Friday, July 9, 2010


My birthday is coming up in the not too distant future, and like most people, I have been thinking about how to "celebrate" and that means food. Many people view these times as ones in which to indulge and let themselves off the hook for a day. Last year, as my birthday rolled around and I was about 3 months into altering my relationship with food, I also thought I'd allow some indulgences. What happened ended up being a surprise.

I had planned to eat some small portions of cake and ice cream. I had no intention of going overboard. I just figured I'd buy the equivalent of a half slice of cake and one scoop of ice cream. I also thought I'd have a special, though modestly portioned, dinner and not worry about the calories overall. I figured that I'd probably be at no more than 2500 calories if I ate a few extra rich foods in moderation, and I figured that'd be okay.

When the day rolled around, I didn't end up caring that much about the food aspect at all (even though I did nothing special to celebrate and just relaxed around my home). I had about a scoop of ice cream, maybe a bit less, that I found buried in our freezer. I didn't have a special dinner or cake, and I didn't really care. It wasn't that I was trying to "be good" or suppressing any desires to enjoy more or less nutritious food. It ended up being the case that the food wasn't important enough to me to go to any trouble to obtain it. If it had been around, I might have eaten more, but in the end, I didn't care enough. It ended up being the case that thinking about having special things was a bigger deal than actually having them.

This year, my "plan" is essentially the same, but it may end up being the case again that I will be too indifferent to go to the trouble to acquire anything special. I want to buy small portions of a few things I don't normally eat and I'm not going to worry about the calories, but I don't anticipate that I'll overeat by much or at all. One of the things that I realized this year as I planned this is that I actively do not want large portions of treat foods anymore. If I were given the option of a big portion of ice cream or cake, I wouldn't want that much.

The reason for this is not because I've grown into some paragon of food virtue. It's not because my stomach has shrunk from a year of reduced portions so that I can't eat larger portions (though it has shrunk so I get full faster, and would likely feel sick if I ate larger portions). This is the consequence of the mindful eating process. It takes so much time and effort to concentrate on every bite of food and fully attend to eating it that I find it tedious to eat more than 3 or 4 bites at most of any food which I'm consuming for pleasure. The fact of the matter is that it gets boring eating a lot of a sweet if one has it in great quantity when you are eating slowly, pausing, and paying attention to the experience to the maximum extent possible.

I know I prattle too much about "mindful eating" but it has had a significant impact on how I eat. One thing I realized thinking about my birthday besides the fact that I really just want a few bites of sweets to celebrate is that it has created a clear mental divide for me between compulsive eating which is done for the psychological satisfaction of mindlessly shoveling food into my body and the pleasure of food. The existence of the latter does not mean that I never feel compelled to do the former. It just means that I the blurred line between these two types of eating has become quite clear and sharp. I think for many people, myself included, it's very hard to separate eating spurred on by psychological compulsion and that which is done for pleasure. We think food is our medication of choice because we love it, and we do enjoy it immensely, but it's not always eating out of love of food nor is it always eating out of compulsion.

I can no longer say that I ever eat a lot because "I love food". I eat a little when I'm loving food. I eat a lot when I'm hating myself. The motives for eating are entirely different. Eating small amounts to gratify a sensory need for food is a joy. Eating large amounts to relieve anxiety or drown out bad feelings is a problem.

Being able to separate these two types of eating is extremely helpful in stopping the problem eating because it is not about the food at all. It's about me, my motives, and my actions. This is a major step for me in a mental process whereby I separate food from my psychological issues. It's part of why I don't have "trigger" foods which I binge on anymore. Recognizing that it's not the food itself but my feelings, compulsions and habits unloads that gun.

I can't say with any certainty that I'll never ever eat compulsively again, but I feel better being aware of what drives that desire and that it isn't getting all mixed up in a love or enjoyment of food. It's not that I'm weak in the face of tasty food and just can't stop. It's that I have a need that I'm trying to fulfill which is unrelated to the food. Recognizing this will give me the opportunity to attend to that need in a more constructive way, and hopefully break the unhappy relationship between my psychological pain and food.


Fat Grump said...

Interesting post SFG, and something that I, despite my recent whining, can relate to.

It's interesting that we associate special occasions with food, and natural too I suppose, given that when we sit around the table on such days - ones marked on the calendar, we know we are going to indulge in something special - to celebrate.

I completely agree that 'special' foods, and food treats begin to lose their appeal. Ages ago I decided not to eat puddings when I went out for meals, because one spoonful of what my daughter was having was all I needed. Any more was just sickly and too sweet and I reached that conclusion on the basis of having one spoonful, knowing I could have more if I wanted it. I am tempted by foods still..but the longer I question the temptation, the weaker the pull becomes. When 'forbidden foods' aren't forbidden and you eat consciously you're able to work out exactly what you're getting from eating them. It sounds very much as though your awareness - your mindful eating - has trained your brain to question your impulses to treat yourself with food. Becoming indifferent to foods which were once treats is real progress! It's slowly, slowly happening to me.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, Grump, and thanks for your comment.

I do still enjoy treats, but it's a really different experience which is more short-lived and more easily gratified. It's a good thing for my health, of course. I do think it's a very good development, though it did lead to the issues I mentioned in the other post.

I'm glad that you are feeling that the grip such things have on you is loosening as well. It really does help mitigate the sense of deprivation one might feel at curtailing such things.