Mindfulness Mondays 64: Savor

November 29, 2010 by  

savorAs we enter the holiday season, I decided to read a book aptly entitled Savor that tries to help individuals lose weight and keep that weight off.  It has been a steady two years for me in which I have continually lost weight down to an almost ideal weight for me without any yo-yo-ing except for 2 to 3 pounds.  The book advocates that we approach food with mindful intention, as we should everything in life.

Too often we blame will power, where will power is basically a short-lived contrivance.  When we force ourselves not to eat or have an adversarial relationship to food, we fail shortly thereafter.  We cannot wage an ongoing epic battle of the bulge, as will power is only a temporary fix job.  We must open ourselves to transforming our relationship with food so that we do not resist, fight, and binge.

For myself, I do not like overeating because it now makes me sick.  Eating refined sugars and other processed foods no longer give me joy, as they once did.  That does not mean I do not enjoy a dessert or some chocolate every now and then.  However, I do not crave it or desire it with eager desperation.  When we start to become more mindful in every arena in life, we become more mindful toward how we eat food.

In short, the author advocates that we consciously eat our food.  Today we tend to scarf it down in a blink (of which I am still a culprit but am learning to let that go).  We often live our lives in a multi-tasking mode with the Internet, the radio, the television, and various other distractions around us so that we do not mindfully even taste our food.  Chewing each bite 20 to 40 times not only allows one to savor the taste but it also allows us to mechanically break down the food and help with important enzymatic digestion of every morsel.

This week, be mindful of your food and be present with it as you eat, savoring the taste, the nutrition, the labor that went into its preparation, the gratitude of having it and turn off the mindless distractions that would otherwise invade our presence of mind with that food like the Internet and other invasions.

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7 Responses to “Mindfulness Mondays 64: Savor”

  1. Jan Hempstead on November 29th, 2010 6:12 am

    Sam, excellent advice! I will have to add this book to my reading list! It sounds very much in alignment with what I teach my clients. I am italian and spent the earlier part of my life knowing food shouldn’t be such a focus, but fighting the internal battle of my italian momma’s constant, “mangia”. Thanks for sharing. Another excellent book that I use in my coaching practice to help clients understand the science behind their overeating is, The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD.

  2. dr. lam on November 29th, 2010 9:13 am

    that’s cool that you do therapy for overeating. did not know that. thanks for the tip too!

  3. Mysteryagain on November 29th, 2010 10:54 am

    Wow, Jan, what an interesting things to teach and make people self-aware! This type of thing you work at really change people’s lives.

    Because over eating is not only or always only about simply over eating, but about using food to fill in all sorts of “voids”, and/or to “numb” our boredom, to find some pleasure in crazy days (versus finding ways to make our days not feel crazy), etc. :)

    Sam, what an interesting post and what a great reminder of the meaning and power of food in our lives.
    And a great reminder and food for thought (LOL, kind of pun intended) about what will power is about, its importance but also its limitations.

    What a good timing to post this too: the holidays seem like the time where over eating is not just… or, worse, no longer… a problem… but something that is encouraged.

    Which is even more ironic as it is a season where we are supposed to be thankful for what we have, and where food should be yet one more thing to fully enjoy (not swallow down like crazy, only) and an enabler to create situations (dinners, gatherings) where we connect or reconnect with our loved ones.

    You said:
    >Too often we blame will power, where will power is basically a short-lived contrivance.
    When we force ourselves not to eat or have an adversarial relationship to food, we fail shortly thereafter.

    That was such a wise observation.
    After all, the word itself says it all. The good of it and the shortcomings associated with it.
    Will power.
    If you have the will and if you have the power (if you feel in control, if you have the means to, etc.), then, succeeding is a breeze. Motivation remains constant. People persevere.

    But as soon as either the will or the power is lost, for whatever reason, the determination and perseverance in that change in our lives goes down the toilet.

    Our will is, by essence, fleety. We want many things, sometimes contradictory things. Contradictory as in one directing us down a path incompatible with another willl of ours.
    We might want to persevere in having a healthy diet. We might have the will to have a healthier lifestyle. Yet, we might want just as badly to fully enjoy the great meal that we are sharing, on a given day, with a friend who came to visit us.

    Our will is strongly dependent on our mood, on our momentary feelings, emotions, needs.
    Our power is relative to. Some days we feel in control of our lives and of circumstances. Others, we don’t feel that way. Others, we simply are not in control whether we want it or not.

    If either our will or our actual ability to be in control of a situation are shaky, our will power will be shaky… and so we will “fail”. And then we will lose our motivation, doubt ourselves and go back to old habits, and then fight to get the motivation back to resume our “good goals” and habits, to later find another moments of weakness, and fail again… in a never ending circle (if we don’t lose the motivation alltogether and give up for good!).

    Our will power is an instrument to get to our goals, but not the way to get to them.

    Our *knowing* what we really *want* to be and to do with our lives, and our *knowing* what our strenghts and shortcomings are way more important tools.
    The more we learn about ourselves, the more we understand why or how we engage in certain behaviors, how to change those we don’t like in our lives, at least how to deal with them.

    And so we choose attitudes. And it’s the attitudes that get us somewhere. Not the willpower alone.

    When our willpower fails us, but our determination to become a certain type of person or live in a certain way remain clear and stable, then, failures are lived as setbacks or challenges… even as lessons to better succeed next time… but not as a reflection of our destiny being a string of a few moments of success followed by way more moments of failure.

    When our attitude and our general goals are “set in stone” in our mind, the ebbs and flows in our willpower can’t affect us nearly as much, because our mind will be set in the path we are following -momentary failure or not- and the moments of weakness will be stones in the road, not the end of the road.

    Besides, our willpower is something we make use oft at given moments (moments of decision), while our attitude permeates every second of our life, and if we really let the attitude we want “take over” our life, then, we will live full force in the present… aiming for a future, learning from the past… but in the present.

    And when we live in the present, and eat while living fully in the present, food is no longer an enemy or something to fear to lose control over.
    Eating becomes the fulfilling of a need that comes with a moment of pleasure. There won’t be any need or desire to ruin that by eating until we make ourselves sick, as that is not pleasurable!, we won’t feel the need to overeat as we will become aware of the signals of our body telling us when and how “we had enough” of something, when and how we can make an exception and maybe eat a tiny bit more, without feeling guilty, and will become aware of when we might end up eating out of external pressure, boredom or other emotions not really related to food that we would rather not listen to.

    What I believe is the hardest in all this is finding the ways to not have external facts and pressures sabotage our wanting to have a certain attitude while eating.
    Personally, I find that as the biggest challenge. I know sometimes I am eating calmly and enjoying every bite of (healthy) food, yet something or someone comes up, and suddenly there is not the time or circumstances to not “have” to swallow the food in a rush and go back to our activities.

    Personally, believe it or not, eating well, calmly, without external unwanted facts or variables sabotaging my choices of life is one of the main reasons why I am looking to work independently and seeking a way out of the world of corporations, hierarchies, pre established “lunch hours” and clocks that seem to be our enemies and not our allies.

    >Chewing each bite 20 to 40 times not only allows one to savor the taste but it also allows us to mechanically break down the food and help with important enzymatic digestion of every morsel.

    Even more, taking the time to eat allows our body to have the time to respond to the stimuli of food and for us to get the signal of whether or not we are already satisfied and should stop eating. I read in many papers that it takes about 10 minutes for our digestive system to send to our brain the message of when and how “we had enough”. Normally, though, we eat in such a rush, that by the time our body sends the signal that x amount of food was just right, we have had some y additional food… and so we end up feeling “stuffed”, heavy, sleepy.

    >This week, be mindful of your food and be present with it as you eat, savoring the taste, the nutrition, the labor that went into its preparation, the gratitude of having it and turn off the mindless distractions that would otherwise invade our presence of mind with that food like the Internet and other invasions.

    I would add that it can be a moment to be grateful for having the chance to have good meals, to choose what we eat, to HAVE food, period. And, personally, I feel better when I stop to think and thank in my mind not just the labor and effort put in the preparation of that food, but also when I think and thank the living beings (animal/s and/or vegetables) the food is made of for their existence and for their sacrifice so I can go on on living.

    If we eat sensible and “in the present”, we get in touch with our body, with what makes it healthy, but also with Life, G-d, younameit. We regain perspective of our self, our needs, and the way Life works.

  4. dr. lam on November 29th, 2010 11:17 am

    nicely put. good point also regarding time to satiety. the number i hear quoted is 20 minutes before our brain recognizes we are full. i believe i had a blog about that way long time ago. the two references for the 20 minute time frame are In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and this book.

    also, in many cultures especially chinese we argue to eat until 80% full because our body will then adapt favorably to the 80% fullness. if we eat to 100% we are actually eating to 120% because of the satiety issue mentioned above and our stretch receptors make us hungrier the next time around. also, studies with longevity, Healthy at 100, which i will review shortly, talks about how calorie restriction can improve longevity. thanks again for the input MA.

  5. Mysteryagain on November 29th, 2010 12:37 pm

    Thanks for the interesting data!!!!

    I like that theory concerning the 80& – 120% fullness, makes total sense, and empirically we can see it is true just by noticing that whenever one has has to diet (even if not to lose weight -say, a diet after a stomach bug), when one resumes “normal eating”, one gets “full” before what was usual before.
    In these latitudes we have a saying “the less you eat, the more your stomach shrinks”. Not sure if the stomach actually works as a muscle that gets more or less large, honestly don’t know, but obviously there is some truth to how and when we feel hungry or satisfied after eating that agrees with what you said.

    Regarding longevity, not too long ago, a documentary on Discovery Channel showed how people who ate LITTLE (by choice, not people who did so out of living in poor conditions and without enough nutrients) in calories’ restricted diets have proved to live longer, and among the young/est following that lifestyle, many values (cholesterol in blood, etc. etc.) indicated healthier bodies.
    Aesthetically, though, these people looked sickly… and I wonder if something that looks sickly, frail, can really be THAT healthy. But that’s just a thought that crossed my mind when seeing these people (the typical: “they don’t look healthy, curiously, they look too thin”.

    I am not sure I want that theory to be true… or else I am doomed!
    I don’t overeat, I eat all my meals but do not binge, nor snack between meals, eat healthy… but certainly eat quite a lot before my body says “ok, I don’t need any more”. I am not sure how I would handle reducing the intake of food, at least until my stomach got used to it. And not sure how I’d handle the weight issue: I lose weight too easily.
    I am not wishing the theory is wrong, but wishing that it is not the only way to eat for long life.

  6. dr. lam on November 29th, 2010 1:13 pm

    yes, the stomach relines itself every 5 days. it does shrink and expand and that theory is right. as far as the calorie restriction, don’t worry too much about that. healthy living and modest eating without starvation are the keys to enjoying life and living long.

  7. Rez on January 9th, 2011 5:19 am

    Dear Dr. Lam, may I please email you personally? Please email me at dhir@fas.harvard.edu. I would like to seek your advice about a few matters.

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