It's been a long time since I was writing a great deal about weight loss and gluttony....
(believe me, I will probably need to write more about it sometime after I have this baby... maybe even sooner, because while trying to lose weight isn't appropriate right now, dealing with old impulses always is...)
... and it's been an even longer time since someone emailed me with a question inspired by those old posts!
(Excuse me for my enthusiasm. I'm a little thrilled to have someone give me a reason to add a blog post. Lately, what with the homeschooling, the pregnancy, and the head lice, it's been hard to get to the computer with enough energy left to write.)
So, anyway, reader Katherine emails:
A nice amount resonated with me. I'm a food addict and I've been trying to make lifestyle changes to improve that. But there is one area that does undermine me and I just wondered if you had any tips or suggestions on how to deal with it.
I struggle to not eat when I'm making meals for my kids, even if I'm not hungry. It can smell good, look good and sometimes I even need to taste it to make sure it is cooked or seasoned or the right temperature. And it can be hard for me then not to, "Oh I'll just have a little bit."
I know you said you chew gum cleaning up after meals, but what about when making meals for others? Do you chew gum then too? Is there a better snack you keep on hand for that? Some other trick I'm not thinking of? I enjoy a piece of gum now and then, but chewing all day would give me a headache.
Chewing gum all day would give me a headache too. I resort to the gum-after-meals because I personally have a bigger problem with cleaning up afterwards -- with ending my meals -- and because there's a plausible socially acceptable excuse to do it for other reasons: an after-meal stick of sugarless gum, especially kinds that contain xylitol, reduces cavities. So, hey, good all around.
So, what to do about eating during food preparation for others. I guess it would depend on (a) why you perceive that it's a problem and (b) why you think you do it anyway.
I can think of at least two different published systems that are effective for many and that recommend going cold-turkey on eating outside times when you have deliberately chosen to have a "meal" (where we allow that some meals are small and happen between breakfast, lunch, and dinner). One of these, quite simple, is No-S and the other, more complicated, is the Beck approach.
No-S is summed up as "no snacks, no sweets, no seconds except on days that start with S." It emphatically does NOT define liquids as snacks, even rich and caloric ones like milkshakes or beer, because it's a behavior modification technique rather than a calorie-counting one. Chewing gum -- unless it tended to exacerbate cravings for sweets and is problematic for that reason -- would be compatible with that system. But taking a bite of foods you're cooking (except, I suppose, liquids like broths or sauces) would be incompatible with the system -- yes, even in order to find out if there's enough salt. And it would also be incompatible with the system to eat other snacks while cooking, even something like celery sticks. The whole point is to condition you not to eat when it isn't mealtime.
The Beck approach is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy. It's quite different from No-S, as it's a controlled-calorie system that writes "snacks" and "sweets" into the budget, while teaching techniques to help people discontinue unhelpful behaviors. One of the pieces of advice I remember about it -- a piece that I didn't end up following -- was not to rely on a crutch like gum or sugarless candy to keep your mouth busy so you wouldn't eat things. Beck thought that in her system, it was preferable to learn to cope with cravings and temptations some other way besides putting something in your mouth.
I mention these not as diet-book recommendations (though you could certainly investigate them) but to point out that each system hangs together in its own way, and what makes sense in one doesn't make sense in another. Ultimately, of course, everyone who needs a system, needs a personalized one.
One person can't touch chips without eating every chip in sight, so it makes more sense (at least temporarily) to expose herself to chps with caution; another person reacts to food restriction with binging, so it makes more sense for him (at least temporarily) to give himself permission to have some of whatever he wants, until "forbidden" foods lose their power over him.
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So, let's examine some of what you wrote. Starting with this one.
...sometimes I even need to taste it to make sure it is cooked or seasoned or the right temperature.
I challenge this assumption. When you're ferreting out unnecessary eating, I have found it helpful to question every instance of "I need to put this in my mouth because..." Often they aren't really "need tos." And this one sounds like a false "need to."
- If you're unsure whether something is cooked through, tasting it isn't safe. Make sure it is cooked by cutting into meat and observing the color and texture, by using a thermometer to find out if it has come up to the prescribed doneness temperature, or by paying attention to how long it has been cooking.
- Whether something is correctly seasoned or not is subjective, especially if you're talking about salt or hot pepper. Even if it tastes the right amount of "salty" to you, it might not to others. So there's no need to taste food for that reason. Follow the recipe for herbs and garlic, err on the side of under-salting and under-spicing food, and pass the salt and pepper at the table.
- Temperature can be tested with a thermometer or a fingertip, or you can touch a spoon to the outside of your lip.
If you are the sort of person who generally struggles with "just one taste" turning into "just one more bite" and then into a whole serving's worth of bites --- and let me say that I am one of those people too, so believe me, I get it --- it will help you avoid the second, third, and nth tastes if you steer clear of that first "just one taste." That holds true even if you are tempted to think that this "just one taste" will be different somehow because you have a "good" reason to take a bite of the food. But it will not affect you any differently just because it can be defined as "good."
I struggle to not eat when I'm making meals for my kids, even if I'm not hungry.
I think to figure out what about your situation is especially tempting, you need to ask yourself... what's actually wrong with eating the food you are preparing for your children? Is it because you've already had your own meal? Is it because you think the kid food is not good for you and you should eat something better for you? Is it the "I'm not hungry so I shouldn't eat" thing?
Because what jumps out at me is the "when I'm making meals for my kids" part -- not "for me and for my kids," or "for my family," but "for my kids." Are you eating at a different time from your children? Different stuff, because of different tastes or dietary needs? Or are you doing something like packing lunches for them for the future, or making things to go in the freezer?
Is part of the problem that you're making two sets of meals -- one for yourself and one for your kids -- and that gives you two opportunities to eat a meal?
In any case, you are unhappy with this situation and it is probably time to shake it up a bit -- experiment with trying different things.
Would it help if you made meals for your kids at the same time that you are typically making a meal or a snack for yourself? So that you have in your pocket the ability to tell yourself: "I deserve to have a real meal on a plate. I'm not a dog who gets fed on table scraps. I'm going to have my lunch in just a moment, when the children are eating their lunch, and my lunch will be just as good or better than what these guys are having."
Or... you could decide that you DO want to have the food you are making "for the children." And then you could commit to it. There's no shame in eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, with a glass of milk (or chocolate milk!) and an apple on the side. Just commit to it! Put it on a plate, say "This is my lunch," eat it, and be done with it.
After all, if the food you are making for your children looks good and smells good and you want to eat it, why not... plan on eating it?
I think if it were me, I might try an experiment of just eating the same food I'm making for my kids for a couple of weeks (but on a plate, not standing at the stove). "After all," I would reason, "here I am eating bits these pepperoni pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches day after day, even when I've already had a lunch. Clearly I must WANT them on some level, and telling myself not to eat them isn't working. So I'll just eat them. Not in addition to my 'real' lunch, but AS my 'real' lunch."
If you know I am going to have a full serving of the meal I am preparing, on a plate, like a grownup, I find it is easier to tell myself, "hey, I don't want to eat this standing next to the stove. I want to sit down and enjoy it like a human being. "
A sociable person might say, "I want to sit down with my kids and reconnect with them over a meal! Or with family and friends!"
A person like me in the middle of the school day might say, "I can't wait to send the kids away for Break Time and take this grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of soup and sit down with it in front of the computer in peace and quiet and enjoy it while I check my email and then have a cup of coffee and really relax for half an hour before going back to work."
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As a side note, I admit that feel a little at sea when trying to answer reader questions.
The context in which I have chosen to interpret my food issues is "gluttony." I had a great deal of personal success framing them in that way. There were elements of addiction over which I had little control, but interacting with those were also elements over which I did have control. I tried to tease them apart and, where appropriate, accuse myself.
I'm loath to tell anyone else where addiction (the disability) ends and gluttony (the weakness) begins. That (besides lacking details) is why I didn't use the word "gluttony" while writing about Katherine's question.
But it is possible to step back and, without naming the cause as either addiction or gluttony-the-personal-weakness, identify acts that are objectively gluttonous. There is no self-shaming to be implied in this. Only "hey, here is something I do, and I am identifying it as a problem that I want to work on." To see your activities with clear eyes.
Aquinas says that gluttony is the act of eating too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily, not counting when you "think it necessary" for yourself. One of the reasons I have found that definition less than useful is that it's shockingly easy for me to convince myself that eating some thing "is necessary."
("Needing" to taste food repeatedly to make sure it's seasoned properly is only one example. I would tell myself things like "I only had pastries for breakfast, now I 'need' to eat my second breakfast which will provide me with protein and necessary minerals," or "I don't know if there will be food where I'm going and I might get hungry, so I 'need' to eat a full meal before I get there" followed by "I 'need' to eat because it's what everybody else is doing." Now I'm pregnant and I still struggle with what I "need" to eat because I'm pregnant and I "need" more food and better food.)
Dissatisfied with the way that this "necessary" loophole keeps undermining my resolve, plus the vagueness of the "too"'s in that discussion, I proposed an alternate categorization here. I found it a lot more helpful in accusing myself and in changing my behavior.
But that's me. It's not necessarily you, or the reader, or anyone else.
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Anyone else have some ideas for experiments to try, in order to break the habit of eating while preparing children's meals? My suggestion -- to plan on eating the apparently desirable children's meal as one's own meal -- can't be the only one.