Lynn Rossy, PhD, joined us for an interview on her book, Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy. What follows are our questions in italics, and her thoughtful responses.
In Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy, you state, “Your body is the expert. Your heart is the guide.” Please tell us more.
Your body is giving you messages all day, every day about its needs. It tells you when it wants to sleep, when it wants to move, when it wants to start and stop eating, when it smells something that makes the mouth water, when the food tastes pleasant or unpleasant, and so much more.
When we act from the heart, we are more likely to choose responses that honor the body, instead of overriding its messages. For instance, the compassionate heart tells you to rest when you need to rest instead of going for the third cup of coffee. The compassionate heart says, “My, that dessert was wonderful, but I don’t have to finish it. My body is saying it’s really full.” When we listen to the quiet guidance of the heart, we act in ways that skillfully attend to the expert wisdom of the body.
When we don’t listen to the body through the heart, we tend to listen to the mind that often pushes us to do too much, consume too much, etc. The mind is geared toward seeking pleasure and pushing away pain, but its strategies are often not in our best interest. For instance, I often hear people say, “I can’t stop eating because it tastes so good.” In fact, everyone can stop eating, but your thoughts keep telling you to keep eating. Although we are more used to listening to our thoughts as the ultimate guide, mindfulness helps us to listen to the quieter voices of the body and heart.
You encourage your readers to “practice” the exercises you present. What are some of the ways they can enhance a person’s life?
We often operate at such a fast pace that we miss the moments of our lives that are filled with taste, smell, sound, touch, connection, and joy. The savoring practices in the book are designed to lead the readers into a deeper relationship to the present moment, to food, to their bodies, to their emotions, to their minds, and to their entire lives.
Broken into five sections, the practices help the reader to:
(1) Slow down so they can enjoy their senses, from the beauty of the sunrise to eating a delicious meal to enjoying the miracle of living in a body.
(2) Be with difficult emotions using mindfulness and self-compassion practices as an alternative to reaching for food.
(3) Listen to their thoughts as merely thoughts, not facts. With a little distance from the conditioned thoughts that often make us feel bad about ourselves, we learn to uncover the truth that lies beneath the thoughts.
(4) Cultivate positive emotions like gratitude, joy, happiness, and peace.
(5) Celebrate each moment of life through eating, moving, being in nature, and more.
What do you mean when you suggest your readers “Sit Down and Just Eat”?
We often eat while we are doing other things–working on the computer, reading, watching TV, or socializing. While I would never suggest that we always “sit down and just eat,” it is a powerful practice that can help readers learn the beauty found in the simplicity of eating without distractions.
To “sit down and just eat” means to have a meal with just you and the food—no one else around. I suggest using the BASICS of Mindful Eating as a guide. BASICS is an acronym which stands for the following:
B = Breath and Belly Check. Before you eat, take five deep breaths. Notice whether you are hungry? How hungry are you? What are you hungry for? If you’re physically hungry, take your time to choose food that you can enjoy and savor. If you’re not, maybe there is something else your body is wanting, like movement or rest.
A = Assess Your Food. What does your food look like? Notice the colors. Does it look appealing? What does it smell like? Where does it come from? Is it whole and unprocessed, or is it highly processed? Is this the food you really want? A brief pause to assess can give you lots of information.
S = Slow Down. Most of us eat too fast. Slowing down can help you enjoy your food and be more attentive to when your body is telling you it has had enough. To slow down, put down your fork or spoon between bites, pause and take a breath between bites, and chew your food completely.
I = Investigate Your Hunger Throughout the Meal. Be aware of your distractions and keep bringing your attention back to eating, savoring, and assessing your hunger and satiety. Halfway through, you may discover you are no longer hungry, even if there’s still food on your plate. Give yourself permission to stop or to continue eating based on awareness of your hunger and satiety cues.
C = Chew Thoroughly. Chewing does so many wonderful things. Chewing helps you to slow down, to process the food more efficiently so you’re less likely to get a belly ache, and to get more nutritional value from your food. It also improves your teeth health.
S = Savor. Food is a wonderful part of our lives, but we must be present to savor it. Without distractions, you can taste each bite and take pleasure in the experience. Every time you sit down to eat can be an opportunity to savor.
Please tell us a bit about the connection between emotions and eating.
Eating in response to emotions is one of the top reasons for overeating reported by people who come to my classes. And, in a way, it makes sense. Eating in reaction to difficult emotions—like sadness, anger, loneliness, boredom, stress, disappointment—reduces discomfort. Eating in reaction to delightful emotions—like happiness, joy, excitement—is a way to celebrate. Eating food in either instance is not inherently bad. The brain is set up to help us seek out pleasure and avoid pain.
However, when you eat because you are having a challenging emotion, you might have noticed that eating provides only temporary relief from the discomfort and momentary happiness. Eating as a solution to something like sadness becomes a set of new problems: you feel too full, you experience shame for overeating, you have guilt and regret. Thoughts like, “Why did I eat so much?”, “ What is wrong with me?”, “When will I ever learn?”, “I feel disgusting!” create more difficult emotions than you started with.
Even eating as a way of celebrating can get out of hand. People often feel like they must overeat at a celebration to make the host feel appreciated. Or, people eat like they will never eat again because the food is really tasty.
Mindfulness and self-compassion can teach you how to manage difficult emotions so that you gain a more lasting peace and sense of well-being. Emotional pain requires your kind, compassionate, and curious attention. Learning how to set boundaries with others and learning to enjoy pleasure without turning it into displeasure is also acquired through the practice of mindfulness.
If you choose to eat to feel better or to make someone else feel good, you can do so mindfully and without guilt, but you will also have several other options and a deeper understanding of your emotions.
Can you share some perfectionistic thoughts that can contribute to disordered eating?
Research indicates that perfectionism about our bodies, which largely comes from the conditioning by the diet culture and consumerism, contributes greatly to the prevalence of disordered eating. We are taught through images on the page and screen that you need to be skinny, young, and never grow old. Companies trying to sell you products want you to think you need to weigh less, have no wrinkles, and look like airbrushed models to be happy. Well, that’s not only impossible but it’s also an empty promise!
Common thoughts to be aware of are, “I need to weigh less in order to love myself”, “I can’t love myself until I’m better in some way”, “I’m bad if I eat chocolate or any other dessert”, and “I’m not enough the way I am.” These types of thoughts set up diet mentality behaviors like restricting which ultimately leads to binging (or binging and purging), or even more restricting which leads to anorexia.
The truth is you can’t eat your way or weigh your way into loving yourself and being happy. The key is to start being aware of your thoughts with curiosity and compassion. Becoming aware of perfectionistic thinking and realizing these thoughts are not true can help you stop buying into the delusion of superficial beauty as the ideal. From a place of acceptance and love, you will find yourself treating yourself in ways that create health and wellbeing—a promise that is filled with possibility.
What is your definition of and the benefits of gratitude?
I define gratitude as the conscious acknowledgement of the blessings that I have in my life. These blessings include the opportunities and the challenges because each teach me something about what it means to be fully human. When I acknowledge the beautiful, pleasant, nourishing aspects of my life, I bring them into greater focus. I train my mind to take in the good and become more aware of it in my daily life. Because the mind is literally designed to pay more attention to negative experiences, it is useful to help the mind see the broader perspective by focusing explicitly on these positive aspects. Otherwise, we might miss them.
In addition, I like to be grateful for the difficult challenges in my life. They are wonderful teachers of patience, compassion, love, and generosity. While the pleasant parts of life are great, they are also easy. The difficult parts help us grow and explore deeper aspects of these important qualities of kindness and compassion.
Your thoughts on movement?
We spend much of our lives disconnected from our bodies from the neck down. We live in our heads, lost in thoughts that are often less than kind. An antidote to this focus on the negative mind chatter is to bring your attention down into the rest of the body as you move it. Moving your body is one of the most important ways we can become embodied as a whole person.
A particularly beneficial movement practice is yoga. There is a style of yoga for everyone—from chair yoga to more strenuous yoga. Practiced as it was originally intended, yoga brings you in touch with your body in gentle, kind ways. It has even been shown to be one of the best mindfulness practices for increasing psychological wellbeing and has been shown to decrease the frequency of binge eating, decrease emotional dysregulation and self-criticism, and increase self-compassion. Of course, any activity you do (e.g., running, strength training, walking, swimming) can be wonderful for your body and soul. And don’t forget, every movement counts. That means that all those routine activities you do like sweeping the floor, walking up and down stairs, doing yard work, making the bed, and doing the laundry are considered physical activity and the more you do, the better your health.
Movement of any kind can provide relief from stress, take the focus off your worries, and help your body to relax. Try these helpful tips as you move: (1) focus on your breathing and take deep, full breaths, (2) be aware of your body sensations as you move, (3) when your mind wanders to thoughts, bring your attention back to our body and your breath, and (4) move in a way that feels delicious.
About the author:
Lynn Rossy, PhD, is a health psychologist and an expert in mindfulness-based interventions. Her book The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution describes her evidence-based, 10-week mindful eating program called Eat for Life. In 2021, she authored Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy. She is President of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit organization that trains professionals and educates the public about mindful eating. She teaches Kripalu and Energy Medicine Yoga in Columbia, MO. She leads retreats and workshops across the world in mindfulness, mindful eating, and yoga. She is the Executive Director of Tasting Mindfulness, LLC.