You may not realize it, but working out and eating both provide an experience the human soul requires as much as the body does. It’s called mindfulness.
Let’s say you are angrily complaining to your gym friends that last night’s Grindr hookup is in the sauna wearing the rainbow thong he stole from you. Then, you throw your outraged self on a bench and grip the barbell above your head. You lower and raise the weight with complete concentration. The thong kleptomaniac evaporates from your mind. You breathe deeply and count. You are fully present.
That is mindfulness. In recent years, the Buddhism-inspired practice has become a favorite teaching tool of psychotherapists. If you can come fully present, and sustain the state, you’re not ruled by your anxieties. That — plus a gush of happy hormones — is why exercise ranks more effective than antidepressants in study after study.
In our obsessive culture, all food has become candy. That’s why we can be 5 feet 5 inches tall, weigh 220 pounds and say we’re of average build on Scruff. Applying mindfulness to eating can change that. The directions sound like Table Manners 101. Take a bite, put down your fork, chew at least a dozen times before swallowing, consciously noting texture and taste — the way different flavors intermingle. You also want to pay attention to scent (it requires breathing) and appearance (it requires seeing). Food prepared with respect by mindful chefs is inherently beautiful, just like your stolen thong. (Of course, mindfulness can also alert you to shitty food you might otherwise inhale.)
The difficulty of any form of mindfulness is sustaining attention. That takes practice and, yeah, learning to meditate or taking a yoga class in the back of your gym can be very helpful in ways you might not expect. You literally will come to experience life differently.
Meanwhile, I suggest you bring mindful attention to spicy fried chicken. Popeye’s is offering its annual Ghost Pepper Wings special now. You get six pieces for $4.99 that have been marinated in spices including the ghost pepper, literally the world’s hottest. I hit the store on Boulevard, which is always a good opportunity to practice mindfulness. Notice the filthy kitchen. Notice that your order is probably screwed up. Notice that the cash register clerk is literally dusted with flour as if he were about to be fried. Notice that the wings are delicious. You get crispiness, moist but not greasy meat and a mounting degree of heat with each bite. Notice, though, that they aren’t any hotter than the usual spicy chicken. Notice that the biscuit that comes with the wings is like a buttery pillow a porn star might devour during sodomy.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, a chain that serves Nashville-style spicy-hot chicken, has opened in Chamblee (5486 Peachtree Rd., 770-557-0839, gusfriedchicken.com). Notice the brick wall, the checked tablecloths, the randomly decorated walls and the friendly staff, including a fugitive from the New York recording scene. You will be tempted to compare the chicken to Popeye’s, but be mindful and just enjoy its delicious, somewhat thin-crusted spiciness. Notice the higher-than-average prices that get you a Styrofoam plate and plastic forks. Notice the neighborhood. It’s become a village full of tempting restaurants, for real.
I also paid my first visit to Dish, a Korean bistro adjacent to the always-mobbed Food Terminal (5000 Buford Highway, 470-299-8886). You will bring mindful attention to the playful symmetry of Dish’s bright dining room and the parade of gorgeous, complex dishes. I’ll write more about Dish soon, but it feels right to mention their fried chicken. It’s superlatively crispy and mildly seasoned, but accompanied by a hot sauce tempered by a strong shot of sweetness. You will notice, reading this, that you should get yourself the hell there ASAP.