Truth be told, I tend to have fuzzy feelings towards many things I read. I really connect with the written word and find a sort of refuge in it that I realize not everyone shares. Some people think there is truth in alcohol, while I tend to believe there is truth in texting. Usual fuzzy feelings aside, reading and reviewing David Kessler’s The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite resonated with me on an even deeper level. I saw a lot of myself in the discussion of America’s tendency to overeat, and instead of feeling completely powerless, I felt rather hopeful for my nutritional future.
The thing is, I’m not necessarily a cut and dry text-book overeater. Through a technique Kessler actually describes, the “I just don’t eat that” plan, I have been able to keep certain temptations at bay, like the pastry case at the coffee shop I work at, Cheez-Its, and soda. As a college graduate I decided I was never allowed to eat Cheez-Its again, as I was capable of polishing off a whole box without much thought. And lo and behold, I’ve been Cheez-It free ever since. I do occasionally imbibe soda, but I strive to not take in calories from liquids that are not alcoholic. And that pastry case? Well, I learned the hard way that once you start eating food at work, it becomes nearly impossible to stop. So I just said “No” from day one and described pastries based on eavesdropping upon those who were eating them.
The problem isn’t things I’ve already mentally turned down. The problem is everything else that is loaded with salt, sugar and fat, coupled with inappropriate serving sizes (you mean…a stick of butter isn’t supposed to go on one cup of unpopped popcorn? I’m not supposed to eat an entire wedge of brie in one sitting? When I make cookies, I’m actually supposed to wind up with the same number of baked cookies as the package promises?). I’m not saying it’s not okay for me to indulge in these manners occasionally. But the modifier there is occasionally, whereas I tend to be more about “daily” or “weekly.”
With Kessler’s Food Rehab as my muse, I’ve outlined my own comeback from overeating. First, I had to sit down and really identify the cues and situations that lead me to personally overeat. These are going to be different for everyone; some people may have many, some only one or two. For some, it’s simply waking up. There’s no wrong answer, but finding the right ones takes effort.
My personal cues involve large social situations – including weddings, parties and celebrations, going out to dinner, or anytime I’m in a group of people. Also, being presented with a hyper-palatable meal, or anytime I am alone after having more than one drink. After careful consideration, it occurs to me that what all these cues have in common is my desire to not be lonely in a crowd or by myself, and to feel like I fit in.
There are also certain foods that seem to trigger the impulse: tortilla chips, cookies, French fries, pasta, pizza, and most any kind of cheese are the main culprits and the ones I find myself in contact with. I know cutting most of these foods out entirely is extreme, so only some of them get will get the axe entirely – French fries, pizza, and tortilla chips at restaurants.
Now that I know my cues, I can turn my attention to developing a plan for myself. I need a set of rules similar to the ones I have already made about Cheez-Its, the pastry case, and pop. Here’s what I came up with, which will hopefully be both doable and still keep my usual social schedule in tact:
- No Pizza – for the beginning, this includes no pizza club meetings. Sorry kittens!
- Be the bearer of healthy snacks and treats to parties – no one’s forcing me to bring cookies to a party, and I am perfectly capable of selecting something healthier.
- Butter on carbs is a no go, too – given my cue foods, kinda makes sense
- No cheese unless it’s a condiment – sorry mom, you’ll have to indulge separately for awhile!
- One drink at a meal out, even when I’m not driving – light beer (ew, did I say that?) and half pints encouraged.
Besides all the mental “No” rules, there’s another side to this plan. The “yes” side.
Part of the yes side involves identifying foods that satiate me. I’m really good at identifying what stimulates me, but what about what fills me up in a healthy manner and doesn’t inspire me to go forth and conquer. Another yes part is meal planning, or setting out caloric expectations – in other words, it’s about being able to recognize what portions are served to me and only accepting a portion that will satiate.
The few people I’ve already mentioned this shift to are surprised that I’m taking this path. Yes, I am reasonably healthy and in good shape. But that’s actually part of the problem. Because I already exercise, there is no way for me to get in much better shape unless I start paying attention to how I operate. And let’s just say my pants have been fitting differently and that deserves a dislike button. According to Kessler, the right portion of food is just as important – if not moreso – than exercise. Were I not already exercising, that’d be one thing. Simply walking would help. But I do work out.
People without a desire to overeat tend to have one big thing in common: when they see food, they don’t immediately think, “get some!” Instead, they analyze it. They think, “Oh! Food! Am I hungry? Is this food good? Will it keep me going?” I think these people are amazing/cracked out, but I think doctors and experts think they are healthy.
I bring this up because it demonstrates a mental rehearsal I’ll be practicing for parties. I don’t plan to avoid all parties. I love me a good wedding reception, and even more a circle of friends who are just hanging out and laughing. But I can make better choices in these situations, and that starts by being mentally prepared. I can eat foods I enjoy in moderation. I can chew thoroughly, and I can tell myself before I even enter the room, “this is how this situation will be.”
This isn’t about a diet so much as a lifestyle change, and the ability to be in complete control and listen to my body and brain rather than an empty emotion, a nostalgic feeling. And it’s not about never having three slices of cake for breakfast again…it’s just about knowing there’s a special time and place for that. And this isn’t AA in the sense that I’ll never eat these foods again. It just means relearning that one bite doesn’t equal the whole basket of chips.
And hey, if none of this works out, at least I’m running.