[Living Buddhism] Struggles

Just for today,
I will be free from improper eating habits.
Just for today,
I will eat properly.

I've been struggling.

I've been struggling since I started with this lifestyle choice and I was struggling before that. I have issues with food and eating. I eat based on what I'm craving, what tastes I want. Eating for me is not about nourishment and hasn't been for a very long time. I eat when I'm full, I eat things that aren't good for me, I eat out or order in instead of cooking for myself. I am eating after noon even though I want to follow the Buddhist schedule. My moments of weakness and craving frequently overcome my desire to adhere to a schedule or proper diet.

I'm not sure why I make the choices that I do. I know intellectually that it isn't the right choice. I know that I'm going to be disappointed but for that moment of gratification I am willing to throw it all away. I am willing to suffer through the stomach ache in order to get every last taste of that food I'm craving.

Sometimes I am stronger than the craving. Sometimes I am able to push it out of my mind long enough to forget about it and therfore overcome it but unfortunately, in the past week or so, this has become less and less the case.

So why is it that I begin to give up like this. Am I perhaps afraid of failure? Or success? Most of us are familiar with the implications of failure but probably less of us are familiar with a fear of success and what it might mean. A part of me is afraid that I will be changed from this experience and, as result, the relationships that I have formed will also change. I'm afraid that I'll come through this thing so changed that those close to me won't recognize me anymore and I will lose those connections. I'm afraid of losing that which I love. By stopping craving and desire I am afraid of becoming numb to the feelings of love and joy. I think part of me is afraid of losing my emotions in general but also I'm afraid of losing my sense of self, especially since I'm exploring a tradition that deals with the idea of no-self or anatman. Of course, part of me feels that my interpretation of that concept is flawed anyway but I still struggle.

I've been struggling.

I have only woken up at the time I wanted to once since I began this process. I have not been able to exert the self-control needed to get up early since then. Even with the change in schedule that allows me more sleep, I have not once, woken up on time. I am disappointed in this weakness of character. Again, I find myself wondering why I resist doing it. The obvious answer is that I love sleeping and don't want to feel "deprived" but I think there's more to it than that. I believe it has a lot to do with the idea of instant gratification but I'm unsure of how to tackle it.

I really do feel that I have to break through these resistances that I have. I'm not sure how but I'm sure it will be difficult.

Just for today,
I will allow myself to be successful.
Just for today,
I will allow myself to fail.
  • Current Mood: disappointed disappointed
i've been holding back on this one because food is such a huge topic with me, but really, I think you're doing yourself a grand disservice trying to follow the Buddhist schedule of eating. I don't believe that that particular schedule is even remotely healthy for, well, anyone, really. People need food. If you're having crazy cravings, then it's your body shouting at you that it's not getting what it needs.

I understand that you want to follow the Buddhist/monk way of life as best you can, but it looks to me as though, because you're having difficulty with this one aspect, you're focussing on feeling like a failure. What I would do in your circumstances is to give your body not just what it wants, but also what it needs: a healthy balanced diet and a mindful attitude towards all aspects of food preparation and consumption: be aware of where your food comes from, how it grew in the soil, the many people involved in bringing it from its origins to the grocery store where you bought it, your mood when you prepare it, all of the textures, tastes and scents it holds as you eat it, the nutrients it brings to your body, and so forth.

Not being able to follow what most people would consider a rather strict and severe diet as set forth by whomever (a Buddhist monastery?? can't remember) does not make you a failure. Not in my eyes, at least, for whatever that's worth. You tried to follow it. That takes guts and a certain fortitude that not many people have. That's not failure to me.

I would focus on the successes you've been able to make: the insights you've gained and will continue to gain into your own self and your own behaviour.

You started off with a massive endeavour and I think you're learning a lot from it. If you plan to continue with it, I would suggest making modifications to the original schedule. Give yourself enough sleep and enough food. These two things fuel your body -- there's no escaping that. What you consider to be enough is not what other people consider to be enough; we all have different needs. Work to determine what yours are and be mindful and contemplative while doing so.

Focussing on incorporating the non-physical aspects of Buddhism into your life will serve you better in the long run than working to starve yourself from sleep and food because others are able to do so. Take care of your body: be well-rested and well-fed. Then will you be able to tackle such things as sitting zazen, doing active meditation, focussing more on each and every task that you set yourself to do, and generally becoming more mindful of the world around you and how wonderful it all is.
Food is obviously a huge topic with me too but I think I should clarify. The cravings that I'm having are the same whether I eat after noon or not. I've struggled with food cravings since I was in my teens and the only time that I actually felt some kind of relief and control over them was when I was adhering to the "two meals before noon" thing.

I have tried to ensure that I'm getting nourishing foods and eating a well balanced diet. I have tried being mindful of the food that I put in my body but what ends up happening is that I still put the junk food in and am mindful of the fact that I'm doing it, causing myself a lot of grief but for whatever reason, still doing it.

My "failure" so far as I see it is not so much in breaking the schedule as "why" I'm breaking it. In truth, I break it in order to "poison" my body with foods that are not nourishing (i.e. - potato chips, french fries, sweets, fast food, etc).

It sounds weird but I was most happy on the day that I slept less and ate two large meals before noon instead of my usual routine of sleeping in as late as possible and eating the bulk of my food in the evening. I even noticed that I started "craving" healthier foods when I wasn't "cheating" as much.

What I'm hoping to do at this point is re-train my mind/body to eat and enjoy healthier foods. To try and make the better choices and if I do eat after noon, it MUST be something that is nourishing. Right now, that's not the case. Right now I sit down with a bag of chips, some skittles and a pepperoni stick or two. I eat until I feel gross (which I've been doing for years) but I don't stop because the taste of the foods is so satisfying. It has to stop and in order to do that I need structure and more than that, I need something that I can believe in because believing in myself and wanting to be healthy hasn't been enough so far.

If I feel hungry in the evening, I will not deprive myself but at the same time, I want to try and overcome the cravings that have nothing to do with nourishment. It's going to take some time for me to figure out the proper balance and I'm going to have to force myself to make sure that I always have healthy food on hand at home but even though I'm struggling with it, I really believe that the initial "failure" that I expressed in this post is really just an opportunity to pick myself back up and learn from it.

My goal is not to deprive myself. My goal is to find that balance in my life and I think that as I struggle through this I get a little bit closer. Your idea of mindful eating is something that I think I'd lost sight of though and am really glad that you mentioned it.

Thank you so much for your openness and honesty. I really appreciate it.
Thank you for not taking offense at my quasi-overbearing reply. I always have a difficult time expressing myself in such a way as to try and be helpful but not be exhaustingly preachy at the same time. I'm trying really hard to be better at it, but oh my is it difficult!

With regard to the food cravings, I've found that when they happen to me, it's usually because my blood sugar is low. If that's the case, I'll crave salty crap food (I'm a salty girl -- not so into sweets). I've been working for about a year to figure out the language my body speaks in terms of food and mood. Crap food cravings are usually taken care of with a bit of fruit and protein (eggs, cheese, nuts, etc.).

I had a new experience with food cravings in the past two days: all out ooey-gooey sugar. I tried REALLY REALLY hard to ignore it or feed it fruit to see if that would help, and no matter how well-fed I was or how balanced my blood sugar was, I still craved sweets. I finally gave in and ate a fair bit of marshmallow fluff. My gods was it divine!! And my sugar craving went away for about 24 hours, only to reappear this evening (sated with two mars bars. argh.). This time, I understand that it wasn't low blood sugar that caused the craving, but low serotonin levels (went partying this weekend and dropped a tab and a half of E, so my serotonin levels are whacked and will be for the next few days). So my mood is elevated by the sugar because glucose helps tryptophan become serotonin. Now, though, I have to make sure that the serotonin remedy (sugar, in this case) doesn't completely hork my blood sugar levels and cause a sugar crash. Oy. So much fun. But the food was soo good. I enjoyed every bit of it.

I completely understand about needing the structure. I work much better with restrictions of some sort. At first, it was the high expectations of a catholic grade school, and then a vegetarian diet for nearly 8 years, and now a rather restrictive diet that ironically helped me completely blossom as a person. I do understand how freeing a structured life can be (if done healthfully, that is!). I beat myself up too if I cheat on my diet and have sugar or too many carbohydrates. It's very difficult -- especially in the winter when all I want to do is carb-load. yay for french fries with tonnes of salt!

Before I went out partying this weekend, I managed 20 days with no sugar AT ALL. So I didn't feel horrible with the many cheats I've had in the past few days. And I'm gonna have more this weekend, too. But between now and then, I shall endeavour to be as good as possible. It's a day-by-day sort of thing. Little by little shall we achieve our goals and be all the better for celebrating the small successes rather than focussing on any perceived failures.

Eating only healthy food after noon sounds like a good balance to deal with cravings. Maybe it's time to discover new and different food to keep your tastebuds happy?
It's always tricky to try and express yourself online and having it understood in the way you meant it. I have that problem too, so I think I tend to try and look at what people say to me without offense because most people are usually trying to be helpful. :) If I'm unsure, I'll usually just ask for clarification so express away! I love getting other people's input!

Your sugar craving sounds EXACTLY like the salty cravings I tend to get. It's very frustrating when no matter what you try, you can't seem to get rid of it. I guess those are the times that it might just have to be satisfied.

I think for me it's largely just about figuring out how my body speaks to me and reprogramming to be able to communicate more effectively. I'm starting to be able to tell the difference between just a taste craving and actual hunger, so that's good but I think I still need to change my overall attitude towards food... so far I'm feeling empowered by the thought of it.

The more I think about it, the more I really like the "only healthy food after noon" idea. I might even make it more specific so that it's only food that is home-made or raw. We'll see though. One step at a time as you said!

I wish there was something I could say that would help, but this is an area that I don't have much experience with. I'm wondering though, if you think your cravings are purely physical things, or if they are also psychological? You've mentioned feeling 'deprived' here and in a WW context, so I'm wondering if you think any of it is searching for a quick fix that will make you feel 'good' or 'happy' or 'fulfilled', etc.? I'd probably suggest that you consider seeing a nutritionist. I have never seen one myself, but I'd think they'd be able to help you sort through the foods you should be eating and when to cut back on certain kinds of cravings at certain points in the day. But the instant gratification thing might be less of a physical thing than it seems, I'm not sure.

I do think that you need to work on separating out your food issues from the Buddhism stuff. I know that the scheduling of food and activities is very appealing to you, but could you maybe work on the scheduling of activities separately from the food stuff? Maybe the food element isn't compatible with you, but the rest is? Or maybe the food stuff could be compatible too if you find the right system for you. I do think that, if you know you have food issues that you're getting stuck on, and you're including it in the overall monastic practice... then you're essentially dooming yourself to 'failure'. I think you should find a way to let yourself be successful at the things you can be, while working on the things that trip you up.
I'm actually convinced that most of the food stuff is psychological. The trouble is figuring out how to 'fight' it.

When I first read the suggestion of separating the food stuff from the buddhist experience I completely rejected it. After more thought, I think I see your point and wonder if I'm not spending so much energy focusing on this one aspect that I'm really missing out on the rest of the experience. If I stop worrying so much about eating right, will I allow myself more time to focus on meditation? Or, even more simply, shouldn't I just focus on meditation? Isn't that the most important aspect of the whole thing?

Thanks for your input... you've definitely got me thinking.