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Lowcarbezine! 15 March 2000

Thought For The Week

I have a confession to make: I'm weird about food.

Okay, I'm less weird about food than I used to be. It's been a long time since I stole money to support my sugar habit, or hid Scooter Pies under my bed. (And yes, I did both those things as a sugar-addicted youth, and more.) But I am still very aware of three kinds of weirdnesses I have about food.

First, I gobble my food. I mean, I really put it down fast. Practically inhale it. Even if I'm not wildly hungry, I eat like a starving child when the UNICEF relief truck finally shows up.

Now, I've read for a very long time that one of the best ways of losing weight is to eat more slowly. I never really gave it much thought until I spent a week in San Diego recently with my sister and brother-in-law. You see, my brother-in-law eats more slowly than anyone I've ever known. I could easily fit down seconds and thirds by the time he's dawdling to the end of his first helping. And guess what? The guy's so thin he looks like he could blow away on the next good breeze. Actually worries about how to keep his weight up. (Yes, this can be a real problem. Not just cosmetically, either -- if you're substantially underweight, you're in a much worse position to survive any major illness. If Jay contracted, say, pneumonia, he could be in some real, serious trouble.)

So I started thinking about this habit of wolfing my food. And I read what some other folks had to say on the subject. The most common thread was that people found that when they deliberately ate more slowly, they found themselves feeling full and satisfied on less food -- the problem with gobbling, you see, is that your mouth is done eating the food before your stomach has had time to figure out that it's had enough, and before your blood sugar starts to rise and your brain releases CCK, the satiety chemical. And I'm willing to admit that it's not uncommon for me to have seconds, only to realize fifteen minutes later that I'm feeling a bit overstuffed.

Another food weirdness is this: When I serve up the food for a meal -- and there's only two of us in my house -- I always "know" which portion is bigger. And I want that portion! Even if they're so close in size so that my "knowing" which portion is bigger is largely an illusion. Even if I'm not really terribly hungry. It's automatic! There is a bigger portion, and I want it to be mine!

This psychological quirk of mine strikes me as odd. I call it a "scarcity mentality" -- the feeling that there's not going to be enough, and I have to make sure I get mine! You'd think I grew up deprived, instead of in an upper middle class American family that never knew a hungry day. My husband, who was an only child, doesn't have this mind set, and suspects that it comes from having siblings -- you know, the old, "His piece is bigger!" fight that all siblings have. Plausible, if you ask me.

The corollary to this "Gimme the biggest one!" mindset is my need to have a lot of food in the house. Tons. I could feed an entire village on the contents of my freezer. I'm uncomfortable simply having some food in the house. I want to have choices. I want to know that I can go into the kitchen and come up with at least a half-a-dozen good things to eat if I try; that I have the ingredients to make all manner of dishes. It's partly because I like to cook, but it's more than that, because I actually start to feel nervous if I only have, say, one kind of meat in my freezer, even if I have plenty of that particular kind.

Clearly, I have some issues surrounding food! I don't really know where these issues came from. I suppose I could spend months or years in therapy trying to uncover their roots, but I don't have the time or the money, and anyway, I'm not sure what that would change. On the other hand, I do think that these food attitudes -- particularly the wolfing of my food -- have at least some affect on how much I eat, and therefore on my weight. I have no interest in actually going hungry, but this doesn't have to do with really going hungry. It has to do with a distorted perception that makes me fear going hungry even though I've never even come close, except when I did low fat and calorie controlled diets -- and even then I only felt hungry, I was never at any actual risk of starvation.

So here's what I plan to do: I'm going to make changing my most basic, ingrained food behaviors my project for Lent. For those of you in a church that does not observe Lent, it is the season of preparation for Easter, and of commemoration of Jesus' 40 days fasting in the desert. For centuries Lent was marked by some form of fasting. Now it's traditional to give something up for Lent as a spiritual discipline. I know quite a few people who give up sweets for Lent, or chocolate (which is what I used to give up as a kid.) But I don't eat sugar anyway, and I can't really give up any particular category of food within the low carb realm if I'm going to continue to develop recipes for you, and for my cookbook. (Last year I gave up internet newsgroups for Lent. It was astonishing how much I got done! :-))

Here's the plan: For the next few weeks, until Easter, I am going to always give my husband the portion I perceive as being larger. Note that this will be only when we have something we're dividing in half -- it's not like I'm going to give him a 12 ounce portion of steak while I have a 4 ounce portion, or anything like that. I suspect that quite a lot of the time when I perceive one portion to be larger, it's by a matter of a few grams -- or I may even be wrong. It's about my weird, greedy mindset, not reality.

Also, for the next few weeks, I'll be deliberately putting my fork down between bites. Further, I will be trying to remember to wait until I have actually swallowed what is in my mouth before putting another bite of food in there! So often I'm forking in another mouthful before I'm even done with the mouthful I'm eating.

In other words, instead of giving up something for Lent, I'm going to endeavor to become conscious of my most deeply ingrained food habits, and gently alter them, as a spiritual discipline. I don't know what will happen, although I suspect that eating slowly may lead me to drop a few more pounds. I'm quite certain it will teach me something about myself and my relationship to food.

I'll report in at the end of Lent, and let you know how it goes.

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