I had an intense fear of hunger. A few years of dieting coupled with losing 135lbs will do that to you. Most evident at night, right before I settled in for shut eye, when my body wouldn’t need, say, a boatload of energy to dream about Leonardo DiCaprio (or would it?), I thought that my bedtime snack should be substantial. At that point, I’d already eaten dinner, already smiled my way through dessert and a cup of chamomile tea, already told Daniel that my heart just couldn’t love anything or anyone more than two of my homemade, warm chocolate chip cookies, paired with a DVR’ed episode of The View (only if Barbara’s there).
But at that point, usually somewhere around 10pm, as I was about to creep under the covers to catch a few winks, I always needed something more. A feeling of, “I’m nervous of this feeling of fullness going away.”
A few months ago, I realized the thought process was silly. Because there is always a kitchen ten feet away. Always an apple, cereal, more chocolate chip cookies, for when the food supply resting in my belly dwindles. But still, I think, ‘hmmm, I should have a bowl of peanut butter oatmeal. Maybe peanut butter toast. No, that’s it, peanut butter and fluff.’ Are you getting the sense that I have some sort of problem with peanut butter? Because that’s completely untrue. How dare you.
Anywho, I’d end up eating a peanut butter and fluff sandwich before bed every night. And let me be clear: there ain’t a darn thing wrong about that. The problem lies not in the food or the fact that I sported a marshmallow fluff mustache as I kissed Daniel goodnight, no, the problem lies in the feeling of fear that led me to a meal roughly the size of breakfast, before bed.
I’ve told you all before, several hundred trillion times, that peanut butter and fluff sandwiches are my favorite thing to eat. Favorite.Thing.To.Eat. Get it down. But I don’t like eating anything if it is spurred by an emotion other than what Homer Simpson would identify as, “Nom nom nom.” I like to eat because things taste positively delicious. Because they’re exactly what I’m craving, exactly at the right time. See: chocolate chip cookies and The View, above.
What I realized about myself, is that this slight fear of feeling hungry almost always right before bed, was something more. It was a remnant of my days filling myself so full I couldn’t feel. I liked that sensation of, “Ooo boy my belly is packed to capacity.” Because I subconsciously knew that fullness meant fullness in other parts of my life too. Here’s where I’ll get a little abstract, a little out there, but hear me out.
I’m a people pleaser. The type who probably comes across as extroverted and sunny and light. I spend mornings, days, and early evenings, trying to radiate positive energy, becoming totally absorbed in interactions with others, really just giving life my absolute all. It’s part of my wish to never have regrets. I like to live fully. Give it all I’ve got.
So at the end of the day, I feel drained. I feel as though I’ve got to take something back for myself. And to this day, food is my first instinct to meet that end. It’s probably the instinct of millions of others. We’re a bit conditioned and soothed to recognize food as comfort, food as love, food as that pleasure we give to ourselves. Phrases like “indulge your senses” in just about every commercial, especially those targeting women, make it seem as though the highest form of pleasure that you can give to yourself is in the form of something yummy. It’s ‘me time.’ It’s ‘you’ve given everything you have to the world, now give back to yourself with this chocolate mousse.’ I should preface this talk with: I really and truly do think food is of the highest order of pleasure. I always will. But it isn’t really the comforting friend, the great listener, the gentle unwinder that we pray it will be. We’re told it will be.
So at night, when I feel zapped of energy, when I feel like I’ve done a lot for others, and maybe tried too hard to make life a bit sunnier for other people, to make them laugh (mostly at me- and for good reason), when I’ve given it all away, I’m left with a body and mind that needs restoring.
Recharging. Love. Attention. Gobs of affection.
And after two decades as a very (stress: very) big person who ate for every.reason.under.the.sun., peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter oatmeal, they all whispered rejuvenation to me. It took years for this notion to go away.
Even after I had maintained my 135lb weight loss for four years, I still held that second bedtime meal as a mainstay in my life. I’d go out to eat at a restaurant, I’d eat dessert, and still, no matter how full I felt, no matter how much time stood between awake and asleep, I just.had.to eat something. And not just anything, something hearty. Something that really sticks to the ribs. In December, I left Seattle and went home to Massachusetts for the month. My brother got married on the 1st, and with Christmas not far off, I stayed and worked remotely. It was lovely. Just lovely.
The first few days I was home, I wasn’t in my groove. My usual nightly ritual. I was doing different things, I was chatting with my parents ’til the wee hours of the morning, I was blowing raspberries on my pug’s belly. I didn’t have the peanut butter and fluff or the peanut butter oatmeal like I had only days earlier in Seattle.
We went out to eat, we came home to cupcakes, and we spent hours being obscene before bed. Hours without eating just to eat. And what I realized was, ‘oh, it’s not about the food or the hunger.’ It’s about filling myself, my time, and my mind with something that I want to mean so much more.’
What in the sam hell does all of this mean?
My weight had always stayed the same. The peanut butter and fluff or whatever three meals I managed to munch between dinner and dreaming didn’t affect my waist, didn’t make me regain even a pound I’d lost, so what did it matter that I needed them?
Well, it matters. It matters if the underlying reason I ate was not hunger, but in the name of giving back to myself at the end of the day. It matters if food is the most joyous part of my evening. If salty peanut butter and sweet sweet fluff, likely as dense a meal as lunch, is what I looked forward most. If I felt I simply couldn’t, simply wouldn’t go to bed without a stuffed stomach. It mattered that even though I might have been craving more cookies, I ate a sandwich just because I knew it would last longer. It would feel more filling than, say, oreos. The hunger wasn’t real, but the desire was.
What I’ve learned from this, other than that I am able to pen a novel about the abstraction of my relationship to food and that you (poor you) are forced to read it, is that I am not starving at night. I’m not going to go hungry if I eat two slices of meatloaf, a baked potato with sour cream, and half a plate of roasted broccoli, and then two palm sized chocolate chip cookies with a cup of tea, and then relax for an hour before I settle in bed with my laptop to read The Pioneer Woman.
I realized that, “Uh, hey Andrea, yeah there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…umm..you know that room with the green tile and the big silver box that keeps things cold? Yeah, well, funny thing, ha, that’s what’s called a kitchen. Like ‘bitchin!,’ only with a ka-sound. And you can go ‘head and get a bite to eat any ol’ time you feel a drip drop of hunger. So, like, no need to binge out of fear, K?”
What about you? When are you hungriest?