Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The UnDiet, Eyeballin', Greed-Gluttony, and Pickiness

I'm taking a short break from grading papers (end of the semester) because something important is on my mind, and I don't want to lose my thoughts. I promise, LIT160 and WRT310, I will grade your work in a timely manner (and I am a little ahead of schedule), but I have to do this for me. I know you're impatient, but chill a little; you're going to spend the next 50-60 years waiting around for others to come through for you (Wait until you have kids!).

The UnDiet

Here's the deal: even though I'm trying to work in hara hachi bu into my daily life, it's not an automatic response. I can't expect to conquer years of dysfunctional eating in one or two months. That's totally unrealistic. To be honest, sometimes I just can't tell when I'm 80% full, so I have to determine the fullness factor by eyeballin' my food in advance. Incorporate hara hachi bu as a best-guess factor. Unfortunately, the fixed portion method does not take into consideration the human and environmental factors, the reality that, like the weather, our bodily needs change day-to-day. But, for now, this is the best I can do.

In the past few days, I have noticed a sharp increase in hunger pangs, and hunger happening at odd hours: in middle of the night and upon awakening. This is most definitely an unusual pattern for me, a confirmed breakfast skipper. Also, I may have had a lot of bad eating habits, but eating in the middle of the night has never been a part of my modus operandi. My appestat works well at certain times: the early a.m., specifically. My danger time seems to fall between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. My "hunger" tends to fall off after 10 or so, even when I don't give in and eat.

I take this current deviation as a sign that I need to eat a little more, even if I gain some weight. I have just finished reading Linda Moran's How to Survive Your Diet: And Conquer Your Food Issues Forever. She offers what I think is a revolutionary concept that flies in the face of conventional dieting "wisdom": that it's okay to fluctuate slightly in terms of weight loss and gain--that we have to give our bodies what they need, thus sacrificing instant gratification in terms of weight loss, rapid or otherwise. But we have to give ourselves permission to accept this without feeling guilty (the toughest part).

So I'm eating more food. Not a lot--this isn't a feast or famine situation, just a solution to a potential problem. This is the time when most of my diets derail: my body, in a semi-state of starvation, cries out for more sustenance, and I would ignore its plea, until I could no longer ignore its cries for help. Then I would spiral out of control and embark on a binge, sometimes lasting months, even years.

My body would always impose its will, exact its revenge.

Well, no more. I'm not on a diet; I'm on an UnDiet, a lifetime endeavor, so I would be remiss in not listening to my body's needs.

In terms of hunger, our bodies seem to follow the seasons. It's extremely cold right now, and it's chilly in our drafty house, so my body (hot flashes notwithstanding) has to work harder to stay warm. Conversely, when it's hot, my hunger levels off. So it's time to listen to those variations in cues. If I were a "natural" thin person, I would instinctively do this, but I'm not, so I have to compensate and make a conscious effort to tune in what my body is telling me.

However, when you're overweight and wanting to lose excess weight, it's discombobulating to systematically incorporate more food. It's counterintuitive to what everyone "knows" about the input/output model of eating. Sigh. Were it so simple...


Eyeballin'. I love this word--it sounds so casual, almost flirty. I think it has originated with one of those sexist he-man 70's movies, referring to predatory men checking out sexy women. But I have also seen it as a term for estimating portions, perhaps on Dietsurvivors, maybe elsewhere. The point is: I didn't come up with the word, but, just the same, I have hijacked it for my own purposes.

One positive side effect of my dieting years: I'm good at eyeballin' portions. I can take a hunk of hamburger, eyeball it, and guess its weight within a few grams. So that's what I've been doing. It feels right and natural--second nature. In that sense, dieting has ingrained in me a concept of portion control. I can make that skill work for me.

I don't particularly buy into the popular non-dieting practice of "leaving food on my plate," especially when I'm the one who has already eyeballed portions in advance. For an UnDieter, leaving portioned food behind seems too artificial and obsessive.

Two exceptions: (1) In the rare instances when I can actually feel "80%-full" kicking in, and (2) eating food away from home when I haven't eyeballed my food in advance. Then leaving food behind makes sense. It's a way of re-exerting some control in an environment where we have relinquished a significant amount of control.

Re: restaurants: I like the idea of requesting a to-go box before my meal arrives. That way, I can eyeball my food before digging in and put away what I don't need. Out of sight, out of mind (mostly). Which brings me to the next topic on my mind:


Portions served in American restaurants are super-sized--no secret there--but we don't need to feel helpless and greedy before the bacchanalian altar of indulgence. We can make choices in how much food and drink we wish to consume: supersized, medium, or small portions.

Restaurants are only too happy to serve up mega-portions. For example, last night, my husband Jerry had to attend a school obligation which involved going out to eat. Having a night class, he didn't have time to finish his meal past the soup, so he brought the rest home in a go-box. I don't normally go into details about calories and such, but what Jerry ate and brought home tells the all-American story of mega-portions (eyeballed calories):
  • Potato leek soup, 150 calories
  • 6-ounce Chicken breast with cheese, 300 calories
  • Large oblong roll, 400 calories
  • French fries, 240 calories
  • Garnish: 2 small pieces of ham, drizzled with cheese, 150 calories
  • Fats, 150 calories (mayo, butter, etc.)

Estimated total calories: 1,390!

For one person at one meal. Americans expect to receive these huge amounts--our appetites have been trained to accept these large portions.

But months of adjusting my portions have trained my eye to view the above meal as outrageously gluttonous.

My first irrational reaction to the leftovers: ILLEGAL FOOD!

My second irrational reaction: YOU CAN'T EAT THAT!

My third irrational reaction: THROW IT OUT!

My sensible reaction: NO LAW SAYS YOU CAN'T EAT THAT FOOD!

So for lunch today, Jerry and I split the food (minus the soup, and, for me, only one-fourth of the roll); it was delicious, and I don't feel sick or guilty. This was a time that hara hachi bu actually kicked in, and, basing my decision on true fullness, I left part of my bread and chicken and ate it later.

I'm not trying to be sanctimonious here--I'm saying that with some hard work and difficult decision making, we can train our eyes and our bodies to make sensible choices. We can't expect the food industry to do that for us.

For very little expense, restaurants increase the portions they serve, thus advertising a "good value." It's a fiction, of course, helping their bottom line (excuse the intentional pun) but harming ours. Does it make sense for us to clean our restaurant plates and have to pay Weight Watchers, Optifast, SlimFast, Nutrisystem, etc. so that we can take off the weight we have gained?

Linda Moran uses the word "greed" in conjunction with overeating. I grew up a Catholic and had to memorize the Seven Capital (or Deadly) Sins: Lust, Greed, Envy, Pride, Covetousness, Anger, Sloth, and Gluttony. Interesting that the Church would have two words for (basically) the same sin, but "Gluttony" seems to cover overeating and overdrinking specifically.

I prefer Linda's use of "greed," because her reference covers more than just food. She views "greed" as extending beyond food overindulgence and into other aspects of life, such as "greedy" weight loss, among other ways to be greedy.

I have made a decision to work on my propensity toward greed--and I do have much work ahead of me and not just about food.

Almost everyone has been a glutton, even naturally thin people on special occasions. But thin folks move on and return to normal eating and drinking--they don't look back with deep regret and guilt.

Greed, on the other hand, feels more systemic, more deeply ingrained, more, well, greedy.


Until recently, it has never occurred to me that I could be a picky eater, but food pickiness makes perfect sense. Why would I want to spend a disproportionate amount of my life eating food that doesn't appeal to me? Why can't I eat the foods I like? Why must I buy into someone else's idea of what's good to eat and what's good for me? Shouldn't that decision be up to me? So what if some of my food choices seem odd and obsessive to others?

I like artificial sweetner on my salad, and I don't like salad dressing, even full fat. I despise mayo. I eat sunflower seeds nearly every day--I look forward to that treat. I love catfish, poached in lime soda and then grilled with onions, and could eat it every day of my life (but I like other things, too, like salmon, shrimp, crab, scallops, chicken, and steak). I like fried egg whites (as a kid, I'd eat around the egg yolk). I love bing cherries, which are now $6.00 a pound (when you can find them). I love sorbet, especially papaya and pineapple, but I want it to be made with real sugar, not artificial sweetner.

I can choose to politely refuse foods I don't like and accept (without guilt) those things that I do like, even if they are hi-cal, formerly forbidden foods, as long as I listen to my body cues and stop when I'm no longer hungry or, at least, when I think I might have had enough.

Is that a workable plan, or what?

Jennifer Semple Siegel


Nickie Cochran said...

I love your post and can soooo relate! I'm on the same quest as you are and so far it seems to work. The holidays are a bit tough, but I think I can pull it off.

I've started undieting about a month ago and have lost 6 lbs so far. It's not really as tough as I thought, but I still have a lot of work to do with stopping when full.

It's coming along and I've downsized meals when eating out - BK is a whopper jr meal now (instead of whopper/double whopper meal), when eating in a real restaurant, I now split my dinner with my daughter, since she's not really a big eater. What am I going to do when she leaves again for college mid January??? I guess, doggy bagging or ordering half-meals might do. Gosh, we went to eat Mexican the other day and split a meal and they gave us what they called "mini-meals" which were about as big as the real thing. Same at Red Robins, we split a basket and side salad to be served on 2 plates, each, and what looked like 2 full meals for less money!

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I can relate to your posts.


Jennifer said...

Thank you, Nickie,

The hardest part is knowing when you're 80% full, I think. So I think of myself as being "in training." 80% full does work about 99% of the time.

If you haven't already, give Dietsurvivors a try--a lot of people are incorporating undieting or non-dieting into their lives, and we all tell our stories!

Best wishes on your quest!

Jennifer Semple Siegel