Eat to love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life Interview
Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, MDN, joined us for an interview on her book, Eat to love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life. What follows are our questions in italics, and Jenna’s thoughtful responses.
With your book, eat to love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life, you offer the perspective of eating “as a form of self-love and care.” You carry this further with a view of our bodies as vehicles. Please elaborate.
Rather than looking at eating as something we either get “right” or “wrong” in order to achieve a certain physique (an outcome we have no control over), Eat to Love positions eating as a behavior that can be pleasurable, joyful, and nourishing and that supports us to be authentically ourselves. It recognizes that it’s our bodies that allow us to be in the world and to do the things we care about. Seeing eating as connected with fulfilling our potential as human beings makes it a spiritual practice.
Can you speak to the pervasive nature of “magical eating”?
As our collective identification with organized religion has declined over time, our affiliation with a particular way of eating seems to have risen and has come to reflect how we seek direction and guidelines for life. The rules and regulations of various diets or “lifestyle changes” subtly promise belonging, safety, and salvation, and lead us to take a disproportionately high degree of personal responsibility for our health, when in truth much of that is out of our control. Perhaps the biggest proponent of magical eating is the medical establishment’s stubborn focus on the outcome of weight loss for health and wellness. This can have the effect of making magical eating seem like “common sense,” when in reality it often leads to disordered eating, distorted body image, and confusion and anxiety about eating.
Your words encourage finding a spiritual path to how we see and connect with our bodies, our selves. What is your definition of spirituality?
My own definition of spirituality is very simple: how we relate to ourselves, our community, and our environment. It is the underlying “view” that provides a framework for our thoughts, words, and actions.
The teachings of Buddha are integral to your experience and guide the readers of your book. Please describe what can change when a person trains in the second preliminary, i.e., “To be aware of impermanence: the life of every living being ends.”
I love this one! Impermanence is definitely not something we accept as a culture. We resist change so strongly and actually think it’s optional. But when we acknowledge that everything is in constant flux, we can actually relax. Knowing that everything changes and eventually comes to an end allows us to ride the rollercoaster, feel the highs and the lows as they occur, without getting too attached because we know they won’t last.
You introduce the Six Paramitas. Following the first Paramita of generosity, can, in a way, be the anti-dote to the oppression of the diet culture. Your thoughts?
Yes! To be generous to ourselves is anathema to diet culture, which thrives on self-denial and suffering as the supposed path to salvation. Generosity acknowledges not only that we have needs, but that receiving in order to meet those needs could actually be generous to others as well. Taking care of our human bodies makes us even more capable of caring for others.
How does the Buddhist definition of discipline differ from common day usage? Can you please provide an example of how the Buddhist perspective of discipline can help one care for her body?
I love this one too! Discipline in the traditional diet culture context means holding yourself to a strict standard of harsh rules and punishing yourself for any missteps. It’s about willpower, self-denial, restraint, and suffering with a capital S. Discipline in the Buddhist sense, on the other hand, is so simple and gentle: come back. Come back to the breath in meditation practice. Come back to the body in the present moment at any time to connect with what is actually happening whenever you get carried away with self-critical thoughts. Our intelligent bodies are always communicating their needs to us but so often we are lost in thoughts about how there’s something wrong with us. Whenever we realize that we have gotten lost, we can remind ourselves to simply come back. Again and again and again.
With the topic of emotional overeating, you speak to the value of turning toward one’s difficulty by using gentleness at these times. Please share some of the long-term benefits of being gentle to oneself.
My meditation teacher, Susan Piver, says, “gentleness is the ultimate practice” and I believe it. When we overeat, meaning we eat out of keeping with what we actually need and want, it’s often because we are trying to aggressively push away uncomfortable emotions such as anger, fear, loneliness, and sadness. As the saying goes “what we resist persists.” Rather than resisting and turning away, we can turn toward our painful emotions with gentleness and self-compassion. These emotions are part of our experience and they require our acknowledgement and attention. When we become even slightly more comfortable with discomfort, our hearts open, we become more open to the full range of our experience. In the long run, this seems to give us more confidence in our bodies and our selves and allows us to feel greater compassion for others who suffer as well.
About the author:
Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, CDN, is a non-diet dietitian who helps people struggling with chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. She uses a combination of Intuitive Eating, mindfulness techniques, and meditation to help her clients move toward greater peace, health, and wellness. Jenna’s private practice is located in New York City where she consults with clients in person and virtually. Jenna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (CDN) in New York State. She has a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Penn State, a Masters degree in Nutrition from Tufts University, is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and an Open Heart Project meditation guide. In 2018, Jenna joined the board of The Center for Mindful Eating. Jenna teaches at mindfulness retreats in the United States and France. She has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, Health, Mindful, Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Lion’s Roar, Bustle, Women’s World, and Fox News. Jenna is the author of Understanding Dietary Supplements, a handy guide to the evaluation and use of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and botanicals for both consumers and clinicians, and the memoir Drinking to Distraction. Her third book, Eat to Love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life, was released January 2019 and is an Amazon bestseller.