How many times in my life have I encountered a table laden with “appetizers” before a meal? That same number of times have I partaken of “appetizers” to the point that I’m completely stuffed when the meal begins (including on Christmas Eve at Tom’s mother’s house in Sacramento). (Present were Ann and Tom, Steve and Julie, F. and myself. Very pleasant, peaceful Christmas. No gifts exchanged, except for Steve giving us all his beautiful annual family calendar.)
While I was sick with mono, I lacked the energy to cook, so I relied on food you don’t have to do much of anything to other than eat it, and I allowed myself treats I don’t usually have in the house because I sooner or later binge on them, such as English muffins, vanilla ghee, and peanut butter. For a couple of weeks, I had very little appetite and didn’t have to worry about overeating, but as soon as I began to feel better, I was polishing off six English muffins here and nearly a whole jar of peanut butter there.
Per long-established practice, I gave the rest of the too-tempting food items to Tom. Once I took a jar of mayonnaise up to him and he said, “Fine, but can I show you something?” He opened his cupboard to reveal six jars of mayonnaise I’d previously given him.
I was lately remembering an advanced workshop put on by the Overcoming Overeating ladies. At the beginning of it, one of them asks, “Why is it so hard to stop—?” and I was positive she was going to say “overeating.” Why is it so hard to stop overeating? But her final word was “dieting.” Why is it so hard to stop dieting? It seems nearly impossible to stop dieting, to lose the idea that certain foods are forbidden, and every time I eat six English muffins slathered with vanilla ghee and then give away the rest of the English muffins and ghee, I reinforce the already very solid conviction that those foods are bad and that I can’t be trusted to have them around.
As the mono waned, there were several binges and corresponding divestments of food. I found myself eating a shocking amount of toast drenched in olive oil. I hadn’t gotten rid of bread because it’s a key component of salmon salad sandwiches, and of course one cannot live without olive oil. I’d gotten rid of every other tempting thing and that is precisely why I was eating so much olive oil toast: it was the only good thing in the house. I like everything I eat, but this was the one treat. I realized I needed more treats, and made a commitment to myself that I will always have five different kinds of treats in the house.
I aspire to eat when I’m physically hungry—it’s very easy to overeat if one is not hungry when one starts eating; if there’s no signal to start, there’s no signal to stop—and to stop when my body has had enough, but when I read while eating, it’s extremely easy to eat way past the point of being full, so, along with my five-treat promise, I decided to try again not to read while eating.
I expected the “mindfulness diet” to fail just the way it has I’ve tried it every time in the past, since it is, after all, a diet, and diets always backfire sooner or later. But so far, it is working quite well. I get hungry, I sit down, I eat mindfully—without reading, at least—and I usually or at least fairly often stop when my body has had enough. I figure that while it’s best to stop eating when physical hunger has been satisfied, if I don’t eat again until I actually feel hungry, it comes out more or less the same. I attribute these changes to my five-treats commitment, and also to the greater calm and clarity afforded by my samadhi-oriented daily meditation practice.
When I decided always to have plenty of goodies on hand, I bought quantities of cashews and macadamia nuts, and it was a couple of weeks before I ate even one of either, whereas in the past I would have eaten all of both within hours of returning from the store. One day when I was not feeling hungry, I had a single cracker with cashew butter on it. There was no need to eat the whole package of crackers and the whole jar of cashew butter because I have at least five kinds of treats. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t eat all the yummy things at once, so I might as well not try. So I had this one cracker with cashew butter on it. I hadn’t been hungry, but soon after I ate it, I noticed that I was quite hungry. It had stimulated my appetite. An appetizer! Aha!