I'm not a religious person, but I am a seeker and haver of faith. I know it's an eye-rollingly easy trope to say, "I'm spiritual, not religious," but that's the boring truth. When things are going well, I'm thankful. And, when they're going lousy, I reach out for something to lean on. Things being as they are right now, I spend a lot of time giving thanks — to my friends, to my job, to myself, and, yeah, to some sense I have of the universe, and its mysterious energy. This time last year, though, I needed more than that to lean on.
I won't assume that you, like me, spend your dark nights of the soul searching Amazon for the elusive book that will fix your entire landfill of problems in one fell swoop. Last winter, I was on the hunt for something like How To Stop Eating Corn Chips, Learn To Communicate, And Not Be Crazy Like Your Mother (In 3 Easy Steps!). What I found was a book by Gabrielle Bernstein, a motivational speaker, author, and teacher whose work stems from her studies of various spiritual texts and practices: A Course In Miracles, Kundalini, EFT, and straight-up mindful meditation. It wasn't my first time at any of these rodeos (I spent months in college sleeping with Pema Chodron under my pillow), but I liked Bernstein's approach and, more than anything, I liked her energy. When you're down, it's best to pick yourself up. But, it always helps to have someone there to say, "Come on, lady. You've got sh*t to do."
Having had the chance to interview her for a feature last summer, I attended a few of Gabby's group workshops, spending several Monday nights crying through wild Kundalini meditations and then going home to free-write the truckload of feelings I'd unearthed: fears, losses, joyful discoveries, and, obviously, my myriad food issues. It was during one such workshop, called "Finally Full" that I really began to think about changing my relationship with food. The program was entirely based on facing food problems, and all around me, men and women shared story after story of their own disordered eating, so many of which directly mirrored my own. During meditation, the room would vibrate with released tension and the gushing rush of sadness and hope from a room full of people who'd spent their lives eating (or not eating) over every possible feeling. It was cuh-razy, and it was fantastic. If Intuitive Eating was the path I was heading towards, then Finally Full was signpost that pointed me there.
Gabby came by this work honestly, having tackled addictions and compulsive behavior early in life. Food was (and is) one of the trickiest challenges for her, as well. To be clear, she isn't perfect. Like any good teacher, Gabby's quick to acknowledge that she had to learn — and continues to learn — these lessons, too. I sat down to chat with Gabby last month at her local juice & snack spot, Gingersnaps. It's always a blast to hang out in her East Village neighborhood talking books, and meditation, and what the hell just happened on House Of Cards. I especially like talking food with her because, though we're on different paths (she doesn't eat sugar; I just ate a bagel), our intentions are the same: Feed yourself, be satisfied, and leave the table feeling good.
"I was brought up in the environment of an overeater — my mom was in [Overeaters Anonymous]. That was my first introduction to addictive behavior. Growing up, I was anxious around the dinner table because people would eat off of each other’s plates. So, in turn, I became an overeater just from picking up the energy and having this underlying fear-based belief that there isn’t enough. I lived with this constant urge to fill myself up."
Because you never know when you'll get to eat next?
"Mmhm! But, of course, there was always plenty of food in reality. And, I was educated about healthy food at a young age. Though I was taught to eat good foods, I wasn’t taught to eat mindfully. That’s still something I struggle with today — the speed at which I eat."
That pressured speed eating is a struggle for me, too. When you eat like that, you don’t feel the fullness. You don’t have the time to register satisfaction, either. When I catch myself in that, I try the Jon Kabat-Zinn mindful eat exercise. How do you handle it?
"I have to set the intention before the meal. If I don’t, I’m off to the races. But, you know, if that happens I just try and casually remind myself to be mindful with the next meal."
I love that lesson about not getting it right the first time. It's okay to catch yourself halfway through or even realize after the fact that you've been eating unconsciously or emotionally, and tell yourself, "It's okay. Next time." Otherwise, you'll just repeat the cycle of punishing yourself with food.
"Exactly. I really try to sit down for meals, too. I do a lot of my eating standing up. I'll grab some carrot sticks and hummus and run out the door. That’s a habit I have. Sitting down to a meal is something I don’t do often enough, but I always strive to do more. Shutting off your technology is also key. Not multitasking while you’re eating! Just eat. Consciously chewing makes a big difference, but the main thing I’ve been trying to do is really taste my food."
We did a lot of great exercises and meditations in the Finally Full workshop, many of which can be used at meal times. Do you have any recommended exercises for beginners?
“I think the simplest way to begin is just to try and feel your feelings before you eat. Often, we’ll eat over what we’re feeling — or eat to avoid the feeling. If we just give ourselves 90 seconds to feel that emotion before we eat the meal, we can start the process with peace.”
Haha, I literally have a calendar alarm that goes off twice a day, saying "Physical/Emotional Check In." Let's talk about fitness for a second. One of the main goals for me is integrating exercise into my daily life, but not in an obsessive way. No more all-or-nothing.
“Same. That’s how I choose to be. I try to integrate little things like as much as possible. I’ll do 10 leg lifts while boiling water. I do Pilates when I can, and my goal is to do 10 minutes of trampoline a day. I just try and be in the habit of moving every day."
"When I first got sober, the food stuff was really high intensity. I couldn’t use drugs so I turned to food. But, binge eating was eventually healed within my sober recovery and in caring for myself more. One thing that benefits me, both in sobriety and with food, are permission-given thoughts. I don’t give myself permission to have sugar. I don’t give myself permission to have white flour or yeast. These choices, for example, are because of a candida cleanse I'm doing right now. It's not about vanity but about vitality. I just wanted to feel better — to bring more energy into my life and prepare my body to have a baby. So, not giving myself permission to have certain things like alcohol or sugar makes it easier. It actually gives me more freedom. Does that make sense?"
It does, actually. The approach is different than what I do with Intuitive Eating. I had to grant myself permission to eat everything, and, in doing that, I discovered what foods make me feel fueled and satisfied, and which don't.
"Hey, it's not one of those things where one size fits all. You need to find out what you want and what you need to do to get there."
True, and I can see how your path is just as valuable and fits your history and lifestyle. But, even though you approach "permission" differently, you don't seem to eat in a restricted way.
"Because it’s not a diet! Honestly, I haven’t been on a diet in a very long time. It’s all health-related choices. I’m now more aware of what I "can" and "cannot" have in terms of how I want to feel. So, it’s become a lot easier to make choices."
That’s what’s at the core of a lifestyle change. It's not about restriction and "breaking rules," but proactively making choices for yourself.
“Definitely. I think one of the most powerful parts of the Anti-Diet Project is the commitment to focusing on how you want to feel, not how you want to look. That's very empowering. And, to that effect, you start to look the way you feel. And, you do it with the intention of wanting to feel f*cking amazing."
Amen to that. Food and fitness fit us all differently, and I've found something that works for me. Still, it never hurts to learn from someone else's journey — or faith or practice or wild Kundalini meditation. Whether it's avoiding sugar or ordering dessert, don't we all just want to feel f*cking amazing?
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. Follow my progress on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject — that hashtag is for you, too! And, THANK YOU to everyone who's jumped in and joined the party! Seeing your sweaty gym selfies and hearing about your challenges and triumphs is the best part of my day. Keep it coming, and don't forget to send me your questions for the April 7 column!
If you want to check out the Finally Full workshop, it's available online — with a sick 35% discount for Anti-Diet readers! Just enter "Refinery29" when you check out. Get ready to feel some stuff!! And, if you want more goodness from Gabby, check out her new book Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose — which is currently rocking my bedside table.