cycle, there are new vistas opening up, and there’s more wisdom from experience. The only thing we have to do is to be flexible and keep going.
Before adopting a workout routine of a famous actor, athlete or model, think about what that person’s goals were.
Was it to look ripped for the 1-hour photoshoot? To look pumped for the 3-months of filming? To kick ass in an elite professional sporting event? 🤔
Or is it to be strong, healthy, move well, have plenty of energy to live life and not have injuries and pain? 🤔
Now consider (or better, research), what was their condition AFTER their training regime / filming is completed? How much money do they earn for looking/performing that way? And from that income, how much money are they happy to pay for physiotherapists, nutritionists, massage therapists, psychologists, pharmacists and doctors to fix any damage done by their training regime?
Having read thousands of books and hundreds of Hollywood and Olympic athlete training plans, and even having completed some of them, I will say this: read the fine print. 👉Those workouts ARE effective. But for WHAT, for WHOM, for HOW LONG and at what COST they are effective, is almost always overlooked. 👈
When putting together a training plan for yourself (doing random workouts from YouTube has never worked long term for anybody), think ‘Is it fit for my purpose? Is it sustainable for my lifestyle? What are the benefits vs the costs of it?’. This will inevitably lead to ‘what IS my purpose, actually?’. And that’s the best place to start if you want to keep on keeping on when your motivation wears off, as it inevitably does.
Start with WHY. Pay attention to the costs, not only the benefits, of the plan. Aim for sustainability.
Imagine your body is made of clay, with each type and frequency of movement shaping the physical outcome. Take your imaginary body-ball-of-clay through your personal movement timeline, considering your early development, favourite activities, accidents or sports injuries, footwear habits, the desks at school, your favourite couch, and driving posture. Create the ‘resultant’ shape in your mind. Now go look in the mirror. The moulded clay in your mind should look like you, right now in the mirror. What you have done to date has resulted in your ‘shape’….We know that the literal shape you are in affects not only the function of your body’s tissue, but also your cellular health. In short, it affects everything…. Your body is NEVER ‘out of shape’; it is always IN a shape created by how you have moved up to this very moment. It is constantly responding and shifting to a continuous stream of input provided by your external and internal environments, even if that input consists only of sitting still, for hours on end.
Katy Bowman, Move your DNA
As a busy individual who wants to feel strong, healthy, injury-free, stress-free and feel great in your own skin, you want to invest your precious time in the movements that deliver the biggest bang for your buck.So, here are 10 golden exercises that comprise 99% of ALL my training as well as of all the training I recommend all other fitness minimalists who want to live life to the fullest but not live it at the gym.
Loaded Carries. At first, I didn’t add these to the top 10 because I consider them so elementary as to be self-evident. However, it has been pointed out to me that they aren’t self-evident to many people. Let’s just say that loaded carries are the simplest and most efficient way to strengthen your entire body. If you could do just ONE thing for yourself, do 1-10 minutes of loaded carries every day of your life. Simply pick up something heavy and carry it for a distance. That’s it. Accumulate 1 minute of loaded carries on easy days, 5 minutes on moderate days and 10 minutes on heavy days. Then watch your body and you mind grow stronger and more resilient.
Rucking – urban walking with a heavy backpack. 30-60 min per day. Much more effective and time-efficient than simple walking, rucking develops stamina, endurance, strength, improves heart health and cardiovascular fitness. On rainy days, I recommend Rucking up and down stairs or Jump Rope for 5-10 minutes.
Kettlebell Swings – one arm, two-hand, double. A non-negotiable posterior chain builder. Do them all your life and you will live long, strong and healthy.
Rope / Rock / Tree Climbing – climbing is the ultimate upper body pulling and core strength exercise. It engages the back muscles and improves grip strength – something that modern population desperately needs. (Pull-Ups, Rows and Hanging Leg Raise progressions replace actual climbing, if unable to climb or if the rope / rock / tree is not available)
Turkish GetUp – mobility, stability, strength and motor control in one beautiful package. Want to get from Zero to perfect TGU in your own time? Check out my online course HERE
Clean & Jerk – one arm and doubles. The most powerful and power-producing all-body movement you can do with a kettlebell. Especially useful for martial artists (single KB).
Snatch – Cardio without the ‘dishonour’ of aerobics. The equivalent of sprinting. Before you ask, no, snatches do not replace walking or rucking. They use different energy systems. You need both.
Rows – one arm, TRX, double KB, any way shape or form – in our seated hunched-over-an-iPhone culture, this exercise has a category of its own (otherwise, as a hunter-gatherer, you would be fine just rock climbing, see item 3) because it helps mitigate the slumped forward posture and the insidious multitude of problems that flow out of it.
Burpee variations – in particular, a STRICT burpee (hinge at the hips and place hands on the ground, jump your feet into a push-up position, perform a strict push-up from toes, jump your feet back in and jump up in the air). This movement is superior to a regular push up or a regular burpee because it trains your ability to get from prone to standing. It can be replaced by burpee and push up progressions until the full movement is mastered.
(Bonus!) Hatha Yoga. In all my years of training and coaching clients, I have not found a better, more time-efficient way to stay both flexible, injury-free and stress-free. I have studied to be a Hatha yoga instructor in my past life. Hatha yoga is where you hold the asanas (postures) from 15 seconds to 2 minutes each. Hatha is different from another popular style, Vinyasa yoga, where you move through the postures rapidly. Why Hatha and not Vinyasa? Personal choice. I have a ‘Yang’ type (as in Yin/Yang) personality, aka I prefer powerful and dynamic types of movement – Swing, Snatch, Clean & Jerk – and use the slow and relaxing Hatha Yoga to balance it out, improve flexibility and decompress. Some people prefer to use yoga as the main workout, which is why Vinyasa and Power Yoga gained popularity. Any yoga practice is a Yin practice. People who prefer it like calm, smooth, slow, lower intensity movements. However, Yoga as a discipline does not provide enough stimulus to engage all the various muscle fibres and energy systems of the body. That’s why for people who prefer yoga (Yin people), it is still a good idea to perform strength and power exercises (swing, snatch, clean, jerk) at least once or twice per week, to maintain Type II muscle fibres, boost metabolism and balance hormones. My 10 favourite Hatha asanas are: warrior 3, crescent, locust, downward-facing dog, upward-facing dog, king pigeon, seated twist, straddle, side plank and cow’s face. They truly leave no stone unturned.
Which among the above exercises are on your Top 10 list too? What other movements would you put on your list?
In our modern culture of callout, digging up dirt, public shaming, trolling and other secular forms of eternal damnation, the fear of making mistakes can be paralyzing. The fear of failing publicly and the risk of looking foolish to some people, instead of being the ‘cost of doing business’ of life now prevents us from ever striving.
Nihilism, group think, lack of high personal standards, moral relativism – all those things, like JK Rowling’s dementors, conspire to suck the drive to strive out of people. Our complete human experience consists of happiness and sadness, aspiration and fear.
The fantasy world Dementors feed on happiness and aspiration, leaving the person with misery and fear. The soul-sucking callout culture feeds on drive, passion, personal values and ambition, leaving the person paralyzed with what’s left – the fear of failure.
A Dementor’s foul influence can be fought not with total removal of misery out of one’s life (as anti anxiety drugs and positivity mantras tend to endeavor) but by invoking feelings of gratitude and appreciation for what one’s got – a Patronus Charm.
Similarly, the soul-sucking paralyzing fear of failure induced by the callout troll culture (which is much smaller than you think) won’t be solved by trying to eliminate the fear. The fear is part of a full and exciting life.
However, I found that the fear can be put back in its place when shift focus off the fear and instead get clear on my values, appreciate how far I’ve come, laugh at my own human imperfection (because only the deeply deluded think that there are perfect humans), refocus on what gives my life meaning (learning, wisdom, contribution, family, friendship), practice getting back up again and again dusting off my smarting backside (and bruised ego), learn from the experience, and persevere on my path.
I’m currently reading Dennis Praeger’s Rational Bible series.
As an atheist, I have an issue with the concept of God. Even though I used to believe in it as a child and teenager, it stemmed more from the desire for stability than as an outcome of evidence or reason. That’s how I view faith, a desire for stability. A necessary drive in a human mind, which ventures far and wide in its exploration and needs a stable base to return to.
The existence of God is low resolution thinking, in my opinion. It suits people who don’t want to – or can’t afford to – think too hard about how the world works. It’s helpful to just have a set of rules to follow. Faith provides a certainty upon which an individual can build a life in which he can have a firm foundation to then venture into uncertainty. If every individual in a society started from zero, we wouldn’t go past deciding not to kill each other by the end of our life, and none of the progress and human creation would be possible.
It’s like in training – you can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe, they say. We create tension and stability in the legs when we lock out a snatch. We plant the feet firmly when we want to transmit power from the hips through the core into the shoulders and into the object. Is this the same, but intellectually?
Because the rationale that Dennis Praeger provides reminds me of rationale I heard in the religious school. It’s simplistic and unsatisfying. It’s there to pacify the inquisitive mind of a child but not there to dig deep for the actual understanding of how the world works. It’s purpose, in other words, isn’t the truth, but faith. When seeking truth, one has to be able to exist on a shaky ground. Because truth isn’t always as easy to see as interpreting someone’s book. It’s also intellectually lazy beyond belief. To take a book, call it The Book, and then apply all your intellect to studying it. That’s narrow. And it’s wrong.
You study life and truth not through books alone, and especially not through just one book, but through observing the world, making notes, talking to people, including reading their books, creating hypothesis, living them out, being proven wrong. Yes, there needs to be a record of all the wisdom you have collected, and it needs to be added to the one of generations before you. Humans, after all are a COMMUNAL LEARNING SPECIES.
So perhaps this God, is a symbol, a representation in the human brain, of the human ultimate survival tool – communal learning. God is the depository of all the learning of generations from which each new human can begin, and to which it can return as solid ground in times of doubt and uncertainty. Because uncertainty is essential for further learning and exploration. And being able to tolerate uncertainty is a strength that some cultivate, and others don’t. Or a predisposition that some have a lot of and others don’t have much.
There are two competing forces in a human body – mobility and stability. Both are needed for movement, but more of one means less of the other. A hip is a stable joint but it’s less mobile than the shoulder. A shoulder is a mobile joint, but to be that, it’s also less stable than the hip. The serve different functions in the human physical survival. What makes the inherently relatively unstable shoulder more stable is well balanced muscle of the rotator cuff, many little muscles, each not very strong. Because if one becomes too much stronger than others, it’ll throw this unstable joint out. The purpose of the shoulder isn’t to generate power, but to transmit it by being a whip lash.
What makes the relatively stable hip joint able to produce so much force? It’s relative stability. The large muscles of the hip can be so large because applying force through this joint isn’t going to dislocate it easily. That’s why a snatch or a jerk are far more in line with the function of the shoulder than a press. We use shoulder like a slingshot and stabilize at the top, rather than press with it. Why press with such a small muscle and unstable joint when you have legs? By the same token, we don’t use the hip as a slingshot. Unless we’re doing gymnastics, where everything is in reverse, because it’s more reminiscent of our tree-swinging ancestral past. In gymnastics, we want to have a very stable shoulder – that’s why gymnasts have such powerfully built shoulders, men and women alike. And we want to have a relatively more mobile hip, and that’s why gymnasts continuously stretch their lower body.
Notice that gymnasts, at least male gymnasts who don’t do a floor routine, do not do much pressing through the legs, I.e. They do not perform squats and lunges – they do more of that with their arms, and their legs are used as slingshot and a ‘tail’ to produce momentum. They keep the legs straight. Female gymnasts of course, rely more on legs, and perhaps that’s why it’s easier for female gymnasts to transition into lifting.
Males press with their shoulders more than females, whose shoulders are weaker, and who rely on their legs more. Males AND females can of course do both, but males are relatively more predisposed to pressing and pulling with their upper body aka shoulder joint than females. Males are more physical in general. Due to different evolutionary purposes between the sexes.
Going back to God, could it be that the God setting in the human brain provides the stability needed to exert intellectual force on the world. If a human lives in uncertainty about its purpose and the rules governing it’s society, it would be constantly preoccupied with seeking that stability. Just like a body, when unstable (think about a juggler standing on a wobble board) is unable to produce force.
And just like a body that’s become too weak from sitting down, and having lost stability in the hips and shoulders, have tightened up the muscles in search of that stability, even if it means that the mobility, and thus performance, is vastly reduced. The body seeks stability. They mind must do the same.
Otherwise the mind is doomed to never stray past its front porch in its explorations, constantly navel gazing and trying to find a stable base from which to launch and to which to return.
God is a stabilizer. And human mind without a stabilizer is as potentially obsessed with itself and it’s elusive stability, as weak and tight and unable to produce force, as a human body. It flails like a baby, erratic, unfocused and wasteful in its movements.
So that’s why a human mind needs faith and God. That’s why my own endlessly inquisitive mind has always felt quite restful in the notion of a concentrated human wisdom that is presented as God, even though it couldn’t accept the supernatural element on rational ground.
Hectic week, so just taking this directly from my daily journal:
The transformation continues, it seems.
As somebody who used to have a restrictive and bingeing relationship with food, I am in awe of what’s happening.
I now hardly ever have cravings for junk food. I think it’s because my regular meals are so delicious and nutritious that I do not ever feel deprived of taste sensations.
This is tonight’s meal:
Salad with avocado, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, pumpkin seeds, roasted chickpeas, olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Fresh Atlantic salmon marinated in soy sauce and apple cider vinegar
An orange for dessert.
When I do have cravings, often if I go too long without eating or am thirsty rather than hungry, they are quickly soothed by a) drinking and b) the knowledge that I have delicious food waiting for me at home.
Also, c) I do not deny myself what I crave, all I do now is imagine eating it mindfully.
Not while watching something, listening to something, reading something or talking to someone. Just sitting down and eating whatever it is. And this visualisation is insanely helpful. If after that visualization, and eating a normal meal, I am still craving the food, I eat it.
It’s remarkable how addictive that combination was – ‘mindless eating plus entertainment’ – and it’s even more remarkable how simply separating the two completely rather than denying them individually, cures such viciously strong cravings. Mindblowing.
I have now had all this ‘movie’ food (popcorn, peanuts) in my house for a month and haven’t touched it because it just isn’t appealing without a movie accompanying it.
When I do go ahead and get what I crave (latest one is Everything Butter by Fix & Fogg with peanuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds), it’s a heavenly experience and it’s much easier to stop because the heavenly sensations begin to fade when I’ve had enough.
Funnily enough, if I let myself get quite hungry and then have the peanut butter before eating my regular meal, it feels like I could never have enough. That I will not be able to stop eating this peanut butter. If however, I have the meal first and Peanut butter for dessert, it is surprising how quickly I feel satisfied.
Our parents were right not letting us have dessert before we had the meal.
I no longer worry about my figure either. Before I always fretted that I carry unnecessary fat. And I did too, because I ate mindlessly past the point of fullness, and thus ate more than my body needed – hence unnecessary fat. I have never been ‘overweight’ by common standards because of my activity levels, but I did carry extra fat, not the healthy necessary fat, but the useless fat that sits there as a symptom of bodily mistreatment.
Now, I don’t worry. I think I lost some weight, though I don’t weigh myself. Pull-Ups are much easier, and that’s how I know I must be lighter. I’m not super skinny because that’s not my healthy body shape. But I no longer worry if I’m eating too much because every time I eat, I feel when I’m full and my appetite goes away.
The next challenge
It is interesting that in Russia we have a saying ‘When I eat I am deaf and blind’. Meaning that you do not talk while eating. And that was the custom at home. We did not engage in a lively discussion while eating.
So the whole American or Italian family dinner thing goes completely against the Russian eating tradition. I am thinking of reviving that Russian tradition in my life now, even though I live in New Zealand.
The one mindless eating activity that still happens is when I eat socially. I really enjoy a good conversation, but I also experience a fair bit of social anxiety, which I soothe by eating.
I am sure many of you have experienced this too. As you get lost in the discussion, you forget to listen to your body. You order a meal and eat it during the discussion. And after the meal, you order the dessert.
But what I realized after this mindful eating month, is that I do not enjoy my food as much as I would if I ate it with full attention on the meal, because I am talking with friends at the same time. Isn’t this the same thing as eating + entertainment?
This made me have an epiphany:
I do not need to eat the meal while engaging in a discussion with people,it is just a habit! I can eat before I come or after I go, and have a cup of tea while we converse if I have to have something. From past experience, I am much more engaged in the conversation when I am not simultaneously eating. And I am much more engaged in enjoying the meal when I am not simultaneously talking.
In the past, eating at parties has been where my most notorious bingeing episodes occurred. I was famous for eating like a vacuum cleaner while socializing because I actually feel quite anxious at large gatherings of people I do not know (or even people I do know!) and the comfort of chewing and swallowing soothed that anxiety. The only thing is, soothing/numbing the problem doesn’t resolve it.
It might be time to separate this happy but destructive duo, at least for awhile. Maybe it’s like learning how to drive: at first you have to focus on driving and can’t do anything else (talking, listening to audiobooks etc) and once that becomes automatic, you can add extra activities.
So for now, I will isolate eating and conversation and have them separately. This will allow me to recognise any stressful thoughts that arise in interactions which would normally lead me to overeat for comfort.
If I have to eat while I am conversing, I will excuse myself and eat, and resume the conversation after finishing the meal.
For now, that’s what I’m going to do.
Let’s see how it goes!
Do you notice your mindfulness slip when you are eating socially? What do you do to enjoy both the conversation and the food?
There is a type of habit called a ‘cornerstone habit’. It is the habit that in addition to its own effect leads to the adoption of other seemingly unrelated habits. Cornerstone habits, just like all habits, can be beneficial or detrimental. The main difference is that a cornerstone habit is 100 times more beneficial or detrimental than a regular habit.
Mindful eating is turning out to be one of the most beneficial cornerstone habits I have ever adopted in my life.
It has been 3 weeks of eating without any distraction. And in addition to the greater pleasure I now derive from food (much less food too), I have also begun noticing interesting changes in my psyche that are quite profound.
I became more mindful of when I am hungry, stressed or sad.
In the past, I did not pay much attention to my physical sensations or emotional state, most likely because I could simply soothe myself with the mindless ‘food + entertainment’ combo without really paying attention to what’s wrong. Now that I am fully present when I eat, I notice my physical and emotional state while I am eating, listen to my thoughts and observe my cravings.
Sometimes I do not give in to those cravings, sometimes I do. I have noticed that if I let myself get very hungry and/or sleep-deprived, it is much MUCH harder to not give in to cravings, even when I am mindful. This made me pay more attention to my sleep patterns and eating protein when hungry.
Still, even when I do give in and have my treats, I get satisfied (or disillusioned, if I expect to feel emotionally better) faster and with much less food because I am paying attention to the experience.
Because of that…
2. I am much better at handling negative emotions and being alone with my thoughts.
Whereas in the past I would have been eating + watching a mindless show for awhile before realising that I must be anxious or sad, now I realise it sooner and have been finding alternative – and far more effective – ways of dealing with these emotions and thoughts. For example, journaling, walking in nature or just outside, doing a kettlebell workout, cleaning, meditation and even getting some work done which I might have been avoiding.
In the past, it would be very difficult for me to switch off the YouTube talk or an audiobook and experience silence, both inner and outer. But now that I have been eating in complete silence for 3 weeks, I realized that I have been missing out before. The variety of sensations, the peace of focusing on just one thing, and the amount of unexpected creative ideas and profound realizations that come floating into my mind are incredible. This focus on experience and allowing the thoughts to wander as they will, seem to help me be less anxious, and resolve conflicts much faster when in the past I would avoid them by escaping into my food+media cave.
3. I have been making better choices in other areas of life, like financial spending, because I have realised how much being mindful affects my choices for the better.
I realised that shopping and listening to an audiobook leads to impulsive buys. So my finances have been better.
4. I know my taste better and buy more delicious and less disappointing foods.
One of the reasons mindless eating actually worked for me (or supposedly worked) was to help me choke down ‘healthy’ food that I made myself eat because health is really important to me. So I would mindlessly eat bland boring ‘healthy’ food and then mindlessly eat ‘fun’ food. I could eat literally anything to the tune of a fascinating YouTube discussion, an audiobook or a movie.
Since I separated food and entertainment, I became very aware of how bland, boring and unappealing many of my meals were and I couldn’t choke them down anymore. So I began exploring what I actually like, and surprisingly, there are many healthy foods I absolutely love eating. For example, microgreen salads with tomatoes, seeds and roasted chickpeas dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar – can’t get enough of them! Raw coconut – yum! Slow-cooked lamb hearts dipped into wasabi horseradish – I’m in heaven!
5. I hardly ever crave junk food anymore.
Since I now enjoy my regular meals immensely, I don’t seem to feel as much need for ‘party food’. In fact, I have been really astonished at how much my desire for unhealthy junk food reduced. I still have ‘a party in the mouth’ on a weekly basis when I go to a restaurant for my Deep and Meaningful Conversation meetup. But it has been really interesting to notice what treat foods I actually like when I am not distracted by entertainment. Most of all I like ice cream or greek yoghurt with berries, especially when combined with a warm slice of chocolate brownie on the side. But even in that, I noticed a strong preference to the quality of ingredients whereas in the past I would have just gobbled any old junky sugar fix.
I remember a couple of months ago my friend Cait and I were shopping for icecream. She bought high-quality gourmet icecream which cost twice the price of my giant budget box of icecream. At my incredulity with her willingness to spend more for less, she said that when the ice cream quality is good, you don’t need much quantity to satisfy you. I know that concept and I can apply it to other things, but not to ice cream. Ice cream was absolutely about quantity for me! Until now. It seems I am now experiencing viscerally what she means and really enjoying better quality icecream in much smaller but oh-so-delightful amounts.
6. It is getting much much easier to eat – and do other things – mindfully.
Whereas in the first week of this new resolution it was really tough to force myself to sit down for a meal without listening to something, now it is much easier. The other day, I was on autopilot listening to a YouTube talk when I sat down for a meal. Upon eating my first morsel, I realised something didn’t feel right – I did not feel connected to my food, I actually couldn’t taste it properly! Immediately I noticed that I was still listening to the talk, whipped off the headset, removed the phone and returned to my – much more satisfying – eating experience.
That was a huge revelation. I can’t believe how much sensation and enjoyment I was missing out on all these years.
Not only that, but I now enjoy washing the dishes and cooking mindfully. I find it easier to recognize when I need to turn off an audiobook and process my thoughts on the subject, or on an unrelated issue. I think all of that is to do with an awareness that I can not only handle the stream of my own thoughts and emotions in the silence of everyday living, but that mindfully experiencing those seemingly mundane realities actually reveals the meaning and profundity of life.
7. I have been feeling more grateful and positive too. About everything.
Since eating mindfully makes me sit and appreciate food, I realised that when I take time to appreciate things in my life, I am happier, more content and more productive.
Who knew that when you begin to eat mindfully – i.e. not combine food with entertainment or any other activity – you would eat so much less.
Also, since the ‘food + entertainment combo’ is no longer an available comfort, I am finding myself less comfortable and entertained, and at a loss as to how to escape my troubles, who knew right?
It is fascinating how ‘food + entertainment combo’ pathway used to be activated for several purposes, it was a fast, cheap and easy go-to solution for troubles. Escape from thoughts, emotions, and reality was the most utilized purpose of this habit chain.
For example, I would complete a couple of hours of video editing work which can be really draining, not least because it is stationary. I would feel this desire to reward myself, and my mind would be most likely to demand some yummy food and visual entertainment in the form of an episode of Big Bang Theory or another easy-to-process and mentally undemanding entertainment. But the activity must be combined with food to be truly compelling, because, as I found out when it isn’t combined with mindless chewing and swallowing, the appeal of the entertainment wears thin much quicker, and it is much easier to pull myself away from it. In fact, I can hardly handle more than 15 minutes of watching Big Bang Theory unless I am either doing something else (training, eating) or trying desperately to escape my thoughts.
The difference of this approach is that before I would forbid both yummy food and entertainment, together. And after a few days/weeks of holding out, I would break and binge on both, thus reinforcing the habit. If I allow this combination ‘in moderation’, I seem to start small but slide into debauchery fairly rapidly.
But separating them seems to break their spell, without depriving me of the pleasure from any of the elements. I still watch Big Bang Theory sometimes (it is so much less appealing when not combined with other activities!), and I still have yummy food sometimes. But – and this has been an incredible revelation – they are so much less uncontrollably appealing by themselves than they are together! I seem to stay mindful when consuming them separately, and it is easier to stop when I’ve had enough, but when they are combined, they create this pleasurable hypnotically addictive haze in which the mind just switches off and the perception of reality alters to all being well and all troubles being forgotten. The problem is that the mind doesn’t want to leave that haze and also, it is enfeebled by the experience – it is less able to cope with life’s knocks.
Of course, this is nothing new. Several pleasurable things combined together are more potently pleasurable than each of the things experienced separately. Even in eating, when many different tasty foods are combined in one meal, we are more likely to overeat all of them than if we were just eating one – think ice cream with crunchy chocolate chips with cake and berries versus ice cream by itself. No wonder then that if we combine icecream with a movie, we’ll consume more ice cream, and want to watch more movies.
How can this be used for good? And should it be? For example, I have lately been exercising at the same time as watching a TV show, to induce myself to do something after hours of video editing. Never in the past 18 years of regular daily exercise have I done this. What I noticed after pairing exercise up with entertainment is a decrease in mindful engagement during my exercise sessions. I was enjoying the exercise less and also enjoying the entertainment less, but put together there was an appealing pleasantly numbing mindlessness, another escape.
Cooking is something I dislike but can tolerate when listening to an educational talk or an audiobook. However, listening to audiobooks while cooking inevitably leads to listening while eating, which leads to mindless eating.
Conclusions so far:
The mind is uneasy being with itself. It is trying to find a source of mindless escape. There are some underlying stressful thoughts that the mind is trying to escape from without processing them.
What works for the thoughts? Journalling, the Work of Byron Katie, walking.
What works to discharge the restless energy? Creative work, training.
So far, the combination of mindful creative work, mindful leisure (reading, watching interesting videos, listening to talks etc), mindful eating, mindful exercise and mindful awareness (writing, meditation) seem to produce the most peaceful state of mind. However, it is not easy.
What is easy seems to be not so good for the peace of mind.
The choice between what is good and what is easy seems to be an actual choice! And the mind is tempted towards what’s easy. The easy solution seems to often not bring about a good long term outcome. Is this the epitome of religious notion of ‘Sin’ and ‘Temptation’?
And is this the reason so many people nowadays are experiencing the consequences of the ‘seven deadly sins’? Obesity, depression, anxiety – they could all be attributed to choosing an easy path of gluttony, covetousness, mindlessness…
Well, religion has got to be good for something. It doesn’t seem necessary to come to the above conclusions, but it lends them a sort of romantic spiritual feel that many people would find appealing.