Watch a two- or three-year-old eat. They eat slowly until they are full, at which point they lose all interest in food.
But a 5- or 6-year-old will often eat until her plate is clean. Hungry or not. Full or not.
What’s the difference? Training?
Some believe we train our children to ignore their satiety signals. Or greed and competition takes over. By the time we become adults, we have muffled those signals. We have learned to eat for a lot of other reasons.
My own favorite reasons:
Taste. Well, of course. My favorite sense of all, followed closely by smell and touch. Seeing and hearing aren’t bad, but I’ll give my taste buds a symphony faster than I’ll throw a good CD in the player. Sensuality. We like it. It might be good for us to remember that we don’t have to have all the flavor NOW. There is always more flavor ahead of us. There is not now nor will there ever be a flavor shortage.
Comfort. From the cup of coffee that apologizes for the early hour to the sneaky midnight snack, food is primarily a comfort for me, a luxury, an apology for having to do a lot of stuff I don’t wanna during my day. It says, “Poor baby. Poor, poor baby.” It completely understands me. Or does it? Maybe I should consider getting more comfort from my dog and less from food.
Restless energy dispeller. I made this up. But this feels like the reason I have food in my hands when I read, watch TV, sit in meetings, attend classes. It has nothing to do with hunger, everything to do with having something else to do while I sit still and think. A tennis ball to squeeze might be a better idea, or returning to doodling politely in a sketchbook. Or both.
Anger. Absolutely automagical. I get angry, I go raging through the kitchen for something to gnash to sublimate actually biting somebody. I tried biting a person once, and nobody ever lets me forget it. Ever. I could write out my anger, or install a punching bag somewhere in my house. Also at the office. Also in my car.
And when I am hungry, I certainly don’t listen to my body tell me when to stop eating. I clean my plate. And what I put on my plate is governed to a great degree by my artistic flair, images from the food channel and magazines, some well-seated idea of what a plate of food should look like, should contain. For one thing, the plate should overflow, right? Anything less would look inhospitable, chintzy.
Okay. Today, this week, let’s focus on our stomachs and our plate behavior. Let’s eat like two-year-olds, very slowly, tasting and staring at everything, focusing on our food, and attending to our hunger. Let’s take a long time with our meals, and stop eating when we are no longer hungry. Whatever is left on our plates at that point is wrapped up or discarded.
Even if it’s just two bites.
Even if you’ve already counted the points and the calories.
Family cooks, a special note: If you’ve been tasting dinner while preparing dinner and you’re not hungry when you sit down with the family, then don’t eat. Just enjoy your own fullness, and spend the time gazing over and speaking with your family, enjoying them enjoying their food.
When we are full, like two-year-olds, let’s move on. Move from having to taste to using and enjoying our other senses. Dance to a good CD, mull over a fine painting, wander, touch and smell our way through our yards, houses, gardens, neighborhoods.
Maybe don’t smell and touch your way through your workplace. Nobody will ever let you forget it.
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