Mindful eating is like a bird with two wings; one is mindfulness, the other is compassion.
With only one wing the bird cannot fly. A mindful eating training without addressing compassion and loving-kindness, which is strongly embodied by the teacher, misses a vital link and could even undermine the essence of the program.
A mindful eating training is an awareness and skill building training. The participants learn to understand and investigate the conditions for their unwholesome food patterns (for example, the old ‘see-food-eat-food’ brain, stress coping with food, judgmental thinking and mind control, lack of interoceptive awarenenss). There is a cause for food stress and suffering.
However, often we forget that there are also conditions which are important for well-being and physical health.
Barbara Frederickson, researcher at North Carolina University, has done interesting research on the role of positive emotions. She found out that wholesome emotions broaden our awareness and break us out of our cocoon of self-absorption.
When we have emotions such as joy, kindness, compassion, gratitude, love, it is easier to shift to the perspective of another, experiencing more mutual care and having more creative solutions by noticing a whole range of new possibilities. Barbara Frederickson says, “Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being”.
In order to experience these emotions we have to create the right conditions and mindset for it. This means being open and curious, appreciative and real, kind and compassionate. All these are attitudes we also cultivate in a mindful eating training. If we change our ‘diet’ by adding more micro-moments of wholesome emotions (for example during ‘loving-kindness or compassion meditations’), two or three months later we will come out being more nourished and connected with ourselves and others.
The key message is that overeating or disordered eating is not a fault. With our initial compassionate and mindful support the patients and participants in groups can take responsibility for it by embracing the pain and by cultivating daily moments of joy and gratitude in their lives. If they are kind and compassionate to themselves along the way, a wonderful transformation will happen from the inside out.