Up until a couple of months ago, I found myself completely incapable of eating intuitively. I was still caught up in that all or nothing, perfectionist, diet mentality. I had managed to completely renounce dieting, so this meant that I was overeating and/or binging every day for months. I didn’t know how to eat intuitively, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to.
Then something changed. I was flying to Orlando for business, and I wanted something to preoccupy me on the long flight. I downloaded a new audio CD I had purchased called “Getting Unstuck” by Pema Chodron onto my iPod. Halfway through the recording, I had the biggest light bulb moment I have had in my whole intuitive eating journey. I suddenly “got it.”
In “Getting Unstuck,” Pema Chodron teaches on a Tibetan Buddhist concept called shenpa. There is no clear definition for the word shenpa. It is basically that hooked feeling we get, that sticky feeling, that urge to scratch. For some of us it is the urge to drink or the urge to shop or the urge to gamble. For me it is the urge to eat. On this recording Chodron teaches how to stop the scratching. Here’s an edited down version of the excerpt that changed the course of intuitive eating for me.
“So there’s this practice that some of you have done with me, or do on your own, which is called one in the beginning and one in the end. And what this is is when you wake up in the morning, you make your aspiration for the day or aspirations… And one at the end is at the end of the day you look back over. This is the part that is so loaded for people like ourselves because looking back over you go into despair mode about what a failure you are.
So when Dzigar Kongtrul teaches about this, he always says, for me when I see that I connected with my aspiration even briefly once during the whole day, I feel a sense of rejoicing…And when I see that I blew it, lost it completely, I rejoice that I have capacity to see that…What is it after all that sees that we blew it? It’s your own wisdom. It’s your own insight. It’s your own prajna [wisdom]. Couldn’t we just have the aspiration to identify with the wisdom that sees that we said a mean word or that we drank when we said we wouldn’t drink or whatever it is? The wisdom that sees that? That we identify more and more with this prajna or this wisdom aspect of our being instead of always identifying with the failure that’s being seen. When I see that I didn’t live up to it, that I blew it, I rejoice that I have that ability to see.
So this is a very, very important point you see, and again hopefully I say this to get us into the spirit of delighting in seeing rather than despairing in seeing… Letting seeing build confidence rather than cause us to go into a depression and feel discouraged and hopeless. This is the point that he makes over and over again in his teachings. Being able to acknowledge the shenpa, being able to see the shenpa, that is the doorway to freedom…Then if we can do the next step of refraining from going down the road, which sometimes we’ll be able to do and sometimes we won’t be able to do depending on the strength of the shenpa. We should rejoice that sometimes we have that ability to interrupt the momentum of the shenpa. And we should rejoice that we even had the aspiration to acknowledge and to refrain. And we should expect relapses…You know, five steps forward, five steps back. Five steps forward, four and a half steps back. Yay!”
I suddenly knew why I couldn’t eat intuitively. I was always focusing on my failures. At the end of every day, I would look back at how many times I overate and how many times I ate when I wasn’t hungry. I was going about this whole intuitive eating thing all wrong. I needed to focus on my successes, not my failures. Every night when I went to bed instead of remembering all of the times I overate or binged, I would be much better off focusing on all of the times I ate intuitively and all of the times I was conscious of what I was doing.
So that’s what I did. Every time I thought about a time when I overate, I pushed that thought out of my head and thought of the last time or last few times that I chose not to eat when I wasn’t hungry. I no longer allowed myself to think about my “failures.”
All of a sudden I was able to eat intuitively. Not all of the time but sometimes. At first I ate intuitively once every couple of days. As time went on I was doing it more and more. Here I am a couple months later, and I’m eating intuitively most of the time. Amazing!