Eat What You Love. Eat What You Crave.

by Andie Mitchell on January 6, 2011

 

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?

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda VanLente-Hatter January 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

Andrea, this totally hits the nail on the head for me. I lost about 20 pounds a couple of years ago, with hard work, eating right and exercise. I wanted to lose more. But I had to realize a few things: 1. I will never be “skinny” – it’s just not realistic to my body type – and 2. I could try to get that way, but it would be by completely giving up the foods I love. I love bread and pasta and cheese and chocolate. So, I make sure I eat artisan bread, and handmade (or whole wheat fortified) pasta, and fun cheese and good chocolate. And I eat small amounts. And I savor. And it works. Thanks for sharing your philosophy. :)

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Samantha January 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

I have to say that I eat just to eat. It would be something so special to have some foods be treats. This post was very informative. I get a better understanding of things when someone can share their personal experience, rather than just stating facts.

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

I agree- reading someone’s exact experience is a world more touching than just the logic and reasoning of why humans do what they do. Thanks

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AllieNic January 6, 2011 at 11:06 am

Great post! I really liked how you related eating food that you love to living in the moment. I’m sometimes guilty of planning my cheats– like I’ll plan to go home tonight and eat a few cookies…but while I’m eating them, I’ll question whether I really want them…or if I even think they taste good. Why not just not eat them and save it for something I really want? Something that’s not planned? Something that’s a total surprise? I tend to feel like if I don’t plan things that that then I’m not in control– thinking about living in the moment is going to be really helpful for me. Thanks so much for sharing!

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

There is something really beautiful about being spontaneous and really living in the moment, but I get the planning too. Sometimes it’s just fun to look forward to those nightly cookies!

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Stephanie January 6, 2011 at 11:41 am

I love the way you write about relationships with food. I felt like I was back with my friends swinging through the drive through. I feel no guilt when I eat homebaked treats now and like you, I rarely crave the packaged, artificial or fast food treats but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to indulge. The day before I started the raw diet I’m on for this month, I panicked and went and got my number 1 all-time favorite comfort food..mozzarella sticks. Much to my surprise…they tasted just blah to me and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t get pleasure out of them. I guess I’ve just come to truly appreciate natural foods.

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Shanna, like Banana January 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

Brilliant post!

And I agree with you, but rarely am able to have the control to put it in practice. For instance, the other night out to dinner, I was eating copious amounts of bread because who doesn’t like brea? Well, *that* bread wasn’t very good, and yet I kept eating these empty calories. Why? No clue.

I prefer homemade stuff as well, but I, too, will crave something like Nilla Wafers or Capn Crunch cereal (I have a baggy as a snack).

I need to try to do a better job of really listening to my wants!

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 11:45 am

I LOVE Nilla Wafers and Capn Crunch!

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Jenn January 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Great perspective, thanks for sharing! You really should write a book about your experience — it’s so inspiring and empowering!

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Thank you so much Jenn! A book is something I’d love to conquer.

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Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun January 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

It took me a long time to learn this but I certainly believe in eating what you love. I actually get to be my healthiest when I do that. When I battled binging I ate whatever crap I could get my hands on. One day, like you described, it hit me that I didn’t even LIKE most of it. Now I go for quality and pleasure in food.

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Amber from Girl with the Red Hair January 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm

One of the best posts I’ve ever read. Amazingly written and so well-put and SO TRUE.

I am trying REALLY hard to pay attention to my intuitive eating and cravings and have recently thrown calorie counting out the door! It’s a hard learning process but I’m getting there.

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Niki January 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

It’s weird, I do eat what I love… but that’s not to say I don’t eat what I don’t LOVE other times. And ironically, when it is something I love, it is not a lot… but then when it’s something I don’t really love, or care for, it’s like an addiction. Like box mix brownies. I’m sorry for those who do (like my mom) but I hate them. Really I think they leave an awful taste in my mouth. But they are rightt here and getting to inhale a fudgy textured, chewy chocolately piece of smushiness appeals to me. Then I get that after taste again. But I will still pick up another (not always the same sitting, usually just the next time she makes them)!!! I really need to learn to say no to those things.
I really love bran flakes though. I can eat bowls and bowls of that in one sitting. And then have horrible stomach pains b/c I am sensitive to dairy, but whatevs ;)

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I completely get how easy it is to just eat what’s there. I just started to hate that afterward, I felt unsatisfied still. And I agree- boxed brownie mixes do have an ‘off’ aftertaste.

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Niki January 7, 2011 at 5:52 am

So glad I’m not the only one! My family loves my mom’s boxed brownies.
New Years Resolution-don’t eat for the sake of eating!!!!

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Leah @ Why Deprive? January 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

This post was amazing. I’m kind of speechless right now. LOVED it.

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Courtney @ Sweet Tooth, Sweet Life January 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Absolutely perfect! Couldn’t have written it better myself. I can relate to so many things here. Whereas I used to eat a cookie..any cookie..just for the mere sake that it WAS a cookie, I’m now more picky. I can pass up the packaged cookies, or the kinds I know I really don’t care much for. I save the treats for ones that I will truly enjoy. Otherwise, the satisfaction just isn’t nearly as worthwhile.
Agreed, however, that sometimes a Double Stuffed Oreo will totally hit the spot. ;)

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Sara January 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Great post Andrea!

I think this topic is very important to those who are still trying to lose weight. When you start to really, truly listen to your body and give it what it truly craves you start to naturally eat less and feel more in control.
Now that I’ve stopped trying to lose weight through a restrictive diet, I just eat whatever I want in an appropriate portion when I’m hungry. I find that sometimes in the morning, or any time of day, it can take me up to 15 minutes to decide what I want to eat. I’ll stand there contemplating all of my options before I can figure out what I’m truly craving. However, even though it takes me longer, it is so much more satisfying to eat.
I found that when I was on a restrictive diet, I would panic when I got hungry and then binge on everything and anything on front of me.

Keep the amazing posts coming Andrea!!

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Lisa @ Dishes of Mrs. Fish January 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Another great post! In the past few months, I’ve to move away from foods that I ate to be “good” in favor of eating real.

I love it. Homemade chocolate chip cookies are a gazallion times better than those 100 packs I once ate to be “good.” If I want a cookie, I can eat one. I don’t always have to use reduced fat cheese or fat free cheese when cooking if I don’t want or if it isn’t on sale. And that’s okay.

Plus sometimes, you just can’t avoid peach ring candies, milanos, or a pizza with extra extra cheese. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Don’t even begin to tell me about those peach rings. I adore them and they remind me of my mom. Good for you for really making the switch!

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peggyhogan January 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm

You hit the nail on the head. I do the same thing, in that, I don’t eat it if I don’t really want it. Take cake for instance…I only really love a good carrot cake or this special chocolate cherry cake but other than those, I just really don’t love cake. It does make it difficult at a big party, to turn down the birthday cake and there are some real cake pushers out there, but it just isn’t worth the calories for me. Now a really good piece of fruit pie, yum…but a store bought pie, never is good. Whatever it is, it’s just important to be in touch with your real cravings and enjoy the moments you do indulge! This would be a great post for people dieting to read, very enlightening.

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Bravo Peggy, for knowing yourself well enough to choose the foods you love and turn down others that you feel blah about. Now I’d like a slice of fruit pie please.

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peggyhogan January 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Hey, Andrea, I did reblog your post, so my huge group of followers (13) will read it!

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snackgirlgoeshealthy January 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I really like this. I have been trying to stick with that for sure. However when I am stressed I feel it all goes in the dump.

I need to start eating more inituitvly and eating only foods I get excited about eating! So when do you want to have a lunch date?

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Jillian January 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Wow.

This seriously struck a chord with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings and experiences, they truly make a lot of sense to me.

What a great post!

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Natalie (First Kitchen) January 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I have learned more about how to eat intuitively from this blog than any other resource in my life, and this post exemplifies that. Honestly, reading posts like these really help me to be AWARE of what I’m eating, and more importantly, to SAVOR each and every bite. Thank you!

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 7, 2011 at 7:04 am

Natalie, thank you thank you thank you.

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Cindy January 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

I don’t!!!
I am way better though. I am really bad about running to the store for this or that which would make my tastebuds sing. If all I have is a box of crackers and mustard, that’s sometimes what I snarf down for lunch.

bad. I learn a lot from you.

thank you!

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Megan (Braise The Roof) January 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Fantastic post, Andrea. I definitely struggle with the idea of only eating what I’m truly craving. The funny things is that it’s just so logical -it’s amazing that we have such a hard time with it! FYI, FROZEN Double Stuf Oreos are even better. ;) Just for the next time a craving hits.

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Mollie January 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Health eating is such an issue in this country now, to the degree where the media seems to constantly be generating new theories about what healthy eating is. After a while, it all seemed like so much white noise to me. This essay grabbed my attention and made me think of my diet in a new, optimistic way. You’re a talented writer and I’m glad I found this blog!

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Shelby January 8, 2011 at 3:28 am

Wow, what a great post. I myself lost over 100 pounds about 6 years ago and have kept most but 10 pounds off which wavers back and forth. I have the very same mindset that you have spoken here and I believe that is the mindset one has to come to in order to lose the weight! So glad I stumbled upon your blog this morning! I will definitely be coming back around.

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Mikaela January 8, 2011 at 10:00 am

I think my worst food moment was the morning after a late night 7/11 run when I went back for a Diet Pepsi and saw the spinning taquitos. The three I’d eaten the night before seemed to just be hanging in my stomach sayings, “Yeah, you ate that.” It was revolting, though I think about three weeks later I repeated the process. Sometimes late at night, you don’t seem to remember the lessons you learned.

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Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) January 9, 2011 at 4:42 am

Amen! Such a brilliant post.

I do try to eat only the things I love. I don’t eat healthy food *just becase* it’s healthy. And I try not to eat less then mediocre food just because it’s what I’ve always eaten in the past. But sometimes it’s hard to break through that routine until realizing that it’s routine. :D

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Ali January 9, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I had a similar revelation the other day. I was drinking a Pepsi and I kept cringing after every sip. I would take a sip, cringe, think, “This doesn’t taste right…” then I would take another sip a few minutes later. This cycle repeated until I was done with the can. A couple days later, the same thing happened, and today I went through a similar process with Coca Cola. Coke and Pepsi are two sodas I have loved for years, but I suddenly realized today that I really didn’t love them as much as I thought. They were too sweet, left a weird after taste and made my whole mouth feel gross, like I hadn’t brushed in days. I probably spoiled myself with the new Sierra Mist, and I think I’ll stick with that… and only drink it when I really am craving a soda, instead of when it’s easy and nearby. Thank you for the great post!

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Anne Marie@New Weigh of Life January 10, 2011 at 8:25 am

I eat just to eat, without regard to whether or not I “love a certain food.” I love this post-it really makes me think of my choices and how I live my life. Thank you for the insight!

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Anna January 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

This is a really wonderful post- I’m from MA too and there’s a White’s in my hometown (Hingham). Their crusty rolls never fail to evoke good memories for me.

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Can You Stay for Dinner January 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Anna! That’s the White’s Bakery I’m referring to! My mother drives 45 minutes to that exact bakery for cake all the time. It’s my absolute favorite!

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Ffion @ Chocolate and Raspberries January 16, 2011 at 10:56 am

‘his is delicious, but is it delicious right now?’

This resonates loudly with me. I’v been trying to loose wieght since last July, and have so far lost 23 pounds. Not the fastest of weight losses, espicially when I have 100ish to go, but anyway, thts not the point of this comment. I weigh in every Thursday evening, and I then allow myself to have anything that I fancy for dinner. Its my way of keeping sane, and giving in to any food cravings that I might have. The thing is, sometimes I don’t really fancy any chocolate, or cake or whatever, but I feel that I have to eat something that might be deemed unhealthy, just because I know that this is my one chance for the week. I really need to give myself a pep talk, and as you say, take one day at a time, and decide what I want to eat now, and not worry about what I might want tomorrow. Thank you for the reminder!

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Suzy January 21, 2011 at 7:05 am

This is an AWESOME post! I’ve read other posts on intuitive eating and just kinda brushed them off. But you are so honest and real that it made so much more sense this time. SO many times I’m guilty of running through the drive-thru b/c I’m close to one and honestly too lazy to make food once I get home-that is terrible!

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