Deep-fried-egg-for-blog 2

This deep-fried egg on frisée with a bacon vinaigrette, from the new book Egg, is good-eatin’! Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

 

“Mindfulness.” Being “mindful.” I wish I liked the word because the meaning behind this new-agey, woolly notion is important. What does it mean?

If I were cranky, as I happen to be now, I’d tell you that it means, “Not being a dumbass.” Seriously, that’s my translation of being mindful.

Is that mean-spirited? Well, sometimes that’s what it takes. How would I describe “mindfulness” to my 14-year-old-son (who is not a dumbass, he’s just 14)? I would say, “James, it means, Paying Attention.

If that didn’t get through? PAY ATTENTION!

THINK! (Thinking is an underrated activity, especially in America. Thinking is probably the most important cooking technique I know—why I devoted the first chapter of Ruhlman’s Twenty, a techniques cookbook, to it.) What got me started on this was watching the below TED Talk by author and neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt about why diets don’t work and why they can be harmful.

Her bottom line, she said, was to pursue “mindful eating.” It means thinking about what you eat. Just think. Am I hungry? If yes, then eat. Do you eat good food or bad food? It’s up to you. If you don’t know what good food is, learn. Basically it’s this: If you feel better after eating it than you did before eating it, it’s good for you. If you need more information, here: eat whole foods or processed foods composed of only a few ingredients (pasta, for example) that you or someone next to you cooks. Go easy on all sugars and refined grains (that pasta, for example).

That’s mindful eating. Want to feel great and be healthy for a long long time? Says Aamodt, don’t worry about how much you weigh; it doesn’t matter: Eat real food, get regular exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much. I’d also add get plenty of sleep. And since I’m still cranky, I’ll reiterate: Don’t be a dumbass. Think for yourself.

 

 

Want some more “mindfulness”?

No one, not your nutritionist, not your doctor, know anything definitively about what’s good and bad for your health, foodwise. 

Is saturated fat bad for you, as you’ve been told by just about everyone forever? Turns out it’s not true. Go ahead and enjoy that fatty pork chop! (Just stop when you’re full.)

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan

Think for yourself.

 

Other links you may like:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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37 Wonderful responses to “Mindful Eating”

  • Erik

    There are plenty of people in this country that eat want they like, and die from it. What an irresponsible piece of writing.

    • Stephen

      You’re a toolbag, Erik. You somehow managed to do the exact opposite of paying attention. By the way, since when did Mr. Ruhlman become “responsible” for the diet of Americans? Piss off.

  • Mark

    Erik must not have read the whole post. If you like steak, eat a good quality steak not some heavily processed disk containing beef by-products. Erik also missed the part about not being a dumb-ass.

  • ruhlman

    thanks, mark. i thought it was clear that if all you eat is mcdonalds burgers and fries, because you like it, you’ll probably die sooner rather than later.

  • Becca

    Also it was stated that if you feel better after you ate it than before, its probably good for you. That pretty much eliminates mcdonalds! I think we’ve lost that connection. People don’t pay attention to when they are full or what their bodies feel like after they eat. Good article. I will have to remember “pay attention” and ” don’t be a dumbass”. So simple but so true!

  • Bob

    I think Erik missed the part that said, ‘pay attention.’

    Eat what you want, but pay attention to what you’re eating. Nowhere in Michael’s remarks does he say, ‘screw it, eat cheeseburgers all day every day.’

    And, ye gods, once you dispel the illusion that we don’t have time to cook, that we can only be successful as parents and cooks if we serve up microwaveable sludge for dinner, it opens all sorts of doors.

  • Tags

    “Think” and “pay attention” are two directives that are commonly directed outwardly, somewhat like “calm down.” (have you ever seen someone calm down after you tell them to? Me neither.)

    That being said, these are awesome commands when applied internally. The hard part is making it a habit, so that it’s automatic.

    • Erik

      All I’m saying is…Look at our country! Do you think everyone is not using common sense? Because most of this country is obese. People need someone to educate them and tell them what to eat. Because whatever they are doing now, isn’t working.

      Go ahead and enjoy that fatty pork chop! (Just stop when you’re full.)

      • ruhlman

        thanks for the follow up, Erik, agree with you. I guess I can rant this way because all those people not using their common sense aren’t reading this site, or reading anything for that matter. though I would urge them to read the ingredients on the bag off food they’re eating out of. I appreciate your words of care and caution. the “most” of this country is what I want to reach but I’m afraid it’s beyond my grasp.

        • Jen

          I’ve generally found that common sense is not all that common. A lot of people really don’t have it. But I do agree that this stems from problems in our education system – people are usually not educated in matters of food and nutrition (not to mention personal finance…but that’s another topic!).

          Also, regarding all the processed food, that stuff is specifically engineered to make you want to keep eating it long after you’re full. And to make you crave it when you’re not hungry. It’s a big part of the obesity epidemic. There should be laws against it.

  • ross

    Great article. I’m thinking that the admonition to Think! is one of the most important for use all.

    Don’t believe what you see on TV, especially the ‘News’, don’t pass on information mindlessly, when somebody says something in a forum, do a bit of research, think about what they actually said, then form a well reasoned and thoughtful reply.

  • Mantonat

    I like the idea of mindfulness in the Buddhist sense: applying the same level of concentration, calmness and focus to completing a task or learning a skill as you would to meditation. When I was a kid, my Dad would try to teach me to do something – like hammering a nail or throwing a ball – by telling me to pay attention to what my muscles are doing, to be aware of how the smallest changes in technique change the result, to think about the physics of doing, in other words. I never really got it when I was a kid; I always just assumed that you did something and it was either right or wrong and the outcome was determined by something other than awareness, correction, improvement through, not just repetition, but an understanding that you won’t get better if you aren’t conscious of what you’re doing wrong in the first place. It all makes so much more sense now, and I try to apply it to things that I’m learning and doing now. Shopping, cooking and eating are fair game – it makes for better nutrition as well as better tasting food.

    • ruhlman

      Sounds like you had a great dad. Thanks for this comment (as always), esp resonates with me, paying attention to the muscles, small variations, same as keller, and his advice to make the same dish over and over paying attention to the small variations, the knowledge of which accrues and ultimately makes you a stronger and stronger cook.

  • gwyn

    great post. is it just me, or do all roads kinda lead to ‘wake the fuck up’ ? i’m just sayin’……..

  • Elizabeth George

    Wow. This is such a powerful post. Really. Talked to my bone, you know what I mean? Wow. It really is that simple actually. Awesome that you blogged about this.

  • Saratoga Curmudgeon

    If you eat what you want, knowing the downside of it, it’s your choice. It’s called individualism. The nannys can’t seem to deal with that. In my small world, Eggs Benedict reign. Are they healthful, no. Will I stop eating them, no. And I would kill for a good plate of foie gras. .

  • Allen

    Comfort food.

    It makes you feel good,but it’s bad for you. Can you tell me one qualified comfort food that’s healthy food?
    No such thing.

    But I will eat it on occasion, and reserve the right to be a dumbass on Friday cocktail day. Goddamit!!

    White Negroni’s are pure genius. Goddamit!!!

  • Andreina

    Great post. I do think I need some rules because I loose my good judgement often when sitting in front some eggs Benedict’s or a good pasta dish with tons of reggiano. My “every day rules” are meant to be broken once in a while. I eat mostly live foods, foods that still have their natural water in them; whole grains, nuts, very little sugar, lots of quinoa, chia, very little meats, lots of avocado, fish (omega 3 and 6 rich ingredients), very little dairy. I have been doing that for quite a while now and I have trained my body to feel the difference. Before, I really could not tell. I felt just fine eating a quarter pounder. The body needs to be trained and the mind needs to be educated.

  • Bob

    Choice may be dictated by ‘common sense,’ but again – we’re working with a model where people don’t have a grasp of cooking something other than microwaveable glop, because their framework is built around rush-rush-rush-you-don’t-have-time-to-cook.

    And that’s why folks are making bad choices that lack ‘common sense.’

    Once you can lever yourself out of that framework, you can strive to make better choices.

  • Darcie

    I wish people were “mindful” (I don’t like that word, it sounds like you are full of minds…but I digress) not only about eating but also about life in general. I’d also like to win the lottery, but I expect neither to happen any time soon. Still, if we can each lead by example perhaps we will eventually get those around us to notice and, if we are lucky, they may even change.

  • Chuck McLean

    I have recently started to just eat when I eat. If I am with people, fine, but during the work week that is usually only at dinner. No more eating at my desk in front of the computer, or reading a book or working a crossword. Just eating. It makes a remarkable difference. If you are eating crap, you notice it. If you are full, you notice it. If the food is really good, you really notice it. You slow down, chew carefully, enjoy it. I thought I would be bored just eating when I eat, but it is actually a completely different experience.

    And I’ve lost five pounds in the last month without doing anything else differently.

  • EF

    Great Post. One reason I admire the French. They demand real food. And real food is real good. It’s nutritious; it’s satisfying; and it makes you feel good. Why? Simple. Your body was engineered to eat it and run off of it. Farmers should make our food, not engineers. People should cook our food, not corporations. It’s not being a snob to demand food that has been grown by someone and cooked by someone.

    Post WWII, as a culture, we let industrial processed foods take over our diet. We are slowly taking our right to real food back. I love it.

  • JW

    It’s just not true. You want it to be, but it isn’t.

    The Japanese have an obesity epidemic now. Did they just stop being mindful, after centuries of being one of the healthiest civilizations?

    70% of our population is overweight or obese. Our grandparents were not. And the fatuous explanation for this is unmindfulness?

    Given the choice between a complex explanation (an epidemic of unthinking people) and a simple one (obvious degradation of our food supply on all levels), I choose the latter. Eating “real food” won’t help because our supply of that is being degraded, too (see: overfishing, Big Organic, etc)

    You would never make this argument for mindfulness in another domain. If we had a hole in the ozone layer, would you tell people to avoid cancer by “thinking” before they go outside?

    We never had to “think” about food in the past to eat salubriously. Why now? Think about it.

    • Mantonat

      Somewhere along the line, bad food was swapped for good while nobody was paying attention. It happened over a couple of generations and all we got from the experts was “low fat, low sodium.” Maybe we can’t blame our parents or theirs, especially when you consider a depression-era/war-era frugality mindset combined with a couple of decades of “scientific” advancements in food production. People were embracing cheap, convenient, and easily prepared food and the final result is obesity and poor health.

      So yes, a lack of mindfulness was absolutely the problem, as it currently is in Japan, and anywhere else where people are allowing themselves to be lured by the false promise of convenience, modernity, artificially low prices, and progress. If you don’t think about what you’re buying, cooking, and eating, then you aren’t being mindful. And it’s when you aren’t being mindful that someone slips a mound of shit onto your plate.

      And yes, being mindful also applies to how you prepare yourself and your body for a modern world that may have carcinogens and other health risks. You can ignore it and hope you come out OK, you can get scared and fret about everything, or you can observe, listen, learn, evaluate, and make decisions based on critical thinking. It’s called paying attention and not letting someone else make decisions for you.

      I guess I go with the “epidemic of unthinking people” route because it’s not impossible to find real food. It’s just not the easiest thing or the thing that requires the least mental effort.

  • Ken

    Excellent piece, but I take issue with the blanket statements like “don’t smoke.” That kind of teetotaling statement assumes that all smokers are unmindful. Deciding to smoke, whether occasionally or otherwise, can be a mindful decision – if someone is aware of the health risks, but the pleasures outweigh those risks, that’s still a mindful choice.

    Be healthy, be unhealthy, be somewhere in between. The point is to make the choice, rather than be a victim of culture, marketing, or circumstance.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      Agreed, and no one loves a cigarette more than I do, and don’t feel bad when I indulge. important not to be addicted.

  • Ken

    JW,
    I’m not sure what you mean by the phrase “degradation of our food supplies at all levels.” Compared with the past, food is generally cheaper, safer, and more widely available in the US than it has ever been. Is it your argument that the apples available today are somehow “degraded” from the apples of the past? Is an onion today less nutritious than the onion of 1914?

    Moreover, your argument that the “food supply” causes widespread obesity removes agency and responsibility from individual consumers and eaters – you put all of the blame on other people. While food sellers and marketers do bear some blame, the individual consumer has plenty of power to combat their influence. That’s the point of the mindfulness argument – we are ultimately responsible for what we put in our bodies, and we need to exercise a little bit more control and mindfulness over what we eat.

  • Mandy

    You might be interested in the work of Ellyn Satter. She *is* a pediatric nutritionist and deals with establishing good habits and overcoming food-related issues. Knowing how to eat mindfully is one most of us don’t grow up with, and her work is about how to deal with kids and food in a way that everyone comes out the other side with balance and normalized attitudes towards food. Her seminal book is Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. For her, foods aren’t good or bad, but how we handle them shapes everything. It’s a very eye-opening thing to read.

  • Scott Dieter

    I agree with the emphasis on common sense as opposed to following fad diets, but let’s not let policymakers off the hook for perpetuating a system that makes it nearly impossible for those with fewer resources to have access to whole foods, regardless of how much common sense they have.

  • Rich

    Ken, Food today has much less nutritional value than the foods our parents ate. Here’s what Scientific American Magazine had to say about it: “It would be overkill to say that the carrot you eat today has very little nutrition in it—especially compared to some of the other less healthy foods you likely also eat—but it is true that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before.”

    Follow the money; from employers who don’t pay their employes livable wages to the government subsidized corporations who are getting fat selling cheap, well marketed crap to those at the lower economic level. This is not a issue of choice, it’s an economic and a moral issue. Don’t be a dumb ass Ken, we all share some responsibility in our society’s well being. A little research on your part might get you to rethink this issue.

  • NancyRing

    My husband was not a great eater when we were dating and first married – he never had buffalo wings or Bailey’s before me!! His first wife relied heavily on processed foods and he got used to it. Now he is happy to realize that most of those flavors are not appealing to him any longer! It was a mindful decision to start on my part, but now he is mindful on his own.
    Michael, not only do I love your blog, I love the blog’s community and everyone’s interesting insight and input!

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