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Chocolat: Not what we resist but what we create

By Michelle May, M.D.

During “movie night” at our recent Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Emotional Eating and Binge Eating Retreat, we watched the 2000 Academy Award- nominated movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp – though that’s not why we watched it! It is an older movie with a timeless message and many lessons for those who struggle with dichotomous thinking (black and white thinking) in eating and in life!

Chocolate cake with cherries on wooden backgroundSet in a small, quiet French village that prides itself on tradition and self-control, a stranger, Vianne, and her illegitimate daughter open the exotic La Chocolaterie Maya during Lent. The mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud, is judgmental and staunchly abstinent. Scenes of him looking longingly at a croissant then resisting it sum up the Restrictive Eating Cycle.

Vianne is not only an expert confectioner, but she has a gift for identifying people in need of tenderness and love. Through her various “projects,” the movie gently explores a number of complex relationships that also reflect the dichotomy between rigidity and indulgence. It is only when river gypsy Johnny Depp shows up that she begins to recognize her own needs.

As the townspeople begin to change, the Comte sees that his control over the town is threatened and attempts to run Vianne and the gypsies out of the village. Later, he breaks into the chocolaterie to destroy it, but gives into the temptation and binges until he collapses tearfully. He falls asleep in the chocolaterie window where he is discovered the next morning. This scene, funny and at the same time, difficult to watch, sums up the painful Binge Eating Cycle: restriction, loss of control, mindless binge, despair, and shame.

Despite all of the trouble the Comte has caused for her, Vianne extends compassion to him, an essential lesson for all of us who fail to uphold our own rigid and impossibly high standards.

After his humbling episode, the Comte listens as the young priest Pere Henri delivers a powerful Easter sermon: “…we can’t go round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.” This is the essence of our tagline, “Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly!”

There are also several lovely examples of sensuous mindful eating. My two favorites are the birthday party and the final scene of the redeemed Comte thoroughly enjoying a mindful bite of dessert at the Easter festival, hinting at a more open and joyful life for the little village.

I hope you will watch Chocolat (again?) and share your thoughts below!

P.S. To be clear, this post is not anti-Lent! No matter what you choose, if your intention is self-care, not self-denial, spiritual practices can be very enlightening! If you are interested in the topic of mindful eating and fasting or other spiritual (or even medical) practices, here are a few other posts:

Is Giving Up Sugar for Lent Restrictive?
Fasting and Mindful Eating
The Spirituality and Mindfulness of Fasting
What You Resist, Persists

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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