Emotional Eating & Mindfulness With Food

This summer, June 2018, Dr. Abrams and I attended The Feel Good Summit organized by Dr. Mark Hyman. We went to celebrate our Anniversary and to learn more to help our clientele.

While at this event they had an eating meditation presented by Dr. Jeneen Roth the author of “When Food is Love”. I see this more as a Mindfulness exercise, I would call it a Mindful Eating Experience. All 450 people sat down to eat at round tables and there were NO utensils and yet sitting in the middle of the table were multiple delicious dishes that were gluten-free, dairy free, and sugar-free. The plates were filled with robust organic vegetables and sustainably raised proteins. We were all hungry and all of us were staring at the dishes of food, wondering why we did not have the ability to eat.

As you can see from the photo above there were no forks or knives and yet there were serving utensils. I remember thinking, “Are we supposed to eat without our hands, or just plant our faces in like dogs?”  We sat and listened to Dr. Roth begin a conversation with Dr. Hyman. While waiting we were hungry. This session started late and there were many grumblings within earshot about how awful this was, that people were hungry and more. Meanwhile we stared at all this delicious and nutritious food just waiting for us.

Dr. Roth explained that we were going to take time before eating for what was called an Eating Meditation, and that there were things that she was going to tell us to do that might make us uncomfortable, but we needed to be mindful of them (aware). We were later given silverware but were told we could not eat. Dr Roth was speaking with Dr. Hyman but our focus was on the food, not what the doctors were saying. Dr Roth instructed everyone to pick up a fork full of food, bring it to their mouth, but do not eat it. She told us to put down the fork of food and lectured us more.  She told us how we were supposed to eat. By now people were getting angry, anxious, and a slew of other emotions as all of us were hungry, and we did not want to be told how and when to eat. The signage behind them said Feel Good but those were not the emotions at our table. We all just wanted to shovel the food into our mouths without thinking about the food or where the food was grown. Dr. Roth explained this was done on purpose. She wanted us to be hungry, and to be mindful of the fact that we were hungry!

Emotional Eating Dr Roth

We were finally able to eat two bites of food, and then again we were told to put our forks down.  People felt anxiety, anger, frustration and other emotions. There was a lot of grumbling at our table.  Most people do not want to be controlled. That was exactly what was happening for us. This continued to go on, “Take a spoonful of food, but only take half of the amount into your mouth.” Then, “Put the food in your mouth but do not chew yet.”  There were multiple scenarios like this and the volume of chatter over top what Dr. Roth was saying was increasing. Emotions were soaring, and people were very aware of their frustrations around hunger. Dr. Roth’s was getting excited as she heard the volume increase. It was clear that she was passionate about what she was teaching us about mindful eating.

This type of experience can help identify emotions currently reflected in your life. That was her goal.  She wanted to stir up our emotions. She wanted us to think about what food meant to us. Why we were eating, why we eat the way we do.  She asked questions like, “How does it make you feel that you have to wait?” “Do you feel satisfied after only 2 bites?” “Are you really hungry or are you eating that next bite because it tastes good? Or even more important, are you eating because you don’t want to feel something?”  Then suddenly, she was getting off the stage and out into the room full of tables with a microphone asking questions directly to different people and seeking answers. People were put on the spot and asked to divulge what this meant to them. What it was triggering, what they were feeling…their emotional hot spots! This was my favorite part of the food meditation.  I loved hearing how food, eating and emotions all worked together.

One woman talked about how she wanted to control what everybody else was doing at her table. “People were eating when they weren’t supposed to be.” And Dr. Roth asked, “How did that make you feel?” The response was, “Like I was out of control.” Then ever so sweetly, “How does that show up in your regular life?” The woman then explained that she had a tendency to want to control other people in her life and to want to control everything. These kinds of emotions are sometimes buried by our food. Another person talked about how they tend to feel like they could not get enough food because they did not know when they would eat again.  It was interesting to see how patterns around food are also patterns of our normal day to day life. For me, this showed up as I felt like I couldn’t get enough. I’m sure the fact that they were telling us if and when we could eat contributed to this. I found that if I had just a little I was fine, but if I had more I wanted more. I see this in my life with EVERYTHING I do. If we travel, I want to see everything even if it means I have little sleep. I am constantly over committed! If I like something I want more and more and have trouble setting boundaries and not trying to consume everything in the world, not just food.

I will share one last exercise that was quite interesting to me. Dr. Roth had people pair up with the person next to them. And many tables people were not sitting with others that they knew. At our table there was a young couple who we thought were probably dating, but as we were told about the next steps the couple divulged they had never met before sitting at our table. We were told to feed the person next to us. This was done with the instruction not to speak, not to use our hands. What this meant was that the other person, sitting next to you got to pick what you eat, whether it was mixed together or kept separate, how big a spoonful you would get, etc.  For Dr. Abrams, he LOVED this. Then the question, “How does this show up in your life.” As his wife, I knew right away, he loved this because someone was taking care of him. For me, the control freak part of me was having a panic attack inside that I couldn’t eat the way I wanted. Our emotional reactions were quite different. It was even more interesting for the couple that had never met and were trying to feed each other. For them, it was pure discomfort, some spilling, and some laughter for the whole table.

Let me finish by saying I highly recommend this experience! Serve a meal for your family or invite a group of friends and try it out yourself. See if you can help people be mindful of what emotions come up for them.  See if they Feel Good or want to strangle you, haha! You will be amazed by what you learn about yourself and others.

Find out how food effects your emotions.  Are you pushing something down, do you get full quickly, does food bring you comfort and if so what foods, is food for nourishing your body? Take time to look within and see if you can change the way you eat with relationship to your food and see if you are doing some of those same things in life. Are you mindful as you sit down to eat or are you like so many of us who sit and eat in front of the TV and don’t even think about your food?

Full disclosure, at the end of this Health Summit I went home and I had gained weight.  It was the heaviest I have been since I delivered babies! share this picture with Dr. Shefali Tsabary because it was my wake up call.  

Return to List