Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Devaluing Food

One of my former coworkers once showed me a video of a birthday party for one of her adult siblings at her home. In the video, her family was serving up a chocolate cake and her sister was asked if she wanted a piece and said, "just a very tiny one." I asked my coworker if her sister said that because she was on a diet or being careful about her weight. The reply was that her sister simply had no serious interest in food and this had been the case for the sister's entire life.

I remember thinking that it was inconceivable to me that someone could have so little interest in food, particularly in chocolate and cake. I think this is yet another factor which influences people with weight problems to overeat. The pleasure they extract from food is higher than that of an average or underweight person. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the pleasure centers in a fat person's brain were lit up like a Christmas tree by the consumption of various foods and the bulbs quite a bit dimmer for those areas of an average weight person's brain.

This is an aspect of how I consider food which I have been working with for myself for quite some time. There's a fine balance to be reached between not exposing yourself to food which you find so good that it triggers a complete loss of control, and denying yourself pleasurable food entirely. If you eat foods which cause you to lose control, you fail. If you deprive yourself completely, you're all that more likely to fail because the denial will cause you to over-value the experience of having your pleasure centers stimulated by food you actually enjoy.

One of the reasons people are keen to start a diet after the holidays is that all of the copious consumption of treats during the season has resulted in a devaluation of such foods. They've had it for a long time and have lost their taste for it. After they diet for awhile, the deprivation makes the food seem more and more appealing.

That balance is different for each person because the "trigger" foods for each person vary, and everyone responds uniquely to denial. That being said, there is no doubt that not having something makes one feel that it is of greater value. That applies to everything, not just food. One of the reasons that some teenagers are so obsessed with sex is that they aren't having it. One of the reasons old married couples aren't as preoccupied with it (on average) is that they have had a lot of it and can have it any time they want.

When it comes to food, devaluing it is tricky. You can't have as much as you want or you won't lose weight, but if you completely deny yourself, you become obsessed with it and find it that much harder to succeed. This is why I talked about allowing indulgences in a former post. The mistake a lot of people make though is that they only indulge when in despair or after long periods of deprivation, or they choose to indulge in trigger foods where they lose all control.

For me, the balancing act comes from several sources, but the biggest one is to focus heavily on the experience of eating instead of cramming the food in my mouth and swallowing so that I can cram in the next one. The first bite of food is the best. Your taste buds aren't acclimated and the flavors or the most satisfying and intense. After that first bite, you are going to have seriously diminishing returns on the pleasure of subsequent bites.

A lot of overeating comes from mindless consumption. This is because eating is a compulsion for fat people rather than a conscious activity. Every bite of a treat or indulgence should be a fully conscience one. If you're not concentrating on the taste, texture, and smell of the food, then you're not really having an indulgence for the experience of the food. You're acting on your compulsion. I try to close my eyes when I have something I am eating for pleasure and really experience it, and I try not to eat more than 3 bites at a time. If I want more, I can go back later. The food isn't going anywhere and I may get another new burst of flavor after giving it a rest, or I may find that I don't need the experience again on that particular day.

I don't rule out eating anything I want to eat, but I don't eat everything I might want to eat. It may be a type of psychological trickery, but knowing that I can having anything I want any time I want rather than putting up walls between myself and desirable food stops me from obsessing on it and assigning it greater value. This may not work for everyone, but it is working for me.