The other day, I was invited to join my coworkers in going out for lunch.
Sure, I had packed a lunch and am working on spending as little as possible on eating out. I also wasn't particularly hungry, and had even been debating skipping lunch entirely. Listening to one's body is a good idea.
But hey, they were going to a new restaurant that I hadn't been to before. That justifies an entirely unnecessary expense, right?
Predictably enough, I wound up sitting with seven of my officemates at a large table at a local posh burger restaurant (yes, those terms seem kind of contradictory. Apparently this exists). I could have gotten a small salad to quench my insignificant hunger level, but I wanted to try the thing that sounded the best. This was my first time here! I must splurge!
Shortly I found myself staring at a portobello 'burger' with carmelized onions and bleu cheese, and the dang thing seemed bigger than my head. Certainly it was taller than my stretched jaw could accommodate. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it was also delicious.
As I attacked my superfluous lunch with vigor, mushroom juice dripping all over my plate, I realized about halfway through that I was not only full, but uncomfortably so. My body was quite clearly telling me to stop.
Did I listen?
Of course not. Logistical concerns filled my mind. If I had a half-sandwich left over, then my plans for the week's lunches would be thrown off. Not to mention that the bun would get all soggy. So I finished the thing, and accepted my coworkers' congratulations on my victory over the doom-sandwich.
After waddling back to work, I found myself drowsy and groggy for the rest of the day, and my body physically hurt from too much food. I had virtually no energy, and felt almost sick. This was the result of my fun, impromptu lunch out with my friends? Was this really what I wanted? To be uncomfortable, too unfocused to work, and in pain?
Why did I do that to myself?
This country doesn't really have what I would call a 'food culture.' Food culture is a sense of historical identity expressed through food. It's grandmothers who learned to cook from their grandmothers in the way of their people. It's the culmination of centuries of local incremental co-evolution to develop an optimal way of getting the most health from the local food supply in the most pleasurable way possible.
What we have is large corporations telling us to eat what they produce. We have happy meals and factory farms. We have no idea where our food comes from. Guidance concerning diet comes not from generations of wisdom but from so-called 'nutritionists' whose educations were sponsored by those same corporations and based on severely faulty science (no offense meant to any good nutritionists out there who actually make an effort to be informed and genuinely care about health. I'm just speaking from my own observations here). These are the people who told us that margarine was healthy, and that no-salt diets were a good idea (conveniently forgetting that sodium is critical for neuron function, something that's covered in bio 111). These are the people who somehow manage to justify ketchup as a vegetable. Our sources of food information are mostly full of crap.
Above all, we have huge quantities of cheap food. The 'average American' (yes, I know averages don't mean everything. But some sort of measure must be picked) consumed 2,674 kilocalories a day in 2008, up from 2,167 in 1970. At the same time we spend half as much on food as our grandparents did (as a proportion of income).
Without going into a rant about excessive and ill-applied subsidization of specific crops as inputs for the agricultural-industrial complex, which I'll save for another time, suffice it to say that food is too cheap in terms of money and too expensive in terms of health. The next time you go out to eat, look at the amount of food you're given. Really look at that portion size. Notice that you probably aren't a marathon runner or a professional bodybuilder. Now look at it again. Is it realistic?
I fully acknowledge that this all comes from a perspective of privilege. An astonishing number of people don't have enough to eat or access to actually healthy food, and that's beyond depressing. But couple that with the rampant overeating and food waste that's found in the privileged classes of the world, and it gets even more ridiculous.
It's amazing how often we're encouraged to eat until saturation, until we're bursting at the seams. But this leads directly to 'food coma', low energy, and feeling generally crappy. Even on the morning after the ill-fated portobello burger lunch, I still felt mildly woozy and uncomfortable. I'm tired of this. What if I could simply eat less and feel great? Eating is pleasurable, but so is actually feeling good.
From now on, I'm going to make an effort to only eat as much as my body is actually requesting. I'm going to work on paying attention to how I feel, and noticing when the crumminess sets in after eating. Fundamentally, like most of my self-work, this is about being mindful. Maybe I'll even learn something about myself.
Ultimately, everything I could possibly say on the subject has already been said more elegantly and succinctly in this post at zenhabits. I highly recommend it.
What are your experiences with mindful or mindless eating?