Food is a dominant topic, I am willing
to guess, in most people's lives. Like many people, I have always been
neurotic about food and fitness. However, I have recently discovered
pleasure in food consumption which has made me healthier.
I have spent many years of my life moderately overweight, 80 to 85 kilos for someone 175 cm tall. I used to feel the daily need to avoid eating too much, which resulted in the 'white bear paradox': The Russian writer Dostoevski once challenged his younger brother to suppress the thought of a white bear as much as he could, but the harder the younger Dostoevski tried, the more he fixated on the white bear image.Therefore, my approach to losing weight has always been to exercise rather than diet. I figured that if I exercised every day, I would maintain a good weight, feel better, and as a natural consequence make better food choices.
However the reality was, by doing exercise, my weight has see-sawed throughout my adult life. For example, when I was in Japan 7 years ago, my weight had sky-rocketed to 90 plus kilos. Decisively, I started jogging about 5 kilometres every morning, 6 days a week, and I would do 30 minutes of resistance training after each run. That got me down to 70 kilos in about 6 months. However, when I got married, my routine was disrupted and I lost momentum. It took about a year to get back to exercising. By then, I was heavy again. Last year, with a new baby and attending school full-time, I had stopped all exercise and my weight again flirted with 90 kilos. While exercise definitely does control weight, it didn't make me feel good enough to stick to it for long.It was at that point I decided enough was enough. I wasn't going to get back into another exercise routine which I would eventually drop. I needed to rethink the whole thing. I concluded that exercise was a waste of time for me. I became critical of people who drove to a gym only to pay for the right to spend 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer. I thought that those who played sports would be doing more for society if they were burning calories sprucing up their neighbourhood rather than chasing a ball around. I was also disgusted with myself for having dedicated so much of my life literally running around in circles just so I could take off the excess calories that I willingly ingested because I was bored, stressed or procrastinating.
The key was simply to eat less.But the white bear reared its ugly head again. This was too easy, Surely I had tried this already. Wasn't suppressing thoughts of food doomed to make me overeat in the long run?
Then it hit me.
The white bear is a beautiful and savage image, immense and alone perhaps against a blue sky. But if you imagine the bear in depth - smell his damp fur and his breath reeking of his latest meal, hear his quick panting as he struggles to stay alert and warm on his creaking ice floe, see the clouds of vapour exhaled with each breath in the arctic cold, see his haunches tinged yellow with traces of shit and piss,-- you begin to see this creature as part of a bigger story. No longer overwhelmed by the iconic impact of this image, you enjoy a sense of deep comfort with this new found furry friend.
This is precisely the relationship I needed to create with food. Eating doesn't need to be a race to satisfy an appetite triggered by shallow worries, stresses over social status, or advertising imagery. My food does not need to be super-sized. Neither does it need to follow the latest fad diet. More carbs, more beer, more steak, please. But let me have a real, felt, appetite for this steak, built up over a long period of enjoying my loved ones and pursuing my goals. Let me pause and notice as much as I can about the presentation.Let me appreciate the smell of the seasoning, and the blood, (because I like my steak rare) that once flowed in this animal. Let me chew slowly and carefully. And pause, stop , and even save some for later. Let the memory of this personal, intimate eating experience stay with me.
I started experimenting with this approach in early January of this year. For the first 3 days, I literally stopped eating more than a few bites a day. I was full of energy, but I had grown so overweight that my body actually needed to fast for a while. When I did eat, I ate the food I craved, not the healthiest food. The key was to invest my imaginative energy in food consumption. It takes effort. Sometimes I forget and find myself scarfing down food absentmindedly while I worry about something else. But more often than not, I succeed in creating a personal relationship with each meal.
Now it has been about 4 months. By taking time to appreciate food, I have managed to go from 90 to about 80 kilos. All without having to follow any routine. I have also begun to notice patterns in how I eat. After spicy food, I always crave a sweet. In the morning, I don't feel like eating until about 10:30. So, I usually skip breakfast. I also prefer to eat dinner later usual for Canada, about 8 pm. But none of this is carved in stone. The important thing to me is to really enjoy the food, whatever it is and whenever I eat it.
Everyone's application of the pleasure principle in eating will be different, but I will provide mine. 1) If I get a craving for something, I try to figure out exactly what I want to eat. Do I want spaghetti bolonaise? Or negitoro sushi? Or a felafel? Whatever it is, I get it, without accepting a substitute. 2) If I can't specifically tell what I want to eat, I ask myself if I really want food or if there is just something stressing me out. 3) I resist peer-pressure. If someone invites me to dinner and I am not hungry, I will not eat heavily just because everyone else is. 4) If I am really hungry, I try to delay gratification for long enough to explore the physical sensation of hunger, important because this sensation is the real platform for enjoying food in a way that is grounded in reality. 5) I don't try to finish my plate for fear of wasting food. If I stuff myself the food will be wasted anyway. 6) I don't eat while on the computer, walking, reading or watching TV. 7) I focus on the texture of the food as well as the taste. Of course these are just my guidelines for my situation. The main thing which I focus on is the pleasure of eating.
Questions for writing or speaking
Do you feel overweight?underweight?
How long have you been at your current weight?
Has you weight see-sawed a lot in you life?
What is your favourite food when you are stressed?
What is your favourite junk food?
What is the heaviest/lightest you have been?
Have you ever been on a diet? Which one?
Have you ever followed an exercise routine? Which one?
When do you prefer to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner?
What meals have you eaten that have been particularly enjoyable?
Do you eat for pleasure?
What emotions do you associate with eating?
Do you think that it is expensive to buy good food where you are living?
Do you try to buy organic fruits and vegetables?
Have you ever tried to grow your own fruits and vegetables?
Would you say you have a big appetite?
Do you constantly think about food?
Have you ever lost or gained a large amount of weight in a short time?
Do you feel self-conscious about your body?
Are you, or do you want to be a vegetarian?
Do you eat when you are worried, stressed, or procrastinating?
Do you normally eat while doing other things to save time?
Do you feel guilty if you have to throw out food because you can't eat it before it goes bad?
What is the hungriest you have ever felt?