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.
We’ll see what the next few weeks bring.
Over and out
Kat Tabakova, 13th Jan, 2020