Oh, the myriad ways in which people can be mirrors for us!
What I noticed was that she would invariably get “hungry” when there was a) nothing exciting to do; b) a display of desserts in front of her. I noticed that the pattern was the same regardless of how long it had been since she last ate or how much she had eaten at that time.
I had to admit the relationship between the hunger signal and eating for me was just as disconnected as that of my daughter. I ate because I love food. I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way it tastes. I love to eat.
One day after my last client, I started feeling irritable. Nothing particularly bothersome had happened that day. So, I was at a loss for why. It took me an embarrassingly long period of time to realize what was going on. Finally, I noticed the hollow feeling in my belly. It was airy and painful. I was really very hungry! Wow! It had been a while.
My first instinct on realizing I was hungry was to race into the back room and look in the snack cabinet for something to fill the void. Fortunately, prajna kicked in just in the nick of time. Instead of stuffing my face at that moment, I made a conscious decision to wait. I decided to continue to feel the hunger, to re-familiarize myself with it, to recognize it and honor the fact that this is my body’s signal it is ready to take in food.
It’s so simple.
Why had I made it so complicated?
Since then, I have used the hunger signal as an exercise in mindfulness. I look for it before eating. If I’m not hungry, I try to ask myself the simple question, “Do I need to eat right now?” Sometimes the answer is yes – if for example I have five hours of patients in a row and won’t have another opportunity before my mental performance would suffer. When the answer is no, however, I defer. I have reframed my relationship to hunger. It is no longer an unwelcome painful experience to be endured, but an opportunity to avoid giving in to the aversion of discomfort and see its relationship to a very important function.
Three meals a day.
Three built-in opportunities for mindfulness.
How cool is that?