We’ve all done it. Opened a bag of chips or cookies intending to eat only a handful, and ended up polishing off the bag. Had that second helping when lingering tableside with company, or scarfed a chocolate bar – or two! – in the aftermath of bad news. Mindlessly eating to chase away boredom or blues, what happens when we invite the mind to attend the pot luck too?
Petra Beumer, cognitive behavioral therapist and health coach, knows. Founder of the Mindful Eating Institute in Santa Barbara, she is apt to suggest we invite the inner child within us all to dinner. A one-time weight-loss coach, she now eschews the concept of dieting altogether, averring control of what one eats has everything to do with addressing unmet hungers of a different nature – including nurturing the child within.
I sat down with the masters of psychology to learn more.
”I was teaching weight loss classes until I realized about 50 percent of my clients were regaining the weight. A very important component was missing – addressing emotional eating,” she said, going on to explain the phrase “emotional eating” includes such triggers as stress, boredom, and grief. “I help people embrace their body and not look in the mirror and beat themselves up. I work a lot with the inner child and teach people how to talk to that child within. How would you talk to a precious little girl or boy? You would be kind to them, of course, and loving. Very supportive and never judgmental,” Petra said, the kindness in her demeanor reassuring me that she walks the talk. For those of us unskilled in such an arena, the European transplant is clearly well-equipped to lead the conversation.
Curious how she knew there was a need for the specialized and specific services offered at the Mindful Eating Institute, Petra was quick to respond: “I used to work as a self-care specialist at the Golden Door resort, an upscale spa near San Diego. It was in the course of a workday, when I talked in front of a group of 40 or more women that the need evidenced itself. I asked the question: who’s good at nurturing others? And all 40 hands went up, but when I asked ‘Who’s good at nurturing themselves?’ only 2 hands went up. It was then I knew educating people on the concept of mothering oneself was grossly overlooked.”
Driven by the vision of helping people have a peaceful relationship with food, Petra’s own story is as brave as it is adventurous. After earning her master’s degree at the University of Hamburg, she chose to return to Santa Barbara in 1988, a place she had only visited in the course of her job as a flight attendant for Lufthansa Airlines.
“I immigrated with just 2 bags and a dream.” she told me proudly. “A calling. To help others.” And help she did, teaching weight loss classes for four-plus years at the Sansum Clinic, as well as giving multiple lectures on emotional eating at Cottage Hospital to patients and staff alike. Expanding her horizons to work as a lifestyle consultant, she developed and taught a Work/Life Balance workshop at the prestigious California Health & Longevity Institute, in addition to consulting as a health educator at a well-respected Santa Barbara health center. Striking out on her own, she established the Mindful Eating Institute in 2017, and hasn’t looked back.
And neither have the people she has helped. Gabi, a newer client of Petra’s and longtime Santa Barbara resident, was happy to share her experience, though understandably reticent about sharing her last name. “I was invited to Petra’s Mindful Eating group as a guest and decided to join.” The Mindful Eating group Gabi referenced is capped at 15 participants and convenes every Monday evening from 6 to 7 pm at the Family Therapy Institute downtown.
“I also see Petra privately, and find her very professional,” Gabi said. “She’s a great listener with no judgment. My daily trips to the store to buy sweets and cakes have completely stopped, which is a mind-boggling experience. I am thrilled with the progress.”
No more so than Monica, a retired personnel manager who also sees Petra on a regular basis. “Petra’s warm and caring personality makes her invaluable to me. Her patience, compassion, directness, and follow-through are unparalleled. Her office is peaceful and welcoming, and her suggestions on reading materials and take-home assignments keep me on track between sessions.” A regular gym-goer, Monica also attributes her newfound ability to slow down and enjoy the moment to Petra. To “not overdo” and keep busy just for purposes of distraction.
Stressing her modality of both cognitive behavioral changes in tandem with mindfulness, Petra gave me a taste of what her technique involves. “For example, when somebody wakes up in the morning, I help them talk to themselves differently. Phrases like: I am going to be kind and gentle to myself. Instead of saying: Omigod, I had a burger yesterday, and I blew it, to say: I will feed myself well today. That’s the cognitive behavioral part. The mindfulness is being aware and present. Particularly helpful in those times you find yourself reaching for a snack when you’re not physically hungry. If you can build in a mindful pause, be curious about what you’re really in need of at that moment, it facilitates redirecting that habit. What is your heart hungry for? I work from the heart.”
That’s true, as anyone can see by simply visiting Petra’s website. Represented with just such a symbol, the URL is: www.mindfuleatinginstitute.net. You’ll find a wealth of information and further testimonials at the site, as well as details about Petra’s upcoming Mindful Eating workshop, a one-day event staged on Saturday, October 20. Call Petra to register in advance at: (805) 722-7400.