When I was 12, I went on Weight Watchers for the first time. I lost weight, but that didn’t solve my problem. My problem wasn’t laziness, or lack of willpower. My problem was, and still is, emotional eating.
I stay still, because I believe that I may never fully “recover” from emotional eating, and I have my doubts that anyone really does 100%. I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie Downer. I actually think that it can be a relief to accept this. Not so I can say, “Rough day. Fuck it! I might as well eat!” This is not about resignation, it’s about acceptance, and acceptance always comes before change. I am always aware when my eating is spurred on by stress, turmoil, or general angst. Sometimes, that can be very useful because it’s a way in to my feelings.
After I lost weight when I was a kid, I was no longer the fat kid I had been throughout elementary school. I wasn’t skinny, that’s not what my body does, but at least I blended in. At least I wasn’t as different as I always felt. I felt more normal, and my aim was to keep it that way, come hell or high water. That’s when food and eating guilt came into my life and began a decades long tug-o-war with me. Bad foods and good foods made me bad or good; made me feel loathsome or virtuous.
It was about that time that I began my intimate relationship with Betty Crocker. At times when I needed relief, she was there for me. I needed cake, and she delivered. It was the whole sensual experience that I craved. I mixed up the grey-brown powder with eggs, water, and oil—presto, it turned into a shiny brown batter that I could lovingly pour into cake rounds, thick and inviting, it left a layer for me to lick from the bowl. And then I waited. As the smell of sweet warmth wafted through the house, it was time for me to inspect the frosting. No need for bowls or confectioners sugar. I ripped off the lid of the squat tub, and there it was. Chocolate peaks of goodness—glossy, perfectly formed. I scooped a spoon in a path across the top. The creamy, chocolaty goodness filled my mouth, and that’s all there was in that moment.
Any chaos that might be ensuing with my mother, or worries about friends, or how I could possibly memorize all the details of the Crusades for my European History exam, or liking that guy who wouldn’t pay attention to me if I were standing one inch in front of him…that all just drifted away in those moments…
The timer rang and my attention turned to oven mitts and receiving my two disks ‘o’ plenty. Letting them cool completely was a complete waste of time. I waited the absolute minimum (until there was only a slight chance of burning myself) and began the process of releasing them from the pans post haste! If one didn’t come out completely, no problem! I could use extra frosting to fill in any cracks or missing chunks. I frosted, pretending to care how the finished product looked. Ah, my creation! And part of the pretending was that I would share it. I dug in, and dug in again. On the days when this was part of an after-school activity with a friend, I might be more reluctant to keep digging, but when I was alone–it was just me, and Betty. Our private time; time for moist morsels perfectly paired with creaminess. Time for escape. I loved Betty.
The first bites were the most transcendent, after that it was all about how long I could make the numbing last. Somehow, I would snap out of it, before the whole cake was eaten. Maybe it was the sweet sickness that was overtaking my body and mind. But I wouldn’t be able to just put it away for later. I couldn’t possibly get the cake out of my mind if it was just sitting there. I had to destroy it. I brought it to the kitchen sink and poured water and dish soap over it, and maybe I’d spray some windex on it…just in case. That way, there would be no prospects of a garbage can retrieval later. In the garbage it would go (this was long before composting, my Seattle friends) and I would feel victorious! I didn’t eat the whole thing!
Yeah, there was no later for me, just another cake in my future. Thank you, Betty, for bringing me such relief, such numbing comfort.
These days, decades later, I still refer to my chocolate cake afternoons. I don’t look at Betty the same way though. Not with the deep longing I used to have for her. I may still like the idea of her sometimes, but I’ve moved on. There are times when I “use” food for comfort, like many of us do, but most of the time, I can separate my grief, anxiety, stress, and sadness from cake. That’s a good thing. I can feel my emotions, work through them, honor that they are there and need to be expressed. And, I enjoy cake so much more! I’m more discerning, choosing what will truly satisfy. Instead of leading me into numbness, I can focus on what’s good about the cake, and get the full taste sensation, what I call a “direct chocolate experience”! Mindful eating is a big part of this–being present, without judgment, and experience really tasting. What a joy!
Next time you sit down to a meal, try this:
Experience the food using all your senses:
Smell—Notice the variety of ingredients. Single them out, as well as experience the dish as a whole.
Sight—Look at the colors and textures of the food. Notice the artistry of the dish, how it was put together, and any creative elements.
Taste—Really allow yourself to experience the tastes of the food in your mouth. Notice each ingredient, as well as the whole. Allow time for this!
Touch—Touch your food, if appropriate, but if not, notice the texture, how it feels on your tongue. Notice the temperature. Be aware of how the food feels as you are biting and chewing.
Listen—literally, you may hear a crunchy bite, but we’ll use this sense to mean listening to your body and satiety—Notice, at different times during the meal, your fullness and your satisfaction level. Decide when you’re ready to be done.
For your writing pleasure:
Try writing about your meal.
What was it like to be so mindful of your meal?
How did it feel?
Did it change your level of satisfaction?
Be gentle with yourself, always, and know that you are loved.