Monday, October 30, 2006

The Last Supper

On an episode of Will & Grace, Grace and Karen are finishing up a restaurant meal when the leftovers are doggy-bagged and delivered to their table. Grace exclaims, “Yay! I’m so excited! I can’t wait until I’m hungry again!”

It’s curious how difficult that is for most of us—the idea of stopping when we’re full and waiting until we’re hungry to eat again. For many, it’s the most difficult part of mindful eating—learning when to say, “When.” Problems may arise particularly at night, when the last meal of the day unconsciously registers as “The last meal.” It’s hard to put an end to dinner when breakfast seems so far away.

So, why this difficulty, this distress about “enough”? Perhaps we’ve historically restricted, dieted to the point of our bodies’ cells not quite knowing when the next fix will come—and so, better to pack it in now. It’s as if a part of us has acknowledged that we may never eat again.

On a simple level, problems with parting usually occur with food that tastes good—our sweet, salty, or savory compadres. It’s not too often we overhear, “I just can’t stop eating these lima beans.” Tasty food provides comfort—comfort to our mouths and our minds, heralding a short-lived era of “I deserve.” And, generally, eating is reminiscent of an earlier time when our infant minds were only vaguely aware of some distress that was assuaged at the first ounce of milk.

But, it’s also possible that pushing the plate away mirrors other endings we experience—releasing, letting go, saying goodbye. How we say goodbye to food may mimic how we say goodbye in life—are we trusting, knowing that we’ll again find solace, comfort in others and ourselves? Or, when parting, are we distressed, fearful that we may never be okay?


PalmTreeChick said...

I'm still trying to think about this post. When it comes to dinner, I'm always thinking about how I don't want to eat too much or eat too late because it will be sitting in my stomach all night while I'm sleeping. (aka, not burning it off). I've never thought of it as being "the last meal." That's interesting.

Sometimes I have the mindset that I "better fill-up now" because I don't know when I will eat again. (If I'm on the road or away). I never really try to stuff myself though, just because that's not me.

I thought this example would be fitting. I was at Target the other day and saw butter toffee popcorn. I wanted it so badly because I loved it as a kid and haven't had it in a long time, but I wouldn't buy it. I was afraid that I would buy it and eat the whole thing. Again, that's not in my nature to eat all of something, and I've never done it, but I was scared that I would. Scared that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from eating it and I'd eat the whole thing. Scared that I'd have no control.

Okay, maybe this post didn't go at all with yours. I thought it did at first.

WifeMomChocoholic said...

Oh yeah!! When I was a size 6, I had to seriously restrict my food intake (and exercise like a maniac) to stay there. So when I got a taste of some forbidden food (wedding cake, french fries, white bread...) I'm pretty sure my subconscious knew it wasn't going to see this particular food again anytime soon because I often ate so much of it I felt sick.

Then of course I had to be even stricter with the food and even more manic with the exercise for the two weeks following to make up for my "slip". This is why diets give people eating disorders!

Anonymous said...

I can't identify with this blog post. I rarely ever stuff myself. I'm just not a binge eater. I eat early so I won't have heavy dinner on my tummy at bedtime. I don't do dessert hardly at all. I never think about it being a long time til breakfast. Sorry I don't get it at all.

Anonymous said...

My problem has never been stopping when I'm full. It's that it takes so much food to create that full feeling. The only way I've ever lost weight is by restricting my portion size. I leave the table satisfied (not hungry), but not full (I could definitely eat more and would, if given the opportunity). I've always wondered whether thin people stop eating when they full, or just when they're satisfied. Thin friends have told me it's when they feel full, but I'm not sure if their "full" equates to my "full".

badyoga said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
badyoga said...

That story about Grace looking forward to her leftovers reminds me of something w/ my husband...he CONSTANTLY cooks too much and we end up tossing the dish after a few days because WHO WANTS to eat leftovers for a WHOLE week!!
So I was fussing at him and he defended himself saying "I don't want to want more and not have it!"...and I retorted..."I HATE to eat too much of a dish and get SICK of sick that I don't want it again for MONTHS!!"
And I realized that I am just more comfortable than he is with Wanting and NotHaving. To me--its like I have a treasure waiting for me.
I have been wanting borsht for a damn week now and he STILL hasn't cooked it (mine sux) tonight I will pester him until he makes it.
Anyway, I like your blog. I have my own little crummy blog on my work on getting out of the diet mentality. Do come by!!

Haley-O said...

I always struggled with late-night eating, especially after having the monkey. It was me-time, and I was exhausted, so I'd eat! But, recently, I cleaned up my diet. I've given myself permission to eat as much as I want -- but of whole foods only (other stuff in moderation, yes actually!). This has helped with my night-time eating problem. Now, I eat dinner till I'm satisfied KNOWING that I can eat more later if I get hungry.... :) Works for me (so far). :) Great post, Stace!

Debstar said...

It's an interesting concept but I don't think it applies to me.

Here's my thoughts on the matter. When I was a child I was told I could not leave the table until I finished ALL the food on my plate. It didn't matter if I was no longer hungry or that the spinach made me gag I had to eat it. To encourage me on I was bribed with desert, usually icecream. So then desert becomes the reward you must have to endure everything else beforehand even if you still aren't hungry.

Have you heard this story before? I was taught to overeat, nay encouraged as if it was a good thing.

Consequently I have never forced a hated vegie onto my children , after all we have such a huge variety to choose from why eat spinach (bleuch)
We only have desert on special occasions. And if my children left their food uneaten they could put it in the fridge and eat it later if they liked but no other food was on offer, certainly not ice cream.
Desert is fruit or yoghurt if they are still hungry.
I don't know if this will work any better than what I got as a child but I'm hoping it does.

Emily Jolie said...

Debstar - I like your approach with your children. I, too, was forced to eat foods that made me gag as a child, and finish everything on my plate... and look where it got me!

Badyoga - interesting what you are writing about your husband's and your different approaches to food. My husband's more like you, I guess. He always cooks small portions. His attitude is that people should always walk away from his meals "wanting more." I.e., if you get too much of a good thing, you won't leave with as great a memory of it. Not like people leave the table hungry after his meals, anyways, as there are always multiple courses...

So interesting to see how different everyone's relationship with food is! I have to admit, I am a bit envious of PTC and anonymous #1, who just don't ever overeat and don't eat late at night. Although I overeat much less than I did in the past, I still do, and ESPECIALLY at night! (Like tonight...)

love and hugs,

lisa jane said...

I am going to try and remember that expression every time I sit down to a meal now.Remind myself that this isn't the last supper and that there is no reason to rush or worry, because I dont intend to be nasty to my precious body ever again,regardless of whether it is a little soft around the edges.

Thankyou for sharing this,and for all the work that you do.You are an asset to womankind and a huge inspiration to me as a psychology student,hoping to do similiar work in the future

drstaceyny said...

ptc--since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, why do you think you imagined this to be the outcome?

wmc--good example. I agree. . .

anon--that's ok--maybe you'll identify w/another post!

anon--good question abt "satisfied" vs. "full." I'm sure it's largely individual (some might stop at satisfied, some at full) and situationally-influenced, too, but you raise an interesting question for me--what is full? Physically, we might be able to describe more easily than psychologically. . .

by--it's so interesting how different psychologies play out w/food. Thanks for commenting--I'll visit your site, too (and I'm sure it's not "crummy").

haley--thanks. I think that idea of knowing you can have more later is v. helpful.

ds--hmm. . . that story does sound vaguely familiar. ; Sounds like your children will learn to be in better touch w/hunger and satiation.

ej--I'm glad some of these comments resonated w/you. Thanks for responding.

lj--what a wonderful new approach.
Thanks for reading, and good luck w/your training/education.

PalmTreeChick said...

I don't know, doc. I think about it now and know that I wouldn't eat the whole thing. A.) I would get sick of it after I had a little bit (because it's probably very sweet) and B.) I wouldn't let myself eat the whole thing anyway.

I don't really know why I feared that I would. There has only been one time that I bought something and ate all of it, and that was 10 years ago. I bought baked lays and ate the whole bag as I sat in my dorm room.

Maybe I was afraid of eating a "normal" amount, which to me would be "too much." That's the best I've got for ya.

sparkygrrl said...

Dr. Stacey, I'm mostly a lurker, but I have to comment on this very insightful post. I have a hard time with separations and goodbyes from those I love and am attached to. That carries on through my relationship with food, which has often been my most reliable friend and source of comfort. And I have the same sort of separation anxiety from food that I have from human objects of affection, e.g., what will I do when it's (he's) gone? What if I end up all alone, etc. Thanks for helping me make that connection more clearly.

Emily Jolie said...

Thanks, Dr.Stace. So many of your posts and your readers' comments resonate with me! Although I haven't been commenting that much, I always find great food for thought on your site! Love it!

Hope you're having a beautiful fall weekend!


drstaceyny said...

sg--you're welcome--and thanks for saying hello. : )

Anonymous said...

Dr. Stacey - I find what you are doing with this blog really important - bravo! I totally identify with "the last supper" mentality, but I also find myself overeating for other reasons. I am a totally normal weight for my height and am healthy, but I do have a history of eating disorder (anorexia). I also exercise regularly and am an active person. I try to eat healthfully most of the time, but I find myself bingeing on junk food occasionally just to show myself that I CAN and I won't gain weight if it IS only occasionally. It's not a cycle I enjoy, being a far-type-A personality, but it makes me realize that sometimes eating too much is not the end of the world, as long as I am healthy otherwise.