Human tongue is a thrill seeker. As it tires of one taste, it looks for another. This sensation-seeking tendency of the tongue is what accounts for the so-called sensory specific satiety.
Recall what happens in a buffet: while you might feel too full to eat another plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes, you wouldn’t mind trying something else. Sensory-specific satiety makes evolutionary sense: it assures that our food intake is varied in nutrient content.
From the weight management stand-point, however, this insatiable search for novel gustatory sensations entraps us in the horn of plenty, leading us to overeat to a point of unpleasant fullness. Research shows that increased variety of foods, particularly, with high palatability, may contribute to development and maintenance of obesity(Heatherington & Rolls, 1996, Raynor & Epstein, 2001).
Exploring Sensory-Specific Satiety
Sensory-specific satiety is an overeating liability, but there are ways to manage it. Remain conscious of whether you’re eating to satisfy your biological hunger or sensory hunger. Ask yourself: do I want this food because I am still hungry or am I just interested in its taste? If chasing the taste, then just taste, have a mindful bite. You don’t have to eat a whole serving just because you are interested in its taste! Also, factor in the sensory-specific satiety by cutting back on the portion size. Leave room for the curiosity of your tongue. In sum, when faced with a diversity of tastes, choose to taste all you can taste, not necessarily eat all you can eat! Rethink buffets, potlucks, and other kinds of smorgasbords as gustatory galleries – peruse, don’t abuse.
For most of us, eating is a mindless, unconscious, reactive, compulsive, automatic, mechanical, thoughtless, habitual, hand-to-mouth activity. We are, in a manner of speaking, eating “zombies.” The overarching goal of the Mindful-not-Mouthful approach is to awaken and to re-program the eating “zombie” with a new habit of paying attention to:
- External (i.e. environmental) factors that trigger you to start and stop eating;
- Internal (physiological and/or psychological) factors that trigger you to start or stop eating;
- Process of eating.
Put differently, the habit of mindful eating involves:
- Habitual mindfulness of environmentally triggered eating;
- Habitual mindfulness of hunger and fullness;
- Habitual mindfulness of the process of eating;
- Habitual mindfulness of emotionally triggered eating;
- Mindful (rather than mindless) emotional eating.
Mindfulness and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is informational awareness. Mindfulness is experiential awareness. To know something is different from experiencing something. In your self-help readings or treatment encounters you might have come across the advice to “eat mindfully” or “slow down your eating and be conscious of taste.” Knowing this advice leads to informational awareness. Applying this advice creates experiential awareness.
As a kid, I remember trying to learn a back-flip. First, I tried to gather information from my more acrobatic friends. Struggling for words and relying primarily on gestures and body language, they shared their know-how with me. Armed with the information, I tried it and hurt myself a few times before I got it right. In retrospect, I realize that the information I gathered had essentially no value – in trying to do a back-flip, I was not following anyone’s blue-print but enacting a kind of intuitive kinesthetic visualization that I had in my mind long before I consulted my friends. Having materialized that kinesthetic vision, I had acquired experiential awareness of how it is done, my own know-how of the back-flip that cannot be adequately expressed in words.
Knowing that you need to be conscious of your eating or even trying it a few times according to someone’s prototype of mindful eating is insufficient for a change in eating habits. And yet, informational awareness is a vital precursor of change. Without having the comfort of knowledge …
In “Eating the Moment” I distinguish two broad approaches for dealing with environmentally-triggered eating: trigger control and craving control. There’s a big difference between these two approaches and quite a bit of nuance within each of these approaches.
Trigger control helps you avoid triggers that provoke your cravings as well as to reduce their trigger power through a process of desensitization. Craving control helps you manage the cravings once they arise.
These two approaches are complimentary: to get across the temptation land-mines without blowing up (your waist-line), you must learn to avoid the avoidable triggers and to control the inevitable cravings.
These two approaches consist of at least six separate strategies – 2 trigger control strategies (of trigger avoidance and trigger desensitization), and 4 craving control strategies (of distraction, self-talk, relaxation, and mindfulness – which, by the way, aren’t created equal).
Trigger Avoidance vs. Trigger Desensitization
Trigger avoidance is simply staying away from the infamous addiction trigger trio of “people, places, and things.” This approach can be restated as “out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth” or, if you are an olfactory craver, “out of nose, out of mind, out of mouth.” As difficult as it is to create a “drug-free” environment, a “food-free” environment simply don’t exist. Let’s face it: food is the legalized drug, and, as such, it is omnipresent. Despite its limited utility, trigger avoidance is not without some value, and the exercises below will allow you to tap this strategy for maximum value.
Trigger desensitization is a process of getting so used to a given trigger that it no longer has the power to trigger a craving. Repeated exposure to a particular trigger eventually voids it of its stimulus value. Eventually we stop noticing and reacting to the trigger. That’s how we learn to tune out the midnight train whistles if we live next to a railroad track. An example of trigger desensitization would be to carry a bar of chocolate on you at all times. With this constant access to the object of your desire, you eventually learn to eat chocolate on your timing, when you choose to, rather than at …