Eating Vegetarian in a Mindful Manner

Eating Vegetarian in a Mindful Manner

During the 25 years I have eaten exclusively vegetarian (the last 15 years of which have been completely plant-based), I have noticed a reaction that has not been described here, and which I call “the Vegasm.”

I am usually in control of what I eat: packing lunches, calling ahead at restaurants, and filling out my response cards for social events with requests for vegan entrees. A vegasm, in contrast, is the out-of-control excitement I feel when I’m surrounded by vegan foods, particularly if in an unexpected place. It reminds of Erica Jong and her zipless passion, the random connecting of a vegan and his object of affection.

For example, I was walking through LaGuardia Airport last weekend, returning home after a delightful weekend that included a stimulating but portion-controlled lunch with the MindBodyGreen leadership at Pure Food and Wine.

Airports are not usually plant-based havens, although my own Detroit Metro Airport has been named the “most vegetarian friendly airport” in the country several years in a row.

Back to LaGuardia. As I was browsing for a bottle of spring water in a BPA-free bottle for the plane ride, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Jerusalem sandwich, prominently labeled “Vegan.” It was a 6-inch sub filled with sliced and salted meat substitute strips. Not even a paltry piece of lettuce. Next I spotted a vegan sushi roll featuring pickled radish. Then a vegan sesame seed bar. And a vegan bean salad. Was I in Candle 79 or an airport? The Vegasm trap began to close on me.

Fewer than 5% of us are vegan, and this vendor was catering to us. My head was spinning. If I didn’t help support the cause, then maybe only beef jerky would be available on my next trip. That label is so bright and has a woman sitting in the lotus position?

So I bought them all, fully hypnotized by the unexpected vegan motherlode onto which I’d stumbled. The same thing has happened at plant-based eating establishments, where my desire to taste the entire left side of the menu has overcome common sense and calorie considerations. I’ve fallen down the Vegasm trap and the feeding frenzy has begun.

How to avoid the Vegasm Trap

As a community dedicated to wellness and vitality, we’re connected by our commitment to eating in a healthy and sustainable manner. However, I believe we must strive to be mindful as possible about what and how much we eat, in order to achieve our optimal health potential. This is true for everyone, not just us plant-based folks.

The solution?- Mindful eating.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that has gained popularity in recent years. Studies show that we are suckers for eating till the bag (or package, plate or tray) is empty. It’s common to ignore how we feel or what we need.

Here are some ideas that I have used that may keep you out of the trap.

1. Bless your food after a breath. 

A moment of being thankful for the meal we’re about to eat and a consideration of where and how it got to our plate may slow down the fork-mouth production line and put the brain back in control. A full breath in and out considering how much we need to eat is powerful.

2. Use smaller utensils.

There is no doubt that our plates and serving pieces have grown along with our waistlines. I recently reordered a few replacement forks and spoons for a 20 year-old cutlery set and the new pieces where at least 25% larger than the exact same pattern I bought in the past. And the same is true for plates, water glasses and trays. Using salad plates, salad forks, juice glasses and teaspoons as a routine at a meal reduces the amount we eat.

3. Stock your fridge and pantry at eye level with the healthy and plant-based items and make it hard to reach the treats. 

We respond to what we see and unfortunately, we tend to keep our fruits and vegetables keeps hidden in the crisper.  Putting the peaches, berries, carrots and celery, all washed and ready to grab, in a place where we see them first on opening up the icebox helps guide us towards good choices.

4. Sit and chew.  

I do not know how many meals I eat standing, but sitting at a table, sharing conversation, paying attention to colors, textures and tastes are the way most meals where eaten in our parents’ youth. In addition, recognizing that digestion begins in the mouth and that chewing foods slowly and completely, something that has been referred to as Chewdiasm, enhances our nutrition and reduces our calories will help us maintain control.

5. Remember Hari bachi bu.  

Heart disease rates are 80% lower in Okinawa, Japan. Citizens of these islands have the greatest longevity in the world. Their diet is not only largely plant-based, but their culture teaches that one should eat until 80% full, hari bachi bu, and then stop even if food is left over. Perhaps we should redo the US food plate and have a wedge representing 20% of the plate removed to spread this important habit?

There are many reasons that the average weight of adults around the world have escalated so dramatically since 1990, but our fast- paced and distracted lives are partly responsible for the problem.

Just as yoga practice teaches us to be in the moment (“now here not nowhere”), so does a practice of mindful eating, even for the plant-based family, teach us to treasure and honor our day more fully. In the Bhagavad Gita, it says that yoga is not possible for the one who eats too much. As is yoga so is life. Avoid the Vegasm trap.

Dr. Joel Kahn is a vegan cardiologist who has developed an inter-preventional approach to heart disease prevention and reversal

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