Mindful Eating: Open Your Mind Before You Open Your Mouth Articles

Craving Control: Controlling By Letting Go of Control

Friday, May 30th, 2014


9781608821013Mindfulness involves two essential mechanisms: applying a certain kind of attention and practicing disidentification.

Attention can be active or passive: that of an active observer or that of an uninvolved witness. This distinction is easy to understand through contrasting such verbs as “to look” versus “to see.” “To look” implies an active visual scanning, a kind of goal-oriented visual activity. “To see” implies nothing other than a fact of visual registration. Say I lost my house keys. I would have to look for them. But in the process of looking for my house keys, I might also happen to see an old concert ticket. Mindfulness is about seeing, not looking. It is about just noticing or just witnessing without attachment to or identification with what is being noticed and witnessed. This is where disidentification comes in.

Cravings (for dessert or something specific to eat, or just to keep eating) come and go. Mindfulness—as a meditative stance—allows you to recognize that craving is a transient, fleeting state of mind, and just one part of your overall experience. Mindfulness teaches you to realize that this impulse to keep on eating is but a thought inside the mind. Yes, it’s part of you, but it isn’t all of you—which is exactly why you can just notice it, just see it without having to stare at it. In sum, mindful- ness—as a form of impulse control—is a strategy of controlling by letting go of control.

Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, 2013)




Taste of Longevity: Long Life is Sweet

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

chocolatesFascinating new research:

“Bitter tastes could have negative effects on lifespan, sweet tastes had positive effects,” reports Science Daily.  At least, in fruit flies.

Michael Waterson, a Ph.D graduate student in U-M’s Cellular and Molecular Biology Program, explains: “Findings help us better understand the influence of sensory signals, which we now know not only tune an organism into its environment but also cause substantial changes in physiology that affect overall health and longevity. We need further studies to help us apply this knowledge to health in humans potentially through tailored diets favoring certain tastes or even pharmaceutical compounds that target taste inputs without diet alterations.”

Here’s how I make sense of these intriguing findings.  When life tastes good, it seems, the body positions itself for a longer existence.  When life tastes bitter, the body, it seems, fails to thrive.  Conclusion: a sweeter life makes for a longer life, whereas a life of bitterness (and sensory deprivation) might not last as long.

I am sure you heard the expression “life is sweet.”  Perhaps there is a correction in order: “Long life is sweet.”

A take-home message: awaken your senses!

Also makes me wonder, in the spirit of harm reduction, if a sweeter-tasting cigarette would be less dangerous, less life-shortening than a comparable one that is not as palatable.

ps: Coincidentally, the other day, while putzing around in my yard, I spotted an unfamiliar plant – a long, sturdy stalk.  I yanked it out of the ground, for no good reason, and, for no better reason, tasted the sap.  Bitter as hell!  “This kind of reckless experimentation could have shortened my life,” I thought to myself and went inside to get another cup of coffee, which I decided to take with cream and sugar, instead of the usual packet of sweetener.

Source: Science Daily: Taste Test: Could Sense of Taste Affect Length of Life?

Chocolates image available from Shutterstock.

Eat With Your Eyes Closed

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014


9781608821013Close your eyes to see—with the mind’s eye of mindfulness—what you are eating.

Mindfulness is a kind of “super-vision” because it allows you to see with the eyes shut.

Mindfulness “over-sees”… and, thus, serves as a platform for self-control.

Adapted from “Reinventing the Meal” (Somov, New Harbinger, 2012)

Share your mindfuls at Mindful Eating Tracker



Emotional Eating: 24×7 Self-Acceptance

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Working on yet another book on mindful eating, another one in the Jumpstart series, this time on mindful emotional eating, currently on the chapter devoted to nighttime emotional eating, not on how to eliminate it but on how to make it mindful – a humanistic harm reduction approach.

Here’s an excerpt, here’s how the chapter begins (mind you it’s a first draft):

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus

The days of our lives seem to have sisyphian circularity to them.  One frustrating situation after another we push and push the boulder of cumulative stress up the day’s hill only to be run over by it at the end of the day.  It doesn’t help that we keep piling on hard-to-fulfill expectations on ourselves: we promise to find a better way of coping, without eating, and we commit to start anew tomorrow morning.  But tomorrow comes and this sisyphian circle repeats itself:  all day long we are trying to be good, taking care of business, managing frustration until the long-awaited evening comes and all we want to do is just sit back, watch a little TV and munch.  Saying good night to an overwhelmed mind is no easy matter.

5 Types of Nighttime Emotional Eating

I distinguish five different kinds of nighttime eating: hermit eating, decompressing, reward eating, insomnia-related eating, and metabolic nighttime eating.  There is also the sleep eating that is akin to sleep walking but that is a special case beyond the scope of this chapter.  This, of course, is an informal taxonomy, just a way of sorting through the different nighttime eating scenarios.  A better understanding of how your clients arrive at these emotional eating moments is essential for …

Managing Overeating: The Art of Homework

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

9781572245433The focus on wellness, particularly on the management of overeating, in therapy can be a double-edged sword.  While clients often readily embrace the vector of self-care, goal-specific treatment planning and clinical homework can trigger the games of avoidance.  Suddenly, the validating therapist is thrown into the role of a wellness expert and becomes an accountability check.

Before too long, mere inquiry into the client’s progress runs a discordant parallel to punitive supervision.  With this actual or perceived change of hats, the process of the therapy changes, the wellness goals are eventually abandoned and the closet of therapy fills up with the skeletons of failed objectives.  This – in my experience – has been an inherent complexity of problem-focused treatments such as behavioral medicine.

Such experiences have taught me that a non-directive, harm-reduction, humanistic angle of engagement works best in facilitating clients’ wellness goal of weight management.  In particular, I have enjoyed better “compliance luck” from the clinical position in which I frame success in overcoming overeating as more of a know-how issue than a motivational issue.  With this in mind, as part of the role-induction to behavioral weight management, I let clients know that I am aware of a variety of behavioral exercises that can help them transition from mindless reactive eating to a more mindful and more conscious eating stance, and I then offer the client to look at their weight management “homework” as a kind of experiential journey of gradual acquisition of mindful eating skills, and not as a frantic blitzkrieg of change.

This gradual, exploratory behavioral goal-frame, in my experience, reduces the often arbitrary urgency of the need to change (with the example of arbitrary urgency being: “I need to lose weight to look good at my son’s wedding”).  An open-ended stance on behavioral homework (“You have the rest of your life to gain control over this issue and I have several exercises for us to try, so let’s just take time to see what works best for you”) also pre-empts and obviates “compliance relapse.”

Furthermore, a humanistically-permissive therapeutic posture allows the clinician …

Redefine “Enough”

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

9781572245433Mindful eating (at least the way I teach it) has its own version of “portion control” – it’s got to do not with how many mouthfuls you can have but with how many mindfuls you need to feel full; it’s got to do with shifting from a serving to a savoring.

What’s a mindful? A mindful, to coin a term, is a unit of mental absorption in whatever it is that you are doing. For example, as you look back at a typical day, perhaps most of it was spent in a state of robotic, mindless monotony, with the exception of a couple of moments when you were really present, thoughtful, and mindful of something. Maybe you found yourself scratching your head over some challenging problem. Maybe, at the end of your lunch break, you caught a glimpse of a bird swaying on a tree branch. Maybe, when finally home, sitting in your car in the driveway, you had a sense of perspective. Whatever their content, these moments of being mindful are just that: states of being attuned to the moment, absorbed in the here and now.

In application to eating, a Mindful is a moment of being conscious of eating. Maybe it will last ten seconds, maybe half a minute. But however long, it is a unit of awareness, a serving of mindfulness.

A Savoring, to coin another term, is a unit of mindful appreciation, a moment of conscious enjoyment, a highlight. To have a savoring, you first have to have a moment of eating consciousness (a mindful). After all, how can you enjoy a moment if you are not aware of it? So, whereas mouthfuls and servings are the units of fullness, mindfuls and savorings are the units of mind-fullness.

To help you shift from fullness to mind-fullness, I suggest that at the end of your meals, you look back at your experience and take stock of how conscious you were of your eating and of the moments of eating you enjoyed. How many mindfuls did you have? Which moments were you actually fully conscious? Were you present when you …

Mindful, Not Mouthful

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

9781572245433Mindful-not-mouthful approach aims to automate mindfulness. Automate mindfulness? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?! Not really. The goal is habit modification. While the goal of making mindful eating a habit may seem paradoxical, it really isn’t. The idea is to help you become habitually mindful of your eating, to get to the point where the decision to be mindful about eating is evoked mindlessly, automatically, effortlessly, and out of force of habit. Yes, I’d like for mindful eating to have the force of habit in your eating life. This kind of habit-forming or conditioning is the only assurance that the book in your hands will help you make a lasting difference in your battle with overeating.

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.

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.

The intent of the approach is to help you make the three-point journey: from (1) knowledge (of mindful eating), to (2) practice (of mindful eating), to the destination of (3) habitual application (of mindful eating); from the starting point of appreciating the necessity of mindful eating, to experimenting with it, to the permanent awakening of the overeating “zombie.”

Share your mindfuls on Mindful Eating Tracker:


Break a Pattern: Eat Strange

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

To notice reality you have to go off the autopilot. To do that, you have to break the familiar patterns. To eat mindfully, eat strange, in strange places. This is an oldie but goodie (from “Eating the Moment“). Here’s a lunch I had the other day.  Inca corn – nothing special. Hemp tea – nothing special. Sitting on the bumper of my Volvo wagon – nothing special. All in all, however, very strange and very special.

somovlunchshare your mindful eating strangeness at Mindful Eating Tracker

[photo: Somov, Strange Lunch, 2013]


Beyond Eating, Beyond Money

Monday, October 28th, 2013

9781608821013[excerpt from Reinventing the Meal]

Context/read first: Metabolic Independence/Homo Solaris/Future of Eating

Dostoyevsky once described money as “coined liberty” (1915, 16). Indeed, money is independence.

But what is money?

All money is reducible to one and the same currency: energy. That’s what flows through us, what moves us, and what motivates us. Money energizes because money is energy. The American greenback is a symbolic leaf of life: It starts out as a banknote of photosynthesis and is metabolized time and again through the samsaric mill of metabolic reincarnations until it transmutes into a living leaf of informational and symbolic value that is redeemable for energy. Currency is literally a current—a current of energy trade. As such, money is a fundamentally heterotrophic invention. Money is an exchange of borrowed calories by those who didn’t produce them in the first place. Autotrophs, the energy generators, have no need for money. Plants, unlike animals, are fundamentally and inalienably democratic and energy-independent. Each blade of grass has more sovereignty than any human nation. A blade of grass depends on nothing for its metabolic needs except abundant sun, air, water, and minerals. Each blade of grass is a dominion unto itself. It needs not ask, beg, buy, or trade. It is sovereign.

And so shall Homo solaris be. Reliant on the commons of sun, air, water, and minerals for physiological needs, Homo solaris will be beyond money and thus beyond the corruption of money and therefore fundamentally sovereign and inalienably free.

In his book Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Richard Fortey reminisces about the photosynthetic Eden of Precambrian time: “Cellularity had become a food chain, gobbling began, and voracity has never gone away. If there were a point in history at which Tennyson’s famous phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ could be said first to apply, this was it… The era of photosynthetic passivity and peaceful coexistence…had passed from the Earth, and the hierarchy of power has never subsequently been forgotten” (1998, 92–93). He’s absolutely right: Heterotrophy is fundamentally hierarchical. Human photosynthesis, through …

Enlightened Eating: Mani

Friday, October 25th, 2013

This is continuation of a previous post of mine about Mani and Eating Light (see for context)

9781608821013Mani, the founder of Manichaeanism, born in Persia in 216 CE, wanted to transcend a self-imposed mind-made dualism. He wished to free mind (light, spirit, soul, consciousness) from body (matter) because he believed that mind and body were two separate substances.

As I see it, this is classic dualistic folly. Your consciousness isn’t trapped in the matter of your body. Your consciousness (spirit, soul, mind) is an inner dimension of the material body that you are; that is, it is the subjectivity of the object. As such, there is no soul hostage to liberate. Mani, as I see it, got stuck in chasing the tail of his own conceptual abstraction. He was trying to let a stone out of a stone. It can’t be done. We are living, conscious, breathing matter. And we are liquid, feeling, sensing, suffering collections of minerals (a Vernadskian view that I share). No surprise here: Being made of the rock called Earth, we are nothing more and nothing less than this rock.

But Mani’s experiment wasn’t in vain. He reconceptualized spiritual enlightenment and illumination in a most literal way: by encouraging us to eat more light and aspire to be light producing and light emitting. He challenged humanity to find a way to eat the way plants eat and to share the luminescence—a noble, compassionate, and humane goal and, arguably, the first transhuman goal on record.

Rest in peace, Persian dreamer, perhaps, somewhere in the belly-trunk of a baobab tree or in the opening of a lotus blossom.

Adapted from Reinventing the Meal (Somov, 2012)

Reinventing the Meal
Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment
The Lotus Effect The Smoke-Free Smoke Break
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.

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