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Why do you cut the ends off the ham?

By Michelle May, M.D.

When I was writing the article, Are your unexamined beliefs driving your unwanted behaviors?, I was reminded of a story I heard three or four decades ago. This funny story stuck with me because it represents the power of the messages we internalize without question. I don’t remember it exactly, but here is my version.

There was a favorite family recipe for a holiday ham that had been passed down through the generations. As the mother was making the ham for the umpteenth time, she was teaching her newly married daughter how to make the ham.

She carefully cut both ends off the ham, set it in the pan, and added the secret combination of spices. Her daughter who was taking notes, asked “Why do you cut off the ends?” Her mother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.” Later, the mother began to wonder why they cut off the ends so she asked her mother. The grandmother answered, “Because that is how my mother taught me to do it.” The grandmother then wondered too so she asked her elderly mother. The great grandmother replied, “You don’t need to cut off the ends! I always did that because my old oven was too small for a big pan.”

This little story packs a big lesson: our unexamined beliefs affect our decisions and in some cases, drive ineffective results. Mindfulness guides us to notice and become curious about our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. That is the first step to changing them if we want to.

In the comments below, please share a belief you have about food or eating that you’d like to change.


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Becky Fisher says:

    I’m very aware of and have examined this belief but have not yet been able to move past it:
    I need to eat now because it will be inconvenient to eat later (I’ll be at work, or driving, or in a meeting …)

    • This reminds me of when I was a little girl and our family was going on a car trip… my mother would “make me” go to the bathroom, even when I insisted I didn’t need to go. She would even run water and tell me how inconvenient it would be to stop to go later. Although it is easier to eat when you’re not hungry than it is to go to the bathroom when you don’t need to, in a way, it is the same thing!

      The key then is to think through how to time your meals and choose the types and amounts of food that match your schedule. See the problem solving section of this article: https://amihungry.com/articles/hunger-doesnt-follow-a-clock/ for ideas.

      Thanks for sharing Becky!

  2. Mickey Gibson says:

    Here’s my newly-examined belief about food: “Wastefulness is wrong, and (at after-dinner cleanup) there’s just this little bit left in the pot. It’s too small to save for a serving, so I’ll avoid waste and eat it.”
    This is one that’s been really difficult for me to break, having learned it from my Great Depression-era grandmother. I’ve found myself taking a deep breath and forcing those small leftovers down even though I know I’m quite full. Because it’s a moral issue for me, it carries tremendous weight– and so will I if I let it continue. So I keep very small storage containers around and save the little bit (it makes a great snack later) or I take the same deep breath and let it go into the sink disposal, vowing to do better next time.

  3. Bron says:

    Mindful eating for children. So many children are forced to eat food they don’t like or finish food when they are full. I would like to see people become more educated as to the importance of helping children develop mindful eating habits. I think they are some of the best at being mindful but it is drilled out of them by adults who don’t know how to eat mindfully.

  4. Pauka says:

    About a week or so ago I came up against a false belief of mine. I was telling myself that I HAD to eat junk food in the car during my road trips, since all I had to eat was food from convenience stores (gas stations) I realized that that just isn’t true- first of all I don’t really have to stop at convenience stores (although they call them convenience stores for a reason) and could do a grocery store/restaurant instead. But often times convenient stores offer salads, boiled eggs, juice etc. Or I could bring my own snacks from home. Utimately it still my choice as to what I want to eat. But I was acting like it I didn’t have a choice.

  5. Sandra says:

    One of my beliefs is that I am not good enough because I am fat. I feel like a failure in life because I am fat.

    • That is a painful belief to hold in life, isn’t it? Some people cling to this belief, thinking that it will motivate them to change but it doesn’t. Instead, it just hurts and adds to the triggers for emotional eating. While it is not easy, learning to accept yourself as you are is a good starting point. You might find it helpful to look on the web for body positive and Health at Every Size movements for information and support. Thanks for sharing.

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