On Saturday afternoons, my husband almost always pops up a big batch of popcorn. He does it on the stovetop, and serves it drizzled with butter and sprinkled with nutritional yeast and Old Bay seasoning. It is delicious; he really makes the best popcorn.
Lately I’ve been paying attention to how I eat the popcorn, and I’ve realized that when eating popcorn I literally can’t do anything else. I can’t read a book. I can’t work on my computer. I can’t cook, or fold laundry.
My popcorn consumption requires two hands. One to hold the bowl protectively against my body, lest someone (a.k.a., my husband) should try and take it from me. The other hand is the shovel hand, whose purpose in life is nothing other than to move handful after handful of popcorn from the bowl into my waiting mouth. I am an animal when I eat popcorn.
This is not a mindful way to eat popcorn, there is no doubt about that. But, is it entirely mindless?
Hear me out.
If I was mindfully eating my popcorn I would be sitting and quietly contemplating each solitary piece. The texture. The colour. The smell.
Only after I had thoroughly pondered its existence, my feelings about it, and whether I indeed was hungry for the popcorn, would I pop a single solitary piece into my mouth. Afterwards, I’d check in with myself to think about how much I enjoyed the popcorn, gauge my level of physical satisfaction, and, perhaps, start the process all over again with a second piece.
That classic mindful eating exercise can be a good one for someone who wants to start and understand what mindful eating can be. Or, for those who are struggling with binging and other disordered eating behaviours.
I’m going to argue, though, that my popcorn eating ritual, gluttonous and animalistic though it may be, is mindful in its own way.
Here’s the thing: when I eat popcorn I ONLY eat popcorn. I don’t multitask, I don’t eat other things, I don’t even drink. I give myself over entirely to the act of eating popcorn. I am eating a food that I enjoy, one that I look forward to each week, and in the process I free myself from distractions. How wonderful is that?
I eat the amount of popcorn I want to eat (which is usually the entire bowl). I never feel shame, I never feel physical discomfort. Rather, I feel satisfied when I’m done.
So is that mindful or mindless?
I’m thinking the answer lies somewhere in between. It may not be mindful in the classic sense, but I don’t believe that all mindful eating has to be. This somewhere in between zone is, I believe, where the idea of intuitive eating takes root:
Listening to your body even when your body is telling you to power down a bowl of popcorn. Understanding that this is fundamentally different than out of control / disordered eating. Enjoying the food you eat without shame or judgement. And, knowing that allowing yourself to eat what you want, and how much you want, goes hand in hand with understanding when you don’t want or need a treat even though it’s right in front of you.
Somewhere in between is where I want to be.