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Savouring Life through the Five Senses

Sunday, February 26, 2012

DDORN comments that it's impossible to "overdo" savouring life: and yeah, that's right! But: he got me thinking (thanks, Don).

Because it's very possible to overdo savouring food. And it seems to me that when we overdo savouring food, we impede our ability to savour all the other aspects of life that our sense perceptions make available to us.

Sight, sound, scent, touch, taste: all huge potential sources of pleasure.

Given that excess indulgence in food causes fat, however, it's amazing to consider that taste itself appears to be one of the least developed of our senses. Really. We've got just five basic elements of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the most recently identified "umami" or "meatiness" or "savouriness" itself. We don't even crave sour or bitter all that much; in our course of human evolution, many sour or bitter reactions seem to have signalled that the "food" tried was not good for us . . . potentially poisonous. To be spat out.

So if taste is so relatively simple, even crude in comparison to our other sense capacities, why do food cravings cause us so much trouble? Maybe because pleasure in eating also involves all of the other four senses.

The sight of food: that cheesy "pull" in a pizza commercial, for example. Or how often do we have this kind of experience: I've decided not to have dessert, I'm not even hungry after the first course until I see the . . . . cupcakes with their swirls of icing and the cherry on top on the buffet. And then I put one in my mouth anyhow. Plus . . . yeah, the cheesecake looks good too, why not?? We are bombarded with actual food options and visual representations of a huge huge range of foods. All the time. And it's not trays of crudites or pictures of carrots and turnips which cause us problems.

Then there's the sound of food. We can experience such a huge range of sounds. How many irresistible snacks are all about crunchiness? Potato chips, pretzels . . . Or slurpiness? Gravy on chips, hot fudge sauce on a sundae . . . . All those sounds heard intimately inside our heads. With every bite and every smack and every slurp. (Listening to other people eat? Not so pleasurable, somehow!! So maybe I'll crawl off and eat all of this stuff by myself. In secret. No one will ever know, right?)

And the scent of food: deeply linked to memory and to emotion. When you're selling a house, you're advised to have just had bread baking in the oven prior to "show time" because the smell of fresh bread means "home". Proust knew how important scent was to the enjoyment of food; his famous madeleines! We have some 368 olfactory sensors, apparently . . . many fewer than our dogs of course!. People who have lost their ability to smell generally lose a lot of their ability to taste as well. But I have not. My nose works just great. Bet yours does too. And so the smell of chocolate cookies; the smell of BBQ wings: yeah. Gotta avoid these. (Interesting, however, that no one has developed a perfume based on BBQ wings or even baking bread!! Not yet!)

And then there's the touch of food, and this one is really complex. So complex that it's almost impossible to articulate.

Most obviously there is the texture of food: smoothness, or crispness, an infinite array of textures, all picked up by the pressure sensors in your mouth and throat.

There's the temperature of food: icy cold icecream, hot comforting stew. And the other kind of temperature: namely, food's relative spiciness (cayenne) or coolness (mint).

We experience through touch the "gulp" or acceleration of food down the gullet: that glug glug glug of an extra large Coke. We continue to experience food's touch through the "kinesthetic sense" of where the food is located in your body after you've decided to eat it: the mouth, throat, stomach (that craving to be "full", even "overfull"),

And yeah . . . . down the rest of the path. Not generally contemplated while in the moment of eating, actually!! Not contemplated either: the kinesthetic experience of overeating several hours later, even tomorrow. When there will be all the internal body sensations relating, I suppose, to "balance" -- not so much the teetering on one foot kind of balance but chemical balance. Or imbalance. We know when we ate too much salt yesterday and feel totally bloated from water retention. Or too much sugar so our teeth are still aching . . . Or too much fat, so that our guts are clenching. Food hangovers.

And after weeks and months and years of excessive indulgence in food, we know all too well the gross bodily discomfort -- touch again -- of the obesity which inevitably results. Of bellies hanging over waistbands, red-ridged at the end of the day. Of too-tight collars.

With obesity triggered by excess indulgence of taste, urged on by all the other senses (sight, sound, scent, touch) we're right back to integrated sense experience again. And not in a good way.

No need to glance in the mirror to know that overweight doesn't look good. And even if you manage to avoid the mirror, there's no avoiding the condemnatory gaze all around a fat person. Yup, the snide glances of loved ones and even strangers confirm it. . . Undisciplined indulgence of taste has visually unappealing results.

Obesity is not very appealing to the ears either. Thighs chafing together: we can hear 'em, can everyone else hear 'em too? Buttons popping. Seams splitting.

Obesity is not very appealing to the nose. We apply the deodorant, whoosh on the after-bath powders, spray the perfumes: and still worry excess weight might not smell good. We fear offending others with those whiffs from those body folds . . . .

Above all, obesity is not appealing to the touch. Since our bodies don't feel good to us, we're pretty sure our bodies won't feel good if someone else wants to touch 'em either . . . and of course resign ourselves to the reality that this is increasingly unlikely to occur anyhow.

So I'm thinking that for me, the best method of savouring life is to savour hunger. Some hunger. The hunger that signals I'm really going to enjoy my next meal, and that I'm not overeating.

When I savour hunger I put food in its place. I isolate taste, giving taste its fair due. Enjoy every bite when it's time to eat. But taste will get no more than its fair due. I won't eat too much because it looks good, sounds good, smells good and feels good. I will stop when it's time to stop.

And instead, I will savour sight, sound, scent and touch in all their non-food contexts. Of which life offers infinite possibilities.

Sight. Light on snow. No calories.

Sound. Chickadees in the cedars. No calories.

Scent. The perfume of my white freesias. No calories.

Touch. Touching. Being touched. The kinesthetic pleasure of a fit body in motion.

Hey, motion. That would actually be burning calories. Right??

Life is to be savoured. And I'm going to overdo the savouring of all life's savourable moments. All of 'em. As much as possible!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Savouring life? I like that.
    2185 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Love your blog.
    One thing that has helped me get through former desires is to think about the fat content, that usually squashes any desire. There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread though... I'll have to work on that.
    Your awareness is enlightening.
    2186 days ago
    Love the contexts! Here's to savoring life!
    2186 days ago
  • SWAZY33
    Our priest yesterday spoke about very similar topic. Temptations are all around and we need to make smart choices... he asked the children sitting aroung the altar to choose from pictures ei...a potato or potato chips? Of course the majority choose the chips because if the perception in the media/ads of the salty crunchy yumminess...he suggested to *pause first* and think what your body truly needs before indulging in temptations that are all around us!
    2186 days ago
    Very well written. TG was absolutely right in talking about how good your blogs are! This makes a whole lot of sense - thanks for bringing it to my attention.


    an> emoticon

    2186 days ago
    I loved this, once again. Your comment about the sounds of eating -- slurping, chomping, etc. -- made me cringe just thinking about it. I HATE loud eaters! And I hate commercials with eating sounds -- I flip the station or turn off whatever the offending medium is.

    You mentioned that being obese doesn't feel good, so you can't imagine hugging an obese person feels good. You know, I've never minded hugging an obese person, although hugging my husband at his lighter weight feels so much better than when he was heavier. But the comment brought back a memory of hugging a female friend in high school, feeling nothing but bones under her shirt, and being completely repulsed, as if I had just hugged a cadaver.

    I suppose even savouring hunger can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. But you're not promoting that at all -- you're promoting savouring life, and I like that!
    2186 days ago
    Sadly, modern culture and advertising have
    disconnected us from the real joy that comes from
    eating real foods. The intent of food companies is to
    highjack the pleasure centers in our brains that are
    there to encourage us to find and nourish ourselves
    for survival. The end result is excess consumption of
    manufactured non-foods which lead to obesity and
    our modern health crisis. Real joy in eating is lost
    along with good health and fitness.

    I only eat foods I truly enjoy and completely savor.
    I deeply, mindfully eat each meal with profound
    gratitude for the pleasure and the health of these
    foods. A warm bowl of steel-cut oats with plump
    blueberries, a hot bowl of homemade soup, or
    gorgeous juicy raspberries delight my senses,
    stimulates my brain pleasure centers, and satisfies
    my stomach hunger.

    I have reprogramed my brain to actually crave
    healthy foods. Now that I am in maintenance, I have
    discovered that my old fears wrapped round eating
    are mostly gone which allows me to even enjoy food

    And when I have finished eating, I am free to focus
    on the rest of my life liberated from any obsession
    with food. It is truly about finding harmony and
    balance in every area of our lives. Joy is the
    core of our being however we choose to express

    2186 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/26/2012 5:36:47 PM
    In connection with over-emphasis on food preventing us from savoring other things . . . I have found this to be true of myself. Through the Beck Diet Solution I was able to begin a planned approach to eating and get some control over it, with God's help. With food out of the picture for a few hours (No choice, no choice) I was amazed at how I started noticing other joys around me. It becomes a positive cycle : waking up to enjoy many other things makes me less obssessive about food, which opens me to enjoying many other things . . .

    Thanks for your insights and observations!!
    2186 days ago
    Great perspective!
    2186 days ago
    You always give me so much to think about. It's the "stop and smell the roses" moments that make our lives special.

    And now, I'm wondering if other creatures savour food, or life - thinking of the cat who sleeps in the sun, the dog who chases waves, the hawk floating on currents of air.
    2186 days ago
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