We all say we love food and that’s why we eat so much, right? I’d even go so far as to call myself a “foodie,” though I’m not sure what the word really means. I think about food a lot. I’d even call eating one of my obsessions – or a passion, when I’m being kind.
But recently I was reminded that it’s not all about the food.
I just came back from spending four days in NYC. Los Angeles and New York vie for the number, variety and excellence of their vegan restaurants. My wife and I ate at two of the top gourmet restaurants in the country, not just the city. From our mid-town location, we had restaurants (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) literally blocks away. I don’t know how I fit it in, but I remember adding cookies and scones that I don’t usually have room for. It was a four day eating extravaganza (frenzy?). Monday morning I weighed myself and was not surprised (ok, a little, I did think we might have walked off a few calories) to see I’d gained three and a half pounds (which I suppose I’m happy about since a few years ago it would have been four to seven).
And then I panicked. Which I shouldn’t have since this happens every vacation. But then I went back to my tried-and-true method of taking off what I gained.
All that frantic and delightful eating was, for me, mostly because IT WAS THERE. At the tip of my fork… and really delicious. And I love food, right? The first night we ate a four-course dinner but didn’t feel so great the next day, so after that we skipped a course and began sharing the appetizers and dessert. And ordered a salad for lunch. But, speaking for myself, all those extra desserts, the huge portions … I was eating as if I would never see good food again.
Like so many people, I have been on dozens of diets. Not the crazy ones but the big-name ones: Weight Watchers, South Beach, the Zone, all of Oprah’s diets. I’ve counted calories, grams, fat, carbs. But dieting is not only unsustainable, it keeps us from eating what we want. I wanted my cake and eat it, too.
Then a few years ago, my friend, Julie, Zumba instructor extraordinaire, suggested a book called Eating Awareness Training by Mollie Groger. Molly’s thesis is that as much as we say we love food, we’re eating for all kinds of other reasons than the food itself. But (hooray) she said we didn’t have to do all the psycho analysis to figure out the reasons why … just stop eating so much. And gave the reader four rules or ways to do that:
1. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. Not when you are frustrated or angry or need something to do, or when it’s your usual time to eat. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY. You’ll soon know when that is and it won’t matter what time of day or night it is.
2. TAKE YOUR FOOD TO THE TABLE AND EAT IT WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTIONS. This is the hardest one, the hardest pattern to break. No TV, no reading (not even the back of the cereal box, not your mail, and definitely not your email. This way you solely pay attention to what you are eating. No snacking standing up, either. Go to the table.
3. TAKE A BITE, CHEW IT THOROUGHLY (I’d even go so far as to say, savor it), DON’T TAKE ANOTHER BITE OR EVEN QUEUE IT UP, UNTIL YOU’VE SWALLOWED THIS ONE. Put your hands on the table or on your lap. This will drive you crazy at first but it purposefully slows you down. Enjoy your food and talking to any eating companion(s).
4. STOP WHEN THAT HUNGER YOU EXPERIENCED IS SATIATED. Not when you’ve finished every morsel on your plate. You can finish what you left another time. You’ll have lots of left-overs and save a lot of money on food.
Even though you can eat whatever you want and whenever you are hungry, this is, admittedly, very hard to do! We’re so used to eating mindlessly and in huge quantities. But you do get used to it and oh, how you feel good after each meal. I’ve now lost the weight I put on.
Yes, of course, certain foods are better for you than others, but as far as gaining or losing weight, It’s all about volume and paying attention. Try to eat without your phone or the TV. I guarantee you’ll finish eating quickly because … what you really want to do is read your mail, or talk to your friends or watch that show. It takes us only minutes to fill our stomachs (which, in reality, are only about a fist in size but able to stretch 10 fold!). The rest is … we’re bored, or angry or hurt or watching the game or eating something a loved one made for us … or it’s just there!
You can’t have your cake (and watch TV) and not gain weight. What? It’s gone? I want another piece. I’m still hungry.
The truth is I’ve read this book three times. Groger insists you practice all the “rules” one week at a time so you can get used to sitting down to eat, thinking about your food, figuring out when you’re hungry. These are habits that have to be developed.
Once again I am learning to appreciate the food I am eating. Even to savor it.
My body is worth it. And so is yours. We only have one. And only one chance to learn how to treat it right.
We can have our cake and eat it, too. Just slowly, with gusto. And take home the left-overs.