Ancient civilizations believed they became stronger by eating the organs of their enemies. Considering all the gingerbread men I ate this week, I should be able to pull a freight train with my eyelashes. Why do we binge eat, and why does a “reformed” binger occasionally find herself on the wrong side of the empty M&M dish? This question spends a lot of time being batted around my book discussions because it seems to define the considerable differences between those who battle weight and those that do not. The call of food is loudest to those that don’t want it, while the bowl of Doritos is maddeningly mute to those that seemingly, cannot be bothered to have more than a handful. What is going on here that I bit the heads off three gingerbread men in a row, (cue shocked exclamation), only to polish off the rest of their white frosting, ric rac-enhanced bodies?
My recent holiday overload forced me to re-examine my own compulsive eating; I discovered nothing new. I continue to preach the same gospel of overcoming overeating by giving myself permission to taste that triple-layer chocolate mousse torte with the little chocolate shavings on top. Yes, permission! The phenomenon of compulsive eating is driven by the need to escape—meaning we mentally check out while putting stuff in our mouths. The antidote seems suspiciously simple: taste. Actively allow ourselves to eat. We either tune in and taste the food, or use the action of eating to provide an escape from conscious focus. We simply are not present when we tune out and mentally go to another place. It’s kind of like driving from point A to point B and having little memory of the journey, except it can happen within seconds while we pound the onion dip. The devastating effect of this emotional departure is: we prevent our brains from taking in taste and texture. Without fully involving our minds and souls our brains cannot return the favor by telling us when we are starting to become satisfied, and when to stop. When we actively taste, we assess smell, flavor, texture, quality, freshness—to determine if the food is worthy of us. If we habitually tune out, we never feel “done.”
We are all designed to receive the message of “satisfied,” but only if we “think” like a thin person and truly taste the food going in. That’s it. That is the difference between me and my super-skinny cousin who can eat anything she wants and never gets fat. She doesn’t feel guilty about food and therefore, she tunes in and tastes every bite of crab cheese ball with crackers. When her mind starts to respond with messages of satisfaction, she stops eating because she feels satisfied. Upon examination of my binge, I realize I already enjoyed my chocolate chip cookie for the day and did not really need the gingerbread men. My daily treat quota was fulfilled. But I wanted to celebrate Christmas by eating my holiday handiwork. So, as if I could trick my own body, I tuned out while munching the poor little dears. Because my brain participated in none of the experience, it reliably gave me no cues to stop. One-by-one, I continued to eat (while escaping to the fatty planet), and the carnage expanded to include the full clan.
The funny thing is, without tuning in we deny ourselves the full experience of the food. Whether it is salad or ice cream, without truly tasting, we lose out on the opportunity to be fed on a level our minds and souls can relate to. The very people who live to eat (and struggle with weight) are the same ones failing to experience full contact with their food. How ironic. Can anyone else relate here?
By way of compensation, the next day included cut up vegetables with a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle of olive oil. I savored the bright red strip of sweet bell pepper and tasted all the crunchy lettuce and cucumber slices on my plate. I even dug into the sour cream dip with a celery stick. It was rich and creamy, but I did not need much. How did I know? Because I tasted with intention, which resulted in feeling full on less veg than I initially intended to eat. From this experience I am again reminded how it feels to escape. I prefer to stay present and taste. So, that’s good. And gingerbread men everywhere have breathed a collective sigh of relief.
By Tres Prier Hatch