"Hara hachi bu" away from home

Baltimore, MD--Jerry and I are attending the annual Fulbright conference; he's an alumnus, a three-time Fulbright scholar: Yugoslavia (1988); Belgium (1997); and Macedonia (1994). I'm very proud of him--he's a brilliant guy who also happens to be very sweet and kind--no artifice there. What you see on the exterior is exactly what you get. Even my family likes him because he isn't showy or conceited. He doesn't parade his vast knowledge; consequently, sometimes people underestimate him, including yours truly.

Jerry and I connect on so many levels, weight being an issue for both of us. He, too, was a fat child--actually, at one point, an obese child. He's thin now, has been for years because of his heart; at 41, he had a massive heart attack, came very close to dying and decided to lose and keep the weight off. That was nearly 23 years ago.

But even he put on some weight in Macedonia--he says about 15 pounds. In his case, the weight slid off immediately, and he's back to pre-Macedonia weight.

People are often fooled by his exterior--he insists he's a fat man in a slim body. His mind-set = fat, and food = issues. I often say that he talks his food to death. Hell, he engages in entire conversations with his meals, asking questions, etc.

He seems to like what I'm trying to do to change my own mind-set, though he accepts me, thick or thin.

This is our first major trip away since early August, putting my resolve to the acid test. It's one thing to incorporate hara hachi bu when portions are weighed and labeled, but quite another when a humongous plate of food is shoved in front of you, prepared God-knows-how.

Here's how I view this: eating out is a reality, particularly in our lives. We attend at least four conferences a year, all of them involving major banquets. So part of the process involves dealing with food situations where external control is limited.

I refuse to live my life in a bubble, but I can still remember the concept of hara hachi bu, though caloric intake may be slightly increased, but that's not necessarily a bad thing--I've heard that a temporary increase in calories can actually boost metabolism.

Last night, we arrived in Baltimore, both of us hungry. I hadn't eaten my sunflower seeds (to be explained in another entry), because I wasn't sure what I would find.

Fortunately, the hotel has a grill, but, like most American restaurants, they serve large portions. Jerry and I decided to share a flounder, stuffed with crab, dish and rice pilaf. I ordered a side salad, no dressing. No big deal--I don't even eat dressing anyway, so it's not even a deprivation issue.

Yes, I experienced hara hachi bu, leaving the restaurant slightly hungry. Most Americans aren't used to this feeling, and, I must admit, it feels a bit scary.

But I depended on my eye to tell me that the full portion was too large for one person.

Last night was a small victory in a long, life-time marathon.

Until next time.

Jennifer Semple Siegel