Someone asked me recently how I learned to eat until I was ‘just satisfied.’ Hmm. For the longest time I thought that any sort of eating should end with my pants unbuttoned, a few heaving sighs, and a three hour nap. Me telling my mom I needed to lie down in the back seat on the way home from the restaurant. “Jesus. Please drive fast.”
First, I must say this: there is a natural desire in all of us to experience pleasure, in all senses. When your dining companion is a Boston cream cupcake, it would be rude to not engage it. To lick the cream, take a bite of the tender-crumbed cake, and then swipe your finger through the dark chocolate ganache. Then shove the whole thing in your mouth. And look for another.
Delicious food is as emotionally decadent as it tastes. A pizza pie hits every pleasure receptor on the first slice and the third slice. The key is to notice that after you’ve eaten to capacity, to gentle satisfaction, you’re just chasing a taste. Trying to relive that excitement and pleasure from the first few bites.
People who habitually overeat, as I did for the first two decades of my life, are chasing a feeling. A flavor that doesn’t get any better, or any stronger, when it’s supersized. Trust me. I spent twenty years eating for every reason under the sun, the least important being hunger. I came to love that feeling of full. Those first few moments when you can really sense that your belly has reached it’s limits. You begin to picture your stomach, stuffed and puffed, like a whoopie cushion. I loved that.
Here’s the honest truth: I don’t think I really got in touch with my hunger and fullness cues until I had lost all 135 lbs. Sure, I started to realize that eating shouldn’t require elastic waist pants every time, and that I should stop after 2 slices of pizza, but it was just that: a “should.” My ideas about my body’s intuition were narrow and limited. I knew that losing weight probably meant that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything and everything in sight and that if I wanted to learn the art of normal eating, I’d have to get a hold of portions and practice moderation. It worked.
I retrained my brain. Reconfigured my plate, because truthfully I didn’t know that a small pizza wasn’t always “individual,” and that a Lunchable wasn’t a square meal. They really get you with that packaging, don’t they? Lucky Charms would have had me believe it was part of my complete and balanced breakfast. I learned later that this notion could be true if I removed the Lucky Charms part.
When you’re losing as much weight as I was, and good Lord that was a lot, all of your eating sensations are new. You come to think that the gentle tingling of hunger is par for the course. So when I lost all 135lbs, I visited a nutritionist to ask her one simple question: “How the Hell do I stay here?”
She told me to begin to listen to my body. Wait, the same body that likes to microwave a bag of Extreme Butter popcorn alongside a half stick of butter and then combine the two? Hmm.
I realized she was right. A few paid sessions later, I was on my own. Sure that if I was going to live a full and happy and un-obsessed life, I’d have to find balance. A number on the scale that allowed for a cupcake with my mom, an office cookie on Tuesday afternoon, and a handful of Cape Cod chips with my sandwich. Because, really, what’s a sandwich otherwise? I penned my own convictions. My eating manifesto.
The key to eating to satisfaction of mind, body, and spirit…is staying present. Absolutely and unfailingly aware of the moment you are in, and not the one five minutes ago or ten minutes ahead. Just being and accepting that all you have is the here and now. That food will always be there, whether you eat one slice of pizza, half a cupcake, or two candy bars, the food is not leaving the universe. Contrary to how it might lead you to think otherwise, one slice of pecan pie really is as satisfying as two. Let me walk you through an eating experience to illustrate my point:
It’s Monday night at 7:30. I’m with Daniel at a little Italian nook up the block from my home. I take in my surroundings. The sun is just low enough to cast that sideways orange spotlight on the sidewalk, to create shadows under the umbrella on our table for two. Breeze. When my food arrives, I marvel at it. A round of dough, spread with crushed tomato sauce, melted blobs of fresh buffalo mozzarella, sprigs of fresh basil. It is an Italian flag in color. My excitement is equal to, if not greater than, the night of my first prom. I lift a slice onto my small plate. I bring the plate to my nose just to really breathe that freshness. As if inhaling the fumes of hot garlic and olive oil will make my insides glow. It works. I take a bite. I leave the food on my tongue just a few seconds without chewing to fully embrace that first kiss of taste. I’m happy. I bite and chew, bite and chew, embracing every note of flavor, every subtle nuance of texture. I pause after a bite. I talk to Daniel about the food like it’s the only thing we have left in this world. We laugh, we grunt and “mmm” and “aaahhh” because good food feelings should be shared aloud. Eating is joyous. Don’t hold back. I remain in that precise moment and sense my body. How do I feel physically? What does my stomach have to say other than “Hot Damn!”? I begin another slice. I put the pizza down between some of the bites to sip my seltzer with lime. I finish that slice. I pause to tell Daniel a story about a dog I met that day, the one who sat on my foot for a rest. We laugh. At that moment, I realize that I’ve had all I want and need from this meal. I smile thinking about how much I enjoyed the taste. It will be here for me when I want it again, and so I push my plate away. There’s no “last supper” to furiously inhale. Pizza is always a block away.
Be in that moment. Go out to eat and eat with every sense. Realize that the food isn’t going anywhere and that your body, whether or not you are tuned into that station, is radio’ing to you all the time. You know when you’ve had enough to satisfy you. Trust that. Trust that you’re not a wild beast, who cannot be left to roam freely in food territory. You are the only you in the world, and you can eat what you please, enjoy it, and not fear it. Contrary to what may feel like fact, you will not eat with abandon until you are 400 pounds, so long as you stay present and mindful of what your body wants, needs, and tells you about satisfaction. Life is worth believing that.