Enjoying food more: a case study in third options

byMBlume8y16th Mar 201148 comments


This was originally going to be a comment on Zvi's excellent "How I Lost 100 Pounds Using TDT", but it ran rather long, so I expanded it to a top-level post. Hope no one minds.

The issue I took with Zvi's post was that there seemed to be a general assumption being made -- not just in the post, but in comments -- about improvements in health outcomes coming from sacrifices in food-related hedonic outcomes. This would make sense if we were all on some efficient frontier between nutrition and enjoyment of food. I think for most of us1 this is blatantly false.

So then, here are three steps aimed simply towards enjoying food more.2 Eat better food. Eat food you actually like. Pay attention when you eat. These steps may themselves mildly improve your health outcomes, but they are intended primarily to help you enjoy food. You can of course combine them with efficient trades between hedons and nutrition, and wind up doing drastically better for both.

Step one: Eat better food.

If you have spare time, learn to cook. Consider reading, among other things, Alicorn's very fine food blog (which she should update more, nudge nudge). If you have spare money, eat at nicer restaurants from time to time. Explore what's available in your city, and try to learn what you like.3

Learn what flavors you like. Eat less bland cheeses. Eat less bland meats. Learn about herbs and spices.

Step two: Eat more of what you actually like and less of what you suddenly want.

Liking is different from wanting. Sometimes you'll find yourself desperately wanting -- say -- a bag of cheetos. So you'll go right ahead and scarf down that bag of cheetos, and -- gosh dangit -- it won't actually be that satisfying at all. Pay attention to these experiences. Say to your brain next time "I know you want me to grab the bag of cheetos, but the record suggests that you're not going to release that much of a pleasure response when I do. Try not to cry wolf next time." At the end of the week, eat some really good cheesecake, or a steak, or something else that you in particular will deeply enjoy.

Step three: Actually pay attention to the food you do eat.

This is by far the most important step. Actually paying attention to experiences is not something humans do naturally. You blink, and the food in front of you is half gone, and you can hardly remember how it tasted because you were absorbed in a conversation with your friends, or you were eating at your desk while clumsily trying to type with your other hand, or walking down the street. Think (not while you're eating, that would be distracting) of how many bites of calorie-laden food you have swallowed, and metabolized, and never actually carefully tasted.

Don't do this. Especially don't do this if you are going to choose to eat moderately unhealthy food because it's delicious. Be focused. Be mindful. Devote specific mental attention to each flavor and each sensation as you bite and chew and swallow4.


These, then, are the three steps. Eat good food. Eat food you actually like. Actually pay attention to what you put in your mouth.



1: Mycroft's comment made roughly the point I'm making here. Also I'm going to specifically exempt Alicorn from this generalization.

2: I'm pretty sure much of this generalizes beyond food, an exercise I leave to the reader/to the commenters.

3: If you have neither spare time nor spare money, and you are not saving umpteen zillions of expected lives through your sacrifices...you're probably making a bit of a hash out of structuring your life (don't feel too bad -- most do!), and should just move to Australia already.

4: If the things I'm asking you to do in this last step do not sound like levers that you know how to pull in your brain, consider getting very heavily stoned on cannabis and then eating something you already enjoy.