Eating Artfully

By Beibhinn Byrne

Karina Melvin photo by Beibhinn Byrne Book cover photo by Sean Cahill.

“We are missing the most vital ingredient in the weight-loss battle; the mind.” – Karina Melvin.

Karina Melvin is a Sandymount psychotherapist and resident whose practice and home is in on the Strand Road. Her book Artful Eating; The psychology of lasting weight loss, deals in a remarkable way with “not dieting and changing your relationship with your body, changing your relationship with food.”

Karina was in conversation with Newstalk’s Henry McKean as part of Eason’s O’Connell Street event In Conversation with Karina Melvin. I met up with her beforehand and listened in on the interview session at the event.

Karina says she had no intention of writing a diet book and that this book is not about that. “It happened very organically. I noticed in my practice that regardless of weight, gender, age or issue that food would always somehow creep in. And people were always talking about it, their relationship to it, how bad they feel about it and it always seemed to be about guilt feelings or how they over-ate or had a binge or were trying to control it somehow and never how much they enjoyed it.”

She herself had been on a trip to Barcelona for her birthday some years back where she had a wonderful time eating a plethora of tapas and dishes. “We were eating all these wonderful little dishes and having cortados and lattes. I found the only time I was thinking about food was when I was hungry and it was ‘what’s next?’ ‘what will I have?’ in a really pleasurable way. And looking forward to it. Just enjoying food.”

She recognises that food itself is not the problem, that when you are eating well and joyfully it is something to be savoured and understand how wonderful it is and to get into the habit of eating quality. “The problem when people are focusing on food in a punitive way and thinking about dieting all the time is that they are focusing on food but it is a symptom of something much deeper. They need to separate that and to be able to enjoy food.”

What about all the programmes now we are bombarded with about targets and eating, weigh-ins and exercise. It seems the entire country is on a diet, certainly a large helping of lifestyle fitness, ‘transformation’ and television programmes that are more about entertainment than truth. “We’re always looking to reduce something not tangible to tangible to give people a simple surface answer to quite complex things that can’t just be reduced to one thing.”

She got thinking about how universal this fundamental necessity and pleasure in our life was and how widespread the fact that so many people struggle, in one way or another, with it. She wanted to be able to reach and help as many people as possible and for anyone to access the mindshift. So she set about, based on all her experience and expertise, devising an online program.

“Looking at it from a psychological point of view, you have to shift from the symptom to the cause. I really wanted to help people with this but couldn’t possibly have the time as there were just too many. So I devised the online course I have. That way many people could access it and do it in their own time, it is affordable but vitally you are responsible for yourself. I hate this ‘accountability’ that comes with clubs because it skews who you are doing it for and your owning of it and that is what really makes the change. Realising your relationship with food and changing that by yourself for yourself. People have come back to me saying ‘I have never felt so free’ and ‘it has changed my life’ freedom comes up again and again.”

This is the real, long-lasting success of Artful Eating’s approach, it is not about how food works but how the mind works that changes all the embodied issues and body issues around it.

The book Artful Eating came about after her online course had been up and running for two years and she was giving talks at festivals. It has become a real passion of hers seeing how much it helped people. She was approached by a publisher then met with the agent Vanessa Fox-O’Loughlin and the rest of it happened from there.

The book shows you how you can rediscover the magic of eating for pleasure and learn why weight loss is not just about what you eat, but how and why you eat. There are two types of eaters; intuitive eaters and controlled eaters. Controlled eaters are – you guessed it – the dieters and strugglers.

Melvin recommends, “Give up trying. Instead, change the conversation. Enjoy your food. Eat things you like. Cut out poor quality. Then it’s not about will power. It’s about good habits. And this spreads magically. Think about quality. Respect yourself. There is the ‘I don’t’ rule; I don’t smoke, I don’t do heroin, I don’t eat cardboard and rubbish food. When you associate something with its negatives it becomes easy. Because it’s something you simply don’t do, you want to respect yourself. There’s no love in a flavour made in a lab, so you are not tasting that.”

She says enjoying your food is vital and to do this quality and flavour is of utmost importance. She loves growing her own and cooking and gets an organic box of delicious veggies and food delivered once a week.

There is a commitment to changing behaviour, thoughts and beliefs and if you want something better, you also want to do the personal work that makes that change. It takes time she says, six months, in fact, to adapt and change and be able to say ‘This is me now.’ It is a process. “Give it patience. Enjoy the process.” She has a free audio download online for anyone to listen to if they would like a taster. A delicious starter to freedom and the pleasurable art of eating. Artful Eating by Karina Melvin Black & White Publishing €16.99 Easons and Books On The Green.