Updated: Mar 11, 2020
How food controls us, makes us feel powerless &
How to take the power back into our own hands.
A food awareness exercise that gets your mind to work for you and allows you to be more in control of your food choices.
You probably know the feeling when some delicious, irresistible, mouth-watering food has come in contact with your sensory factors. "It’s okay" it whispers gently and softly in your ears. "Just take me".
You know you shouldn’t, because it looks too good to be anywhere near healthy. It will probably not help you either in your quest of losing a few pounds, or opening up your arteries for that matter.
Who needs that steady flow of oxygen throughout the circulatory system anyway at a moment like this!
It’s just too tempting. You take hold of it firmly, so it doesn't escape your grasp but gently enough so you can feel all that goodness teasingly tickle the tips of your fingers.
Then before you even realize it, your temptation has made its way down your esophagus and into your stomach. This beautiful shiny little pearl, now covered in stomach acid and different kinds of digestive juices later on, has become just one of many temptations you have devoured throughout your lifetime.
At this moment you may or may not have realized what just happened. If you have not, then this shiny little pearl will soon be joined by her attractive little friends.
HOWEVER, if you HAVE realized what happened, consider yourself lucky. Sure, that intense, indescribable and very short-lived feeling of joy may have made place for, perhaps, a somewhat nagging sense of guilt leaving you behind less joyful than before, BUT you have something very special. Something that can help you start taking control and put you in the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s.
This something can be your greatest ally, only if you start paying attention to it.
Once you start paying attention to this something, you can cultivate a relationship, that is so nourishing, you can’t believe what wonders it has in store for you. Soil that seems dead and dried out can become fertile again. Anything you plant in this soil, can grow into something of inconceivable beauty, high-spirited and full of life.
This something is awareness.
You may have heard awareness being used in different ways or contexts, so it’s important to explain it thoroughly in the right context, so you can start applying it and using it to your advantage.
Awareness is often used in a way to point out that there is a knowing or a realization of something that is happening or has happened. For example: If I know you are reading this right now, I could say: "I am aware you are reading this right now." I know there are stars in the universe, so I could say: "I am aware of stars existing in the universe."
This knowing is, although not incorrect, merely a superficial definition of the word awareness.
In the examples given here we are aware of something, outside of ourselves. Outside of the framework of our own bodies. We can also become aware of things that are happening within the framework of the body. If you have a headache for instance, you could also say: "I am aware of a painful feeling inside my head." Whether something is happening within or without the body, we need a tool to become aware of these happenings. Here we will refer to this tool as the mind. When we speak about mind here, we are talking about that part of us with which we experience everything within and without. It’s the tool we use to become aware of something outside of ourselves, like seeing the birds in the sky or the trees on the roadside, the sound of the neighbors talking, the smell of freshly baked bread, etc.
It is also the tool we use to become aware of something inside of ourselves. That can be something physical in nature, like feeling the touch on your hand when you touch or hold something, like a phone or perhaps a book you’re reading. It could also be the contraction of your muscles during exercising or the contraction of your stomach begging for food. There is also a non-physical part where we can direct our awareness at, like thoughts.
So, the mind is actually quite a broad term.
Please don’t get too attached to the word 'mind'.
There are other words that could describe some of the things mentioned in this article. Maybe you’ve heard terms like
Even words like spirit, consciousness, psyche, perception or soul could have overlapping meanings or similarities. In cases like this it’s better to focus on where the sign or words ‘point to’ and not the sign or the words themselves. Besides, using too many different words could result in confusion, which in turn would hinder deeper understanding of the matter.
The mind is located within our bodies. During this life on earth, we are equipped with both a body and a mind. Without the body, there is no mind and without the mind there is no body.
This is not to be confused with possibly having a soul or consciousness that lives or doesn’t live on after death. Mind and body are closely connected. So closely connected that they always influence each other.
Let’s illustrate this with the help of a few examples.
Imagine you are sick. You have the flu. You have a high temperature, you are coughing, sneezing and all the other stuff that comes along with having the flu. How exactly do you know you are sick? Well easy, you’d say, obviously you can feel you that you are sick, right? Our bodies feel different because of the frequent coughing and sneezing or the aches and pains. These in turn produce very noticeable physical sensations. We notice these or are aware of all these sensations with our mind. That’s one connection of body and mind right there, but not the only one.
How, in general, does the mind react to being sick?
I’m sure most of us are not lying down on the sofa, filled with rapture and ecstasy: “This flu is amazing, I wish it would never stop!”
Most of us will be miserable and want to feel better as quickly as possible. Unless perhaps being sick allows you to escape some other unwanted situation you have going one right now. You don’t have to visit your parents-in-law or finish that annoying project at work. Perhaps it all works out in your favor after all!
But for explanation’s sake, let’s go with the most likely option of you wanting to feel better and leaving this ornery, nasty and uninvited guest of a virus behind.
Right here is our second connection. Our body feels uncomfortable and our mind reacts to it accordingly; in an unpleasant way, producing more or even primarily unpleasant or negative thoughts.
This connection also holds true when we feel physically great. Think about the last time you felt sluggish and weak until, for example, a boost of caffeine put you into second gear. You probably felt an instant uplift in your mood. That’s because your body started feeling better and the mind reacted to it accordingly; more pleasant or positive thoughts were being produced as a result.
You may have noticed the word ‘mind’ a few times in places where ‘you’ could also have been used.
That was done deliberately.
You see, most of our reactions occur from (old) habit patterns. The mind is accustomed to reacting:
positively to positive situations or feelings.
negatively to negative situations or feelings.
neutrally to neutral situations or feelings.
To really confirm this for yourself, think back to either a pleasant or an unpleasant situation and think about how your mind reacted to them. Or better yet, do it right now.
How do you feel at this moment?
neither pleasant nor unpleasant?
What kinds of thoughts are coming in through the mind?
pleasant or positive ones?
unpleasant or negative ones?
neutral ones perhaps?
How much control do you really have over these incoming thoughts?
We can take this one step further and get, without doubt, a very clear answer to that question. This will only take 30 seconds. For best results, close your eyes, so you won’t get distracted by other things. Just wait with doing so, until after you’ve read the instructions below.
For the next 30 seconds, we need a focal point. A point where we can focus on continuously, without any interruption. That means we are going to be aware of a specific point, preferably something neutral, for 30 seconds straight. One of the most neutral things we can focus on, which we all do, without thinking, without judgement and every moment of our life is our own breath.
While you are aware of your breath with the utmost concentration, don’t allow any thoughts to distract you or interrupt you from doing precisely that. That means, don’t think and just focus on your breath. Whether you focus on the air coming in through your nose or your mouth, or focus on your chest, diaphragm or belly, it doesn’t matter. However, breathe as naturally as you can without forcing the breath in, holding it, or forcing it out. Try to do it as seriously as you can.
Ready? Get your timer out, set the time for 30 seconds, sit comfortably and go ahead. Come back here when you’re done with the exercise.
If you really just did the aforementioned exercise, I want to compliment you for putting in your time so far and your willingness to learn and understand the workings of your own mind more deeply. This is something truly admirable and I sincerely mean that.
That said, the question that arises out of this little experiment is:
Could you, for 30 seconds straight, stop thinking completely, and only focus on your breath?
If you could, then you should stop doing what you’re doing right now, go to the nearest monastery or cave. Stay there meditating until you reach enlightenment.
All fun aside, that means you have quite a bit of mastery over your own mind. That’s amazing! I hope you can nourish and cultivate that even further and share that with others.
But be sure to keep reading because we are not done yet.
You and your mind
— The first important thing to realize is that you are not your thoughts. —
Chances are you couldn’t focus for 30 seconds straight and thoughts popped up here and there, interrupting your focus and concentration.
What does this all mean?
This means that your mind has a mind of its own. Pun intended:P
The first important thing to realize is that you are NOT your thoughts. Random thoughts came in without your permission and distracted you from what you set out to do. It seems you have little control over them.
You couldn’t use the mind in the way you wanted to maintain your awareness. We’re talking about a measly 30 seconds. That means you lack a certain control over the mind. That’s a whole lot of underlined you’s as you can see. The reason for that is to make a clear distinction between you and your thoughts.
You can’t be your thoughts, because you just decided not to make use of them. Yet, they still came regardless. We often identify with our thoughts, thus confusing them for ourselves or confusing ourselves for them. We lose track of reality when that happens.
Don’t get discouraged about this. Most of us are in the same boat!
Eckhart Tolle described it remarkably well:
“When someone goes to the doctor and says, “I hear a voice in my head,” he or she will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realize you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues. You have probably come across ‘mad’ people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other ‘normal’ people do, except that you don’t do it out loud.”
What can we learn from this?
You see, if you know that your mind doesn’t always listen to you, you probably also understand how that can impact your behavior in undesirable ways. You may want, for instance, to always be nice to other people, but that’s easier said than done in a moment where anger arises. If the anger is strong enough, it could make your head feel like one of those old-fashioned kettles about to unleash the pressure of the steam building up inside. Instead of a loud steamy whistle, you roar and howl like a wild animal, and perhaps even ready to bring ravage upon your prey.
What happened to wanting to be nice to others?
You may want to follow a certain diet or lifestyle.
You may want to exercise, eat healthier or quit smoking.
You may even be successful for some time.
However, at some point you may notice it gets more and more difficult to persevere, because your mind starts revolting and resisting. This by itself isn’t necessarily that bad, but when you identify with your thoughts of unwillingness that rally up and call in the reinforcements of their friends ‘emotions’, you seem to have a lot on your mind all of a sudden and that can throw you off balance.
That’s one of the reasons diet adherence is often not successful (1) and why so many New Year's resolutions are abandoned after a while.
If you understand this from merely an intellectual perspective, that is already a great thing. But if you really let this sink in, and more deeply understand and experience this truth ‘You are not your thoughts’, then it can already break a lot of chains and shackles that might currently hold you in captivity.
Remember the most common definition of awareness is only superficial? The reason for that is, because we often lack the deeper awareness to notice the reactions of our mind from occurring. And when you don’t notice them, you can’t change them. And when you can’t change them, they will continue to control your behavior and dictate how you feel. That may be in the relationship with yourself, your relationships with other people, in your relationship with food or even, and not that unlikely, in all of these.
— When you change your reactions, you can change your habit pattern. And when you change your habit pattern, the possibilities in life are endless. —
When you change your reactions, you can change your habit pattern. And when you change your habit pattern, the possibilities in life are endless. On both the mental level and the physical level. Instead of being controlled by the old habitual patterns of your mind, you can act from a place of knowing and awareness and create meaningful change. Not just in your own life but also in the life of others. You can positively affect people you hold dear and even those completely unknown to you.
Do you sometimes find yourself blaming things or situations that have occurred for not giving you happiness and joy in your life?
Perhaps you can recall blaming other people for putting you into a ‘negative state of mind’. Maybe you think you deserve certain things but are not able to obtain these. Maybe you think you don’t deserve certain things or think they are out of your reach.
No matter what happens or no matter what your current life circumstances are, your mind is at the base of everything reacting to every single thing that is happening within and without. And since the mind is reacting to every single little thing, imagine the change that can take place, when you change these reactions.
— You are able to use your mind, as the tool it’s meant to be. Let it work for you, not against you. —
If you had already realized the influence your mind has in your life, that’s incredible! Otherwise I hope you have gained a deeper understanding of the workings of your mind.
In part 2 we will go deeper into how your mind and its reactions can influence your food choices and food cravings and what you can do about it with the help of a simple, yet very effective exercise: ‘The food awareness exercise’.