the Alexander Technique and Mindful Eating
Shirley Wade Linton (first published in Statnews, January 2008).
Unconscious, automatic habits
around food can have a negative effect on our health.
Mindful eating has been a large part of my work in
counselling people with disordered eating. During my
Alexander Technique teacher training it became obvious to me
that the Technique has much to offer this particular area of
people can go through most of their lives without ever
eating a meal in a conscious or mindful way. Hunger, food
and eating are such big stimuli for us and are so
emotionally loaded that we normally eat with very little
attention. In London, during my Alexander training I often
ate with other students and it was surprising to see the
very people who moments before had been aware and conscious
now eating in a manner that could only be called completely
habitual and unconscious.
respect and awareness that a student or teacher of the
Alexander Technique takes to his/her use is so often
disregarded whenever food is around. Small children take
great care with food. They explore it, smell it, taste it,
reject it, and generally eat when their bodies are hungry
and stop when they are satisfied. The small child might be a
very messy eater but he is often paying more attention than
the habitual adult.
Alexander Technique can be used as a framework in which we
can evaluate and change our relationship to eating.
F.M. Alexander pointed out, we must recognise the degree to
which our unconscious and repetitive behaviours (i.e.
habits) feel normal and right to us. Habitual behaviours
around food are ingrained and learned from such an early age
that it can be very difficult to recognise them.
of our habits may be cultural in nature. For example, the
tools we use to eat may be chopsticks, knives and forks or
hands. Where we eat is usually culturally determined. Do we
sit around a table, or kneel on mats; do we eat in the
kitchen or the dining room, or in front of the television?
Other habits are more personal in nature. Some of us salt
and pepper our food before even tasting it -a habit
encouraged by many restaurants where the pepper grinder is
brought round just as the meal is served. Some habitually
keep food separate on their plates while others mix it
together. We can have a habitual pattern of eating the meat
or the vegetable first. We have habits around events. The
cinema means popcorn; football means beer. Eating by the
clock is another habit. If it is 7pm, I should eat whether
my body is hungry or not.
we recognise these and other habits around food we can begin
to choose which ones serve us. Perhaps our cultural patterns
serve us and we will continue to eat with chopsticks or
forks, but it may not be useful or healthy to eat by the
clock, to eat when our bodies are not hungry or to eat when
we are sad or lonely.
presented with a meal, the means whereby the end can be
accomplished suggests staying in the present. Quiet mind,
soft belly, tasting the food, smelling the food, releasing
the death grip on the fork and knife. It means enjoying the
moment, staying conscious, not letting the mind wander, but
staying with the experience of the food and the cues from
the body. Mindful eating increases the enjoyment if the food
is delicious and decreases the enjoyment if the food is
stale or boring or simply doesn’t taste good.
Inhibition is a capacity to be non-reactive. It is an action
and a freedom, and allows us to keep our options open. How
many of us keep our options open when eating a meal? How
often do we finish the entire meal because it is on our
plate? Do we give our body a chance to respond to the input
of nutrients and notice when it is complete with the meal?
Or do we react in our habitual way and eat all the popcorn,
finish the bag of crisps, eat everything on the plate
because that is our habit?
Imagine stopping and inhibiting our usual reactions and so
being present while eating mouthful by mouthful. Being
conscious in the action, mindful in the process. We can then
taste the food, paying attention to the levels of satiety or
fullness that our bodies are giving us while we remain
present in the moment.
will be interesting to notice how your primary control is
challenged as you eat. Some may have seen a video in which
Marjory Barlow takes a sip of tea while keeping her neck
free. She doesn’t collapse forward, she doesn’t drop her
head to the cup, but lifts the cup to her lips and easily
and lightly drinks tea. Just as an experiment, try putting a
mirror in front of you while eating a meal. See if you
collapse and drop the head and shovel in the food. Does your
lower jaw open to receive a forkful or does your head snap
back (à la Homer Simpson) to engulf the food?
applying the principles of the Alexander Technique, most of
us can increase our delight with food, and in doing so,
increase our heatlh.
As well as being
a member of CanSTAT, Shirley Wade-Linton is a Registered
Dietitian. She lives in British Columbia.
© Shirley Wade