By Daniel J. Benor, MD, Editor in Chief of The International Journal of Healing and Caring
Mary Ann Wallace is a board certified physician specializing in internal medicine, who also holds a master's degree in psychology with an emphasis in holistic health. She has extensive training and experience in a variety of mind-body healing modalities. Dr. Wallace had led workshops and classes on spirituality in medicine and mind-body issues for over 25 years. She developed Heartspring Wellness Center, a bustling Integrative Medical Clinic, and served as the Medical Director for a Division of Integrative Medicine in Corvallis, OR. She is a gifted teacher with a wonderful, healing presence. Her book is a distillation of her experiences in running mindful eating classes over several years for people dealing with eating issues of all sorts
In her clear and direct style, Wallace explains that many people's eating disorders stem from feelings of emptiness inside themselves that they are stuffing with food:
The empty places inside yearn to be filled, and we spend an inordinate amount of energy both trying to get those needs met and hiding the fact that they exist. (p. 1)
If, as part of the overall experience of getting fed we also learn to expect anger, impatience or any other possible tension-provoking element, this association becomes a deep-seated part of our system. If, on the other hand, we find that the only time we experience the necessary sensations of being cuddled, held, cooed to and loved is when we are being fed, we learn to link our hunger sensations with that imprint by association. Eating, then becomes that which equals nourishment of many types. (p. 2)
I start every series of Mindful Eating classes with a simple questions: “Why do you eat – what is it inside that prompts you or propels you?” After a minute of confused looks and a couple of titters, the class invariably engages. The list usually has more than 30 items by the time we’re done, and only seldom is “hunger” even mentioned.
The aspect that all items on the list have in common is that they provoke a sensation in the belly, whether it be emptiness or tension, that in some way mimics the sensation of hunger. (p. 2)
Wallace reviews research identifying problem aspects of eating, including cognitive restraint, uncontrolled eating and emotional eating. She discusses how each produces its own variety of eating disorder and invites specific forms of interventions. Her approach is not about dieting, but rather about learning to understand what drives people to crave food, how food became an unhealthy, guiding metaphor in people's lives, and how they can constructively deal with these issues. Illustrative case examples demonstrate the benefits of her approaches.
One of the points I make in the Mindful Eating classes is that although we expect a certain toileting ritual for the elimination process of our bodies, we don’t formalize such a thing for all we’ve consumed mentally or emotionally.
The long-ago patterns stuck in our craw need even deeper evacuation. Letting go of past patterns often generates fear, but if we realize that we are letting go of what is toxic, not what is nourishing, then the task becomes much easier.
This book is warmly recommended both for caregivers and care-seekers wanting to deepen their understanding of eating problems and how to deal with them.