Monday, June 21, 2010

Settling for Less

One of these is enough, and I don't have seconds. 32 calories of pleasure

In this day and age, I don't know how many people have seen or want to see the movie, “My Dinner with Andre”, but there is a scene in it that everyone with food issues can learn something from. Andre is talking about a great Scottish mathematician named Roc, and how he lived his life. He said:

“But Roc used to practice certain exercises, like for instance, if he were right-handed, all today he would do everything with his left hand, all day, eating, writing, everything: opening doors, in order to break the habits of living. Because the great danger he felt for him was to fall into a trance, out of habit. He had a whole series of very simple exercises that he had invented, just to keep seeing, feeling, remembering. Because you have to learn now. It didn't use to be necessary, but today you have to learn something like: are you really hungry or are you just stuffing your face because because that's what you do, out of habit. I mean, you can afford to do it, so you do it, whether you're hungry or not. You know, if you go to the Buddhist meditation center, they make you taste each bite of your food, so it takes two hours--it's horrible--to eat your lunch! But you're conscious of the taste of your food! If you're just eating out of habit, then you don't taste the food and you're not conscious of the reality of what's happening to you. You enter the dream world again.”

It is my feeling that one of the things that leads to overeating is that we don't taste every bite and often lapse into a state where we are not even aware of the food that we supposedly derive pleasure from. This was a lesson I learned about a year ago, and while I don't take two hours to eat my lunch, I am very careful to follow a certain procedure with any food which I am consuming specifically for pleasure. This procedure is what has allowed me to learn to incorporate treats into my daily life without overdoing it. If you really experience your food when you eat a treat, be it a savory or sweet one, you will find that you will be satisfied with less. I have written of this before, but I'm going to spell it out here in steps because I think it is valuable to practice.
  1. Serve yourself a very small portion of a food you adore but believe you can't eat because it is high in calories. My yardstick is no more than three bites. For chocolates, one piece, one mini or a bite size bar is generally about right.
  2. Hold the food close to your nose and inhale the fragrance of it at least twice. Really consider how good it smells. Think about how the aroma is a huge part of the pleasure of this food (this works very well with chocolate, baked goods, cookies).
  3. Sit the food down and pause for at least 10 seconds. Look at it and think about how much you're going to enjoy it. Do not cloud your thoughts with any negative thoughts about eating this food! Only think about the pleasure
  4. Bring the food to your mouth and take one small bite. Hold it in your mouth and focus on getting it to remain on your tongue for as long as you can enjoy the flavor. Think about the texture while you chew. When you must, swallow.
  5. Put the food back down again. Take a drink of water, tea, or whatever drink you enjoy with this particular food. Wait at least a minute before having the next bite. This gives your taste buds a chance to become a little sensitized to the taste again. If you take a bite too soon, they will be desensitized and you will not enjoy it fully.
  6. Bring the food to your mouth again and take another small bite and repeat the process of holding it on your tongue and enjoying the flavor as in step 4.
In Step 5, take care to notice whether or not the waiting period causes you anxiety. If it does, you probably are being compulsive about eating this food and need to place it in a healthier context. These exercises should help you eventually do that.

The point of this is to experience the food's pleasure. You may find that you have a compulsive desire to have more. I had this problem initially, but I would say to myself:
  1. More will not enhance the experience. In fact, more will diminish it because I won't taste it as strongly.
  2. Do I really want the experience of tasting more, or am I compulsively desiring more because I associate the experience of eating this food with fulfillment of an irrational “need” or desire to consume great quantities? Am I trying to prove I can do whatever I want and have the power to eat as much as I like?
  3. I will be able to enjoy it again tomorrow if I really want to experience it again. There is always the chance to enjoy any food again on another day and there is no need to gobble it all down at once.
  4. I will likely feel sick if I eat too much at once.
  5. I will feel guilty or like I failed if I eat more than planned and that will undermine any enjoyment I feel and create anxiety or stress which in turn cause me to want to overeat more.
  6. It is perfectly natural to want to eat as much of a really tasty food as I can find. It is part of my biological nature. However, I can suppress this nature in the interest of maintaining my desired weight as I suppress many other aspects of my nature. I am capable of this just as I am capable of not having sex with the first man who walks by when I'm aroused.
If you don't "trust" yourself, you can do these exercises by buying only a small amount of something at once or you can get someone in your family to ration one small serving and "hide" the rest from you. I never had to do this, but I can very much understand why others may need to have someone else help them initially.

This process is an exercise in sensitization, control and normalization. It sensitizes you to the taste and actual enjoyment of your food. It teaches you portion control, and it normalizes your relationship to types of food which you have an abnormal relationship with. In fact, I would encourage anyone who wants to do this to eat a small amount of a treat every single day (provided that you have no special dietary concerns or health issues that would preclude such a thing). Make the experience routine. You can look forward to it without guilt. You can make the most of it each time.

If you think you "can't" manage this, then you can see just how you have empowered food and how you have bought into the idea that some foods are "bad". This is not a helpful mindset nor something which will help you maintain weight in the future. The nice thing about this is that once you develop control at this level, it starts to generalize to other types of eating and food. I do this sort of purposeful tasting with my coffee, tea, and any sort of carbohydrates which I might consume mainly for enjoyment (potatoes, French bread). I enjoy mundane foods like eggs, wheat toast, and chicken more because of these purposeful eating techniques. It helps reduce portions of all foods which are not strictly instrumental.

I have found this sort of exercise immensely valuable in helping me maintain my eating plan, and I hope that it is of use to others as well. If it's not your kind of experience, then by all means do not attempt it, but I do feel that this is going to make it that much easier to maintain my weight in any circumstance in the future.

Note: Some people refer to "intuitive eating" as "mindful eating". To them, these are the same thing. To me, intuitive eating is relying on your body's satiety cues to tell you when to stop eating rather than using external methods like food counting and weighing. Most of the time, practitioners of intuitive eating also eat mindfully. I just wanted it to be clear that I don't use the terms as equivalents of one another, but other people do.

To me, "mindful eating" applies to extracting the maximum sensory pleasure from food and "intuitive eating" applies to both enjoying your food and attending to it as you eat as well as relying on your body to tell you when to start and stop eating. Intuitive eating encompasses a much broader lifestyle than "mindful eating" as I personally use it the term.


Cupboard Love said...

Wow, this is exactly what I've been looking for. Your breakdown of the process of enjoyment is pretty much exactly what I've been seeking.

Right now, I'm at the point where I can't have anything sweet or decadent because I can't stop at just one. So, I've cut everything out, but then I feel deprived. And then I binge because I felt deprived.

I'm going to try this. Today. At lunch. *fingers crossed*

Anonymous said...

Once again you offer some practical ideas with specific analysis about why a certain behavior may be helpful. This is exactly what I find lacking in most sources to which I have turned for help in the past. Thank you.

I enjoy a serving of chocolate almost every day, but there is a certain other kind of candy I have been afraid to purchase and have in the house, as if I would just go freaking insane or something in its mere presense? LOL. Not likely. I really don't go *insane*, and I also know that about myself. So this post made me smile. And helped me to see myself more rationally and lovingly.

Oh, and I want you to know that the freedom I feel since putting away the bath scale is wonderful. It was making me question myself and causing me a lot of pain. I like the idea of trusting my body. I am good to myself, nurturing, especially in regard to what I eat and how I move. That's what is important. I still track what I eat, one thing I can *control*, but I needed to make peace with not being able to control the outcome of my efforts.

If not for your blog, and your wise, kind, and gentle words of encouragement, I suspect I would still be struggling with that part of my weight loss transformation. After putting away the scale, I was finally able to really focus on other positive changes.

I am off all medications for the first time in ten years. My blood pressure is now normal. I no longer suffer from GERD. I sleep better than I have in 15 years. I look forward to my daily walks with my girl friend.

I do not think all these improvements came about as a direct result of weight loss. Rather, the weight loss and other changes came about because I have been able to care for myself with an intensity and focus and purpose that I was not able to muster before.

I think of you walking those sometimes-hostile streets where you live and feel angry that people are cruel to someone who is so kind and smart and wonderful. I'm really glad you decided to write a blog about your experiences with this challenging and life changing process.

It is a beautiful thing to behold.


-Maura said...

I just discovered your blog and I'm thrilled. You've got a fantastic - very real - way of looking at the journey I call weight management. Thanks for sharing your insights!

screaming fatgirl said...

Cupboard Love: Hello, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I used to have the same problem that you have been having - deprivation and binging because I would crave things I could not have. I know exactly what your are talking about. This technique of very mindful eating (and even now, it is not second nature to me and I have to carefully approach every treat with a prepared mind) has completely solved this problem. I sincerely hope it works for you, too! Just remember that it's okay to fail with this occasionally. Failure is part of the process, too (just as success is). Early on, there were times when I'd plan for one and have two or three small pieces, but I found in general that binging on large portions disappeared.

Rebecca: I'm so pleased to hear about your liberation from the scale. I really think not using it can increase confidence for some people, and that includes both of us. If that "certain kind of candy" is an issue, you may want to get your husband to ration it to you until you get control. I really do find that having it regularly breaks the spell. And, as always, thank you so much for your kind words about my blog.

Maura: Hi, and thank you also for your kind words. I'm guessing many new readers found me via Sara's blog when she linked to the "Obsession" post.

Rachel said...

This is a must-read for those interested in reconditioning their disordered eating. Thank you for spending the time to articulating and publishing your experiences. Your blog has quickly become a 'must read' for me. :)

screaming fatgirl said...

Rachel: Hi, and thank you for your comment. I really appreciate it!