How 20 Minutes Can Change Your Life

Especially in today’s fast paced lifestyle, delayed gratification isn’t in vogue. It’s more the opposite, instant gratification, ADD style that our constantly wired lives encourage.

I was reminded of this during a recent visit from my brother. His passion is good food and wine, and the mostly annual vacations we take (he remained in London, while I moved to California, so it’s our way of spending time together), typically consist of elaborate planning and eventual enjoyment around eating.

I have significant dietary restrictions which govern my food choices- high fat, low carbohydrate, small portions of healthy balanced meals throughout the day – while he makes choices based upon other criteria, like taste!

From both habit and a metabolism that supports a very light breakfast and lunch, he saves around 75% of his daily nutritional intake until dinner. I know from the thousands of meals we’ve shared over the years the challenge I face in speaking up and making a case for needing to eat earlier than he typically does, because of my own altered food needs, while addressing the later-dining European style, with the earlier-supper U.S. But these days, as I remind myself, my health is more important than his preferences, so we navigate this new territory of what and when to eat for supper so everyone’s content.

Difficult breakfast time

It’s not that he’s unsympathetic to my different relationship to food. He just relates to it based upon different, and dare I suggest, more common criteria. For me, within the controlled environment of my home and life, being tempted by “harmful” foods is no longer an issue. Carbohydrates just aren’t to be found!

Brother arrives, and the first thing we do is dutifully visit Whole Foods (his avowed spiritual home in California). Unpacking the purchases, out come the high-end crackers essential with delicate creamy French cheeses, fresh pasta, artisan sourdough bread, quality chips for the guacamole. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth, but loves both fresh and dried fruits. While I want him to have the food he enjoys, and take delight in his pleasure with the excellent choice the foodie-driven Bay Area has to offer, inwardly I prepare for the challenges I anticipate from having some of my most missed foods sitting in the kitchen.

How to be in the presence of someone eating “forbidden” foods 

I’m especially mindful of which of the senses incurred in eating trips me up the most. It’s hearing crunching! For others, it might be the smell or thought of certain foods.

Personally, with very poor taste and smell, texture has now become hugely important. In particular, anything crunchy or crispy holds great appeal. Anticipating that my cravings will be triggered through listening to my brother crunch his toast, or scoop up guacamole (which I can eat) with crispy chips (which I can’t but would like to), I prepared to take care of myself in 2 main ways.


1. I ensure that I’m not only full, but 20 minutes have passed since I ate. This is easiest to do at breakfast as I was up earlier. By eating first, I was able to check in with my sense of being satiated by the time my brother ate. Many of you are aware of my particular weakness for bread. (If not, I write about it here and again in this post.)

Why 20 minutes?

It takes that length of time for the hormone leptin to give us the “full” sensation after eating. By the time he was enjoyably crunching his sourdough toast, I focused upon my feeling of being full, and noticed how it lessened any temptation.

I learnt that being full made it easier to bear a trigger, in this case the sound of his crunching!

2. In order to deal with the trigger of hearing the (loud) crunching, I used the mindfulness approach of silently noticing to myself… hearing is happening, hearing… hearing.

In this way, I directed my attention to knowing that hearing was occurring (the sound of crunching). By letting my attention then move onto the physical sensation of “fullness”, any cravings or urges to eat toast faintly hovered and dissolved quickly when attention wasn’t sustained. Doing so only embellishes the thought or storyline, which in turn would trigger the emotion of wanting or craving. In the way that everything is impermanent, my urge quickly passed, not satiated, even as the crunching lasted longer!

A technique taught in mindfulness practice is to note internally the “activity” of the sense which is dominant. In this example, hearing the crunch was the dominant phenomenon being received. This is particularly helpful with those pesky urges.

Noting it reminded me that it was impermanent, a sound being received briefly by my ears.

By not elaborating the storyline that my mind could have seamlessly gone to, “it’s not fair…he gets to eat toast…maybe a small slice…just this once…poor me…I miss it SO much”, I was able to be present but remain free of cravings and temptations.

Filed under: Diet, Mindfulness


  1. Miguel says:

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I appreciate the descriptive insight into your thought processes. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease last year and also resorted to meditation to help me overcome the cravings of restricted foods, however, I have relied solely on the knowledge of impermanence (a.k.a. “waiting out”) the physical manifestations of hunger and craving. Occasionally however, this feels more like “white-knuckling” than mediation practice, so, thank you for offering a guided tour of your thought processes to help ease the grip of food temptation!

    • admin says:

      Miguel, Thanks for your comment. Your perspective underscores the general wisdom with this important but often overlooked precursor to behavior, the mindset that can determine our actions. It’s gratifying for me to feel that readers like yourself really get my attempts to externalize my thought processes in the hope that others become clearer, and feel encouraged. May you be well and live with your condition with ease.

  2. Skip Pettit says:

    NIce articie–enjoyed your insights–Food consumes me!!! A SERIOUS Challenge as I love to eat–anything!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Skip. We’re supposed to be consumed by food, our survival depends upon it! Although we survive better if we do the actual consuming, and with a great deal of thoughtfulness!

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