This week I was on my much-heralded southwest family vacation with my sister and her three kids (11, 13, 16). I posted last week about my plans for compromising about activity levels. I was interested in hiking but know that my sister and family are not very outdoorsy, so I came up with a variety of plans for novice- friendly walks and swims. I also scoped out restaurants with healthy-to-me but varied options for us.
What was that saying about the best laid schemes of mice and men? I forget. Suffice it to say, things did not go according to plan. However, I learned an incredibly important lesson about eating and self-care.
Mindful eating can happen anywhere.
Even on a family vacation.
Even at a humongous Las Vegas buffet.
In case you’re not familiar with this Las Vegas institution, here’s what it looks like.
These buffets feature acres of largely calorie-dense foods, and are jam-packed with comforting and filling treats from a variety of cuisines. Variety is the key: from Chinese BBQ pork buns to fried chicken and waffles to spinach ravioli to prime rib, you have to experience it to believe it.
Honestly, I approached the buffet with dread. It was not my idea. My nephews had been talking about going to a buffet for weeks and were really looking forward to it, so there was no way out of it for me. And I was worried about how I would feel about it. For weeks, I’ve been focusing on healthy-to-me foods, meditation, slower and undistracted eating, one bite at a time. That’s clearly not happening here. But once we got there, I looked around me, noticing what was going on.
My sister’s kids were in hog heaven (forgive the term), joyously trying dish after dish and eagerly reporting on them. They loved the independence of selecting their own favorite foods, sometimes stretching the boundaries of their tastes, but always with the security of their favorites close by. My sister indulged her pan-Asian food interests with dumplings, pho, and spicy seafood.
As I watched them, I saw that they were fully engaged in uninhibited eating. They were tasting, gobbling, dipping, slurping, and chomping, loving every minute of it.
If that’s not mindful and engaged eating, then I don’t know what is.
I looked around to see what foods struck me. I went for a lamb chop, shrimp, braised short ribs, and exotic greens. And also some pho and dumplings. I tried to be aware of my levels of fullness and accept that over fullness was likely to happen, which it did. But, as feelings are wont to do, it passed.
One feeling that didn’t occur, though, was shame. I didn’t castigate myself for not limiting myself to broiled salmon and salad. I let myself wander amidst the vast array of foods, select what happened to appeal to me, and eat it with appreciation of the (admittedly odd) experience and context of being in the presence of bordering-on-grotesque abundance of food.
Mindful eating doesn’t equal ” healthy” eating. It’s different. I found it useful to focus on my feelings about the food I was eating, no matter what it was. It was interesting to work on practicing self observation without judgment, compassion for myself, and compassion and respect for others.
Radical acceptance is not easy, but a good thing. Still, I do maintain that Nutella crepes are too dangerous a substance to be sold without a special permit.