The food industry understands our eating habits, aesthetic preferences and pleasure points better than we do. They spend millions of dollars on intricate research to create products that target our "bliss points." In exchange for that perfect crunch and flavor, we offer up mobility, quality of life or even life itself. Obesity may soon surpass tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death in America.
Let's close Stress Awareness Month by reclaiming our food bliss -- and therefore our health. It's clear that we must intentionally defend ourselves from the unhealthy choices that surround us in order to find peace and satisfaction.
What Is the "Bliss Point"?
Hired out of Harvard by the U.S. Army, Howard Moskowitz was tasked with increasing soldiers' consumption of rations in the field. Moskowitz researched many factors that contribute to food choices and coined the "bliss point," a precise calculation of optimum eating satisfaction. He's applied this discovery to big brands, optimizing soup, soda and cookies with great success.
Moskowitz predicts bliss points for the masses using computer programs that organize data from thousands of interviews, trials and surveys. Lucky for us, the only bliss points we need to understand are our own. We've got all the data necessary in our brains and bodies to pinpoint our unique preferences. Are you ready to decipher this information and make it work for you?
5 Steps to Reclaim Your Bliss
1. Stop and Look
"Insight cannot begin until we stop and focus our attention on what is happening right in front of us. This stopping, or shamatha, allows us to rest the body and the mind. When we have calmed ourselves, we can then go on to look deeply into our current situation. We need to step off our frantic life treadmills, to stop unconsciously doing the same things over and over again." -- Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Next time you're eating a favorite food, savor it. Draw awareness to the pleasure you're experiencing. What is it about this food that you love?
Next time you notice a craving -- pause. Take three breaths before you act to clarify the craving. Notice how it feels, physically and emotionally. A hollow in the stomach? A grasping? Dig into this information. What exactly are you looking for? Is it distraction, company, dopamine, a reward, a flavor (sweet/savory) or a mouth-feel (crunchy/creamy)?
Example: A chocolate craving on the surface is: "I want chocolate, now!" After three deep breaths and a commitment to non-judgmental awareness, that urge may reveal itself to be "I've had a hard week, I deserve to feel pleasure and fulfillment, plus, I want to feel in control of my own fulfillment -- so I'll gift myself a piece of chocolate." (In which case -- go ahead and savor a small piece of chocolate. And make note of this pattern.)
Or maybe I gobbled up carbohydrates at lunch, feel a late-afternoon drop in energy, and reach for sugar to sustain me. (With a few mindful breaths, I realize that sugar will not sustain me for long and I tag this memory.)
2. Write It Down
The observations from step one are helpful kernels of information that offer immense insight if recorded and reflected upon. You can map and make sense of habits and cravings by cataloging when you eat, what you eat, why you eat it and how you feel before and after.
Give it a try -- keep a food journal for one week.
3. Notice the Patterns and Get Support
Review your food journal with a calm mind and a critical eye after one week of collecting data. What patterns do you see? What are your traps? What challenges and barriers do you face and how can you overcome them? A fresh perspective may prove helpful. Ask a trusted friend or family member to review it with you and discuss.
4. Know That You Can Feel Better
Whether it's greater energy, immunity or mobility you're seeking, you already possess the most important tool for change: attention. Direct it toward your eating habits and yes, you will discover things you don't like -- but within these points of contention lie blissful opportunities to transform and thrive.
"The Buddha offered many teachings to help people end their suffering, the first and most important being the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is that all of us have suffering in our lives. None of us can escape from it. The Second Noble Truth is that we can identify the causes of our suffering. The Third Noble Truth is that we can put an end to our suffering and that healing is possible. Finally, the Fourth Noble Truth is that there are paths to free us from suffering. We can cultivate our well-being by concretely applying mindfulness to our daily living." -- Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
A concrete application of mindfulness is to create strategies that support the formation of new healthy habits, which supersede patterns that are no longer serving you. Start small. If junky snacking is bothering you, stock up on nuts and fruit. If you're skipping breakfast, fill the pantry with easy, healthy and alluring breakfast food. If you're craving hydration, carry a water bottle everywhere. Choose things that appeal to you so that these tactics are exciting. A nice water bottle, your favorite trail mix or a bit of honey to sweeten the morning oatmeal may mean the difference between resistance and success.
5. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Support your intentions by clearing your space of unhealthy distractions. The persuasive power of advertising and the pull of palatable processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat is clear. No need to constantly test yourself! Limit your access to unhealthy choices at home and cook more with real foods like produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
Bliss is within reach. The key to unlocking our inherent health and happiness lies in this knowledge. If we stop to notice what makes us tick, we can understand and adapt our own bliss points. The same satisfying crunch a Dorito offers could be found in a brown rice cake, the sweetness of a truffle surpassed by a ripe peach, the validation of a cookie blown away by a hug.
When we look deeply at the success of major food corporations, we find guidance -- to pay attention to why we eat what we eat. They invest resources in identifying our bliss points and we should, too. This is easy when we tap into our own intuition with mindfulness. Otherwise we continue staggering through the junk-food battle blind. With awareness we can support our healthy aspirations.
Feel free to share your food journal findings here. I'll offer suggestions to address your particular craving(s) or food related challenges.
For more by Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D., click here.
For more on wellness, click here.
For more on less stress, more living, click here.