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Mind Over Macaroons

To eat better, says Jean Kristeller ’74, know yourself better

When she was a sophomore, Jean Kristeller ’74 decided to spend her junior year in Japan. She wanted to explore it because her parents had lived there after World War II—not because she was interested in meditation.

“Still, people kept asking me about that, so I looked into meditation, and as a psychology major, became fascinated,” she says. “I returned to Swarthmore to delve even deeper by taking courses on Buddhism from Don Swearer. This was the beginning of what I am still doing today.”

Kristeller, a professor emeritus in psychology at Indiana State University who earned her doctorate from Yale, is the author of The Joy of Half a Cookie: Using Mindfulness to Lose Weight and End the Struggle with Food and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. In the book, she uses her expertise in mind/body research to explain why eating mindfully serves readers better than dieting.

“It helps you create a new relationship with your eating that has to do with tuning into your hunger and making choices about food while, at the same time, fully enjoying it,” says Kristeller, who, with colleagues at Duke University, Ohio State University, and the University of California, San Francisco, has received four National Institutes of Health related grants. “You learn to stop when you have had the right amount, rather than stuffing yourself. That way, you don’t have to cut out anything completely.”

That is the point, she says, of “half a cookie.” For example, a cookie-lover who swears off the sweet treat may soon binge and then feel guilty. By eating mindfully, however, that cookie-lover discovers that half that (large) cookie is satisfying without any guilt and with much more enjoyment.

“Practicing meditation is core because it is a powerful way to train mindfulness,” says Kristeller. “You are learning how to quiet down, observe your experiences, and analyze how your body feels, without overreacting and plunging into negative self-judgment.”

It’s a learning process, admits this onetime meditation neophyte, but it’s more than worth it: Ultimately, “the joy of half a cookie” is the joy of knowing oneself.