Food should be about sustenance, energy and all that. What it shouldn’t be about is soothing. Unfortunately some time during my early teens I got that mixed up and food became my friend.
In my late 30s I decided it was time to get a handle on that habit once and for all. Why? Because I knew that using food (in particular sugar) to ease my stress and soothe my soul was starting to impact my health. My cholesterol levels were creeping upwards and I was gradually gaining weight.
More importantly though I was lacking energy, dragging myself out of bed of a morning and yawning my way through each and every day. It was clearly time for a change.
I started doing some research and quickly discovered a method I thought would work for me. It was called mindful eating and the concept was simple – practise being "present" while eating, that is, paying attention to the now, rather than worrying about the past, or what might occur in the future.
It sounded simple enough but I knew that I would need some help to kick start this new way of life and so I booked myself into Billabong Retreat.
Billabong, a meditation and yoga retreat west of Sydney, is the baby of Paul and Tory Von Bergen, a couple of former Sydney-siders who opened the retreat in a bid to provide solace to stressed out city folk.
Situated on 12 acres of native bush, the retreat holds regular mindfulness weekends, weekends which focus on teaching newbies the practise and how to apply it to their everyday lives – including the way they eat. So, you see where I’m going with this right? I booked myself in.
The first night was spent tucked around a roaring fire (it gets cold out west) getting to know our hosts and also one another. Guests ranged in age and occupation, from hard-core yogini to complete newbie. I put myself somewhere in the middle.
The following morning we discussed mindfulness and how it could work for us. We learned about being present so that we could pay attention – to what was going on around us and also inside. We listened to our bodies and our breath, watched our thoughts and came to grips with our "monkey minds", that endless stream of chatter. And then it was times for the topic I was most fascinated with, and also, the most troubled by – mindful eating.
We were asked to come to breakfast and while there remain completely silent. This was nowhere near as tricky as it sounded. In fact, for me anyway, it was nothing less than heavenly.
We were also asked to pay attention to the textures of our food. Also - the taste and the smell, even the sounds of our consuming it. Simple enough but somehow revolutionary at the same time.
By making just this one small change I changed everything. I was more aware of what I was eating and therefore ate less. I paid attention to how food tasted and smelled and so chose foods that were more satisfying.
In a word I started to focus on what I put into my mouth and also when and why. And it worked. No more mindless eating. Well, that’s not strictly true. I have fallen into bad habits again here and there but on the whole, a definite improvement.
If mindfulness sounds like something you might like to try I say do it. The world is a better place when you pay attention to what’s going on out there … and also to what’s going into your mouth.
Your stress is eased, your anxiety too and, in my case, the size of your thighs.
Billabong Retreat is set on 12 acres of natural bushland 45 minutes west of Sydney. The retreat holds regular mindfulness courses starting at $400. All food and drinks are included as are activities.
Accommodation ranges from share rooms to cottages. The rooms are clean and practical but basic. This is a real-deal retreat, not a luxury spa. Expect single beds, plastic sinks and teeny bathrooms complete with hand-written notes suggesting you don’t shower for too long. Hopefully you’ll be too busy enjoying the gorgeous scenery to notice any of that.
For more information visit billabongretreat.com.au or call 02 4573 6080.