Mark Twain offered some unusual advice – that you should start your day by eating a live frog, because after that, nothing else will seem as bad.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
A number of people have adopted this idea as a productivity tool. Not to literally eat a live frog, but to start out doing the hardest or most anxiety-producing item on their to-do list.
The idea is that if you don’t, you’ll be dreading the task all day – and you may never get around to it at all. Maybe you’ve even done this. For instance, I think a lot of people follow this approach for exercise.
But I recently read another article that suggests this is bad advice. Since your early morning mindset impacts the rest of your day, if you start off with something unpleasant, you’ll be in a bad mood and less productive later on. So the author suggested having cake for breakfast instead. Again, not literally, but to do something you enjoy that will motivate you.
But since they’re not talking about actual frogs or cake, does this apply to mindful eating?
Yes, it does.
Consider. Have you ever forced yourself to eat something you don’t actually like, just because you think you should eat it? I have, and if you’re like me, you may find that it backfires.
One problem with this is feeling resentful. It’s not fun to make yourself do something unpleasant. Every now and again may be okay, or if you know you won’t have to do it for long. For instance, taking medicine or undergoing certain medical treatments.
Or if you can see a benefit before too long, such as with certain exercises that make you stronger or allow you to do something else you really want.
And admittedly, some foods are an acquired tasted. It may take a few attempts to see if you like it or not.
What makes eating different from other activities, though, is that you have to eat to live. It’s not something you can just stop if you decide to. Forcing yourself to eat foods out of “should” sets up an antagonistic relationship to food. And it can have a negative impact on your overall eating experience.
Plus, you’ll likely want to follow up by eating something you do like, to get that bad taste out of your mouth.
Except since you’ve already eaten, by the time you get to what you like, you won’t be as hungry. This means you won’t enjoy your preferred food as much, because things taste better when you’re hungry.
This also means you’re likely to overeat, since you might still eat the tasty food even if you’ve already had enough. This is why I don’t like the rule about not getting any dessert until you clean your plate. It doesn’t send a good message about noticing when your body is satisfied.
Then there’s the mental component. If you’re eating something you don’t like, you’re much more likely to disconnect and eat mindlessly.
I do understand the idea behind the “live frog” approach and not wanting to have the unpleasant thing hanging over your head.
But again, actual food is a bit different. We have so many choices in our culture, it seems like anyone could find something they like that’s relatively nutritious. Especially since when you’re being mindful, your body will tell you what it needs – and odds are, that food will taste good to you.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should rush out and have cake for breakfast. Or start every meal with dessert. (But if you do, I promise not to judge – after all, starting with dessert is something I do at times.)
What I would suggest is starting off your meals with a few bites of the part you most like. Or if you’re going to have dessert, leave some room so you’ll still be a little hungry for it – and then you can fully appreciate it.
The bottom line is, eating things you like will help keep your relationship to food a healthy one. And it’s far more likely to be mindful.
So here’s to finding the foods that work for you. And to leaving live frogs in their natural habitat.