Posted by: barbaraneill | July 30, 2016

Dyspraxia, Mindfulness and Food

CEMM

I was born with dyspraxia so I’ve never known anything different. Dyspraxia affects my co-ordination and balance, among other things, but I’m not going into all of that now. Instead, I’m going to describe how I developed my own coping strategies, particularly when it came to eating, and how those coping strategies have led me onto other things.

While I was growing up I had no idea I was dyspraxic. In fact, my eldest son reached the age of five and was, himself, recognised as dyspraxic (in a time in which Dyspraxia had finally been acknowledged, though it still had a long way to go before being properly understood), and it was only when working through a questionnaire with him, that I discovered the classic signs and symptoms of dyspraxia applied to me as well.

In spite of not realising I was dyspraxic while I was growing up, I still had the condition and was coping with the many difficulties that accompanied it, on a daily basis. Those difficulties included eating, without making a mess. Although getting food from a plate into the mouth is a perfectly natural process for most people, for those of us who have dyspraxia, it can be a very different story, in which every mealtime becomes a challenge. The strategy I developed for this, (as well as many other challenges I faced regularly), was to slow down the process. I would focus my attention on getting a manageable quantity of food onto my fork and ‘tidying’ it to minimise the risk of losing some of the food before it reached my mouth. Then, when it finally did reach my mouth, I would, and still do, savour it before repeating the process. I remember, many years ago, a work colleague of mine would sometimes make a point of watching me eat my lunch. I remember her comment vividly; “I love watching you eat. It’s all so slow and deliberate!” Of course I had no idea what she meant because I had developed the coping strategy quite naturally, without realising I was dealing with the effects of dyspraxia. In fact, at that point, I’d never even heard of dyspraxia.

So that’s how I came to eat my food ‘slowly and deliberately’. This technique was also to enable me to develop a way of helping others to enjoy their food more, and to become aware not only of what they are eating but how they are eating it.

I’m fortunate enough to have been brought up by one of the first hypnotherapists in the UK. My dad was a pioneer in his field and I’m incredibly proud of him. Over the years, in spite of the fact that there were times when I wished my dad had had a ‘normal’ job, like other people’s dads, there is no doubt that I have learned a great deal from him and, thanks to my love of working ‘with people’, it was inevitable that I would follow in Dad’s footsteps and become a hypnotherapist in my own right. I’m actually honoured and privileged to be able to continue his work since he passed away in 2006.

In my capacity as a hypnotherapist, I have seen many people who have wanted to eat more healthily, whether it was to lose weight, to kick an addiction to unhealthy food or to overcome a dislike of vegetables and, during the course of those consultations, I discovered something interesting. I had been helping people to adopt the same technique, for eating, that I had adopted out of necessity, due to my Dyspraxia. During these consultations, with my clients, I would often describe the act of eating more slowly, putting down cutlery between mouthfuls to really focus on the food that was actually being eaten, rather than giving attention to the next mouthful. I’m sure, also, that the habit of eating while watching TV will be familiar to most of us but it goes without saying that we can’t be getting the most out of the food while our attention is focused elsewhere.

It was these revelations that inspired me to develop “Conscious Eating; Mindful Meals”, and I couldn’t help wondering how effective it would be if, instead of just describing the process of eating a meal to those who wanted to enjoy eating more healthily, I could do so while the recipients actually had a plateful of delicious, healthy food in front of them; in other words, to use real, healthy food, instead of a hypothetical meal, to demonstrate rather than explain the process.

In Maidstone, Kent, we are incredibly lucky to have a fabulous café which happened to be the first vegan café in the town, serving quality food prepared on the premises. I, personally, was a vegetarian for thirty seven years before becoming vegan in the summer of 2015 so, perhaps not surprisingly, Fortify Café is a favourite haunt of mine. In 2014 I contacted the proprietor, James Hooper, and asked if he would be prepared to accommodate the first Conscious Eating; Mindful Meals event and, being naturally progressive, he agreed. The first Conscious Eating Mindful Meals event was held in Fortify Café, Maidstone in August 2014. It was well-received and some of the attendees made some interesting discoveries along the way and, according to feedback I have received, have actually changed their eating habits, and enjoy their food more, as a result!

If you’d like to experience Conscious Eating; Mindful Meals, you can now buy the mp3 download here

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