Putting it another way, we are not very good at managing our present as we journey toward someday.
But if we give in to every faddish health prescription--meditation, exercise, mindfulness and journaling--we crowd out available time.
Is there a middle way?
I recently invited Nancy Wolfson-Moche, a nourishment consultant and practitioner of culinary medicine, to help me feel better even as I am busier than ever. She is qualified to help by her own experience. As a journalist who saw plenty of deadline pressure and a travel schedule that would unwind any body clock, she experienced a health crisis-- she was told she was too old to have children.
"Not acceptable," she nows says. "I used every possible avenue, including macrobiotic counseling, to reverse the underlying issues." With this approach she achieved motherhood.
Her friends asked for ways to improve their health through diet. Now, helping others is her Act II, with a new title of nourishment counselor. I ask what I, a lover of anything placed on the table to the word, "Voilà!" might do to do better?
"I'm guessing you are skipping meals, eating late, engaging in mindless snacking ," she says. "Right?" (Wow. She is good!)
I thought she would suggest something tangible to kick off the effort. Maybe a set of menus, or an equipment list. Possibly a suggestion of food to throw out?
"Everyone expects that," she says. "Busy people want to start out with a list--something they can mentally check off, in a way that suggests quick progress." But the first attack is not on the client's menu.
She has me attack the aforementioned list of bad eating habits first. As she says, "It's not the 'What you're going to eat,' it's the 'How.'"
Meaning? "You are in charge of your own health. A stern lecture to your chef is not going to get you healthy." This is instructive on a couple of levels, including that apparently I'm about to acquire a chef.
Okay, I promise her that I will get serious. And in fact the 'how' checklist is simple. A summary:
- Eat at regular mealtimes. "The digestive system was designed to fill at regular intervals, and then to gradually empty. Eating and fasting provides body synchrony." This is especially important for conditions like diabetes and infertility, where the ebb and flow of hormones regulates health.
- Limit snacking. There is nothing wrong with deciding to snack. The emphasis is on deciding. "I have issues with corporate break rooms that provide so-called healthy products to promote mindless munching," she says.
- Sit for meals ("The human stomach can't accept food when you're standing. You are not a cow"). I have a sudden urge to moo, because I have never before had a problem with eating while standing.
- Use mealtime as a time for chewing in every sense of the word. "Simple actions require focus," she says. "Chew each mouthful 30 times to notice changes to the food's texture and taste." And no reading. "Trying to ingest information while ingesting food will disrupt your nourishment." Uh-oh. My dining table looks like a library checkout counter. I have not had lunch alone with my own thoughts in decades. Changing this, she tells me, is my current assignment.
Sit, Walter, Sit
I can report three--yes, three--mindful eating episodes so far. Sitting, with no screens or reading material, felt like I was using my left hand to write. That is, I had the feeling that I knew how to do it better. But I did feel almost instantly calmer.
Treating meals as an opportunity for awareness and mindfulness appeals to me. And when meals provide a time of reflection, you feel less guilty about undone morning meditations.
I can think of two other thinkers who have advocated a meditative practice at mealtime. One is Thomas Merton, the Catholic theologian, who thought that silence at meals provided a path to the divine. The other is Mike Milken, the high yield financier, who embraced sitting at mealtimes as part of his regimen towards cancer-free living.
To that group I now add Nancy Wolfson-Moche, nourishment coach and a proud, determined mother.