I distinctly remember pulling through the drive through window of McDonald’s in the twilight of a wintery Tuesday with my best friend six years ago.
Everything about it was regular. We were doing the usual. A late night drive listening to the best bleeding heart singers with no fan base nor big time record deal. We were singing, we were laughing, and most essentially, we were talking about life and love and the logistics of entering our twenties as millionaires. Very standard.
I was in the process of collecting a very ordinary late night meal. We swung through Dunkin’ Donuts for me to pick up sausage, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel, a vanilla crème filled donut, and a medium french vanilla iced coffee with milk and sugar. And now we were yelling into a yellow box outside McDonald’s for “a supersized fry please!!” It was luckily before documentarians had any influence on the state of fast food meal sizing. Rest in piece, super size.
I debated a McFlurry.
We drove away, a bevy of brown paper bags in my lap, and I ate, singing at the top of my lungs in between bites of fry and bagel and donut. Iced coffee with a quarter inch of sugar crystals shimmering at the bottom of my clear cup to wash it all down. I was in a state of bliss, high even, from the immediate hit of ‘yum num num’ endorphins. I think that’s the technical terminology.
And what I remember almost as vividly as the salt followed by the sweet, is finishing my last bite, looking out into the pitch black of Amherst, Massachusetts, and then turning back to my best friend to say, “I don’t think I like McDonald’s fries.”
Very very interesting, especially considering I had ordered and eaten said fries upwards of seven hundred million trillion bazillion times in my life. Nights like the one I described here were normal, part of a routine. Why then, had I been eating them all that time if I didn’t even think they tasted fantastic? Wasn’t Burger King better, for cryin’ out loud?
Here’s what I realized in that moment: Much of life can be driven through on autopilot. A sad, but true, fact. It’s routine and comfortable day in and day out. And I wouldn’t say this is altogether terrible; I’d just say that when you do find those moments of extraordinary realization, you’ve got to seize them. The thought of not needing or even liking french fries anymore was nearly blasphemous for me at the time when it sliced through my psyche. If made to choose between complete world peace and fries five years ago, world peace would be hanging its lonely head in a corner.
I don’t think you can change the way you eat, the way you feel about food, and the way you go about experiencing it, overnight. I know there are a series of small changes that snowball into a significant shift in thinking and doing. But realizing one simple thing about the actual foods I was eating really made a difference in my approach to eating. That is, I stopped eating just for the sake of eating.
I no longer wanted to just feel full. I wanted to be sure that I was eating what I loved when I wanted it and when I could give my attention to it. The beauty of this is that it ties with living in the moment and living authentically to some degree. When you’re eating what you crave at the very time you crave it, you’re experiencing a much more intense engagement with food.
It wasn’t that I never wanted McDonald’s french fries again (because I’ve had them many times since), it was that I wanted to love the food I sought out to fill my belly. I said to myself, no matter what size I am and no matter what I’m eating, I should be absolutely enjoying the tastes, the textures, and the smells of my meals. After all, doesn’t having something everyday, even if it’s decadent and downright delicious, somehow cheapen its appeal? If fries and greasy breakfast sandwiches and donuts filled with vanilla crème are available at all times, and eaten with absolute abandon day in and day out, are they still quite as tasty? The truth was no, they weren’t.
This was huge.
Lots of food sounds fabulous in a larger sense. Mozzarella sticks and cake and double cheeseburgers always seem delicious. Culturally and socially, they’re prized as comfort food, the kinds of things that we think we’d eat constantly if calories and fat and cholesterol were make believe. But what I came to realize, and maybe you will too, is that I don’t always want mozzarella sticks and cake and double cheeseburgers. Not like I thought I did, anyway. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t choose to villify or even remove those things from my life and my diet. I chose to make them special and to honor them in a way I’d never done before.
Sure they’re delicious, but are they delicious…to me…right now? What am I craving at this very moment?
You may be surprised at what you find when you ask yourself this question.
Nights of drive through runs like the one I described above were a rush because I was eating what I thought I wanted and what I didn’t question loving. I was in my head, not my body. When I stopped to ask myself if I was even respectfully asking my body’s opinion on the matter of what to eat, I heard a different story.
The moral of this story isn’t that I quit bagels and fries and donuts cold turkey and lost 135lbs. The moral is that I stopped eating them daily. I stopped eating just to eat. I stopped frantically trying to fill myself for fullness’ sake. I stopped eating out of routine and habit.
I asked myself which of the foods I ate everyday did I really like and crave? And then even those foods, some staying the same, I began to respect. I wanted them to be a special occasion thing. I still don’t really know how to define special occasion, and yes, it was hard to move away from having those foods all the time. But they meant more. They tasted better.
To this day, since losing all the weight, I do not eat what I do not love. Of course there are occasions when I have no say in the matter of what I eat: holidays, dinner at friends’ homes, you know. But even then, there is a way to eat only as much of the meal as you like. It means I don’t always eat the entirety of a plate’s serving. It means I sometimes stop after a few bites of cake if it really doesn’t rock. It means I probably eat things like boxed cookies and ordinary boxed cake mixes only occasionally, because truly (for me), they just don’t hold a candle to homemade.
I guess it’s a matter of feeling…gosh those are so…ordinary. Not nearly worthwhile enough to me.
When I want a cookie, I find the nearest oven or the nearest neighbor who bakes. When I want cake, I drive to White’s Bakery in Massachusetts (a long way from Seattle, let me tell you) and get a gold layer cake. I opt for bakery, home-baked, or ‘good Lord this is special’ delights. Because Elio’s pizza and Oreo cookies just don’t scream out to me like they used to.
Here’s the thing: Though I’m making a good case for not eating all the zillion packaged, ordinary treats that line the shelves at grocery stores, I need to make clear that sometimes those are the treats I might crave. Just recently, nothing sounded better than Double Stuf Oreos, and being in tune with precisely my craving, I headed to the nearest market for a box. Sometimes I’m jonesing for a pack of brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts, so I’m at the nearest 7/11 in fifteen minutes flat.
The point is, find out what foods you really love. Realize that eating them all the time makes them less special. Respect the food and yourself enough to move them from everyday to maybe even every two days if that seems more manageable. Understand that for you, the foods you love might be Cheetos and Chips Ahoy. Go with that. Because you should only eat what you love. It will make mealtime more celebratory, more fun, more unique. Every dining experience will feel more authentic.
But whatever you do, just be present enough to ask yourself if those foods you’re about to enjoy are really, truly the ones you want at that exact time and place.
It will make a difference in not only what you eat, but how you feel about the food.
This is delicious, but is it delicious right now?
What do you think? Do you try to eat only what you love?