How to eat for fun.
October 14, 2009 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I want to re-learn how to enjoy food and the process of eating.

For who knows what reason, I never really learned how to just enjoy food. I'm going to spare gory background details because even if they were important, I want to focus on the future rather than the deep inner meaning for my sorta-ish eating issues.
I've been a vegetarian for about five years or so, so I'm very health conscious...for the most part. During the day, I try to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins (mostly tofu/meat substitutes) and some dairy. I rarely stray far from "healthy" foods during the day. At night I sometimes go on crazy binges and end up feeling sick and out of control. During these periods, I usually binge on carbs, cookies/cake, basically anything I can get my hands on. What's odd is this times of complete lack of control are punctuated by a day where I simply won't eat anything.
I want to learn how to eat "normally"--whatever that means. How can I learn to just eat ONE slice of pizza and not constantly be thinking about more food, or the guilt of that slice? How can I just eat ONE cookie and not the entire batch?
I'm looking mostly for pragmatic solutions, mindsets, etc. I've tried some behavioral therapy, but it wasn't really for me. Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps if you splurge on small portions, the expensive quality will make up, a little, for the amount of food? So if you go to a fine bakery and buy a single, over-the-top cookie or slice of cake, and focus on eating that slowly and savoring each bite, that could help to enjoy taste rather than the feeling of fullness?

As to the carb issue, I have that too, and one of the best pieces of advice in terms of not binging on carbs as much is to always pair a protein with a carb. Protein will make you feel fuller faster, and doesn't instantly turn into sugar in your system, so you feel fuller longer. One of my favorite snacks is a small brownie with some peanut butter spread on top, which is not only delicious, it also fills me up more than three of the same sized brownies alone.
posted by xingcat at 7:45 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am a person who needs more self-control when it comes to food, and I find the best thing to do is just not keep very much ready-to-eat food around the house. In particular, I avoid keeping snack foods around. Then, when you are preparing food, don't try to make extra: only make what you are planning to eat right then.

I find that when I am in "eating mode", I keep looking for things to munch on, even when I'm full. But only having X amount of food means I can't do that. I can clean the plate (and the pan) without feeling guilty, because I ate a reasonable amount of food.
posted by goingonit at 7:50 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

First of all, make sure you are getting enough calories during the day. Incorporate treat-foods you enjoy into your daily diet, instead of making them a forbidden food you can only eat if you are being bad (and once you've starting being bad, why bother stopping until the food is gone). For portion control, it's easier if you limit yourself before you start. When I lived alone, I kept frozen balls of cookie dough. I could cook 1 or 2, and it would take a bit to dethaw and cook, so that limited me from eating a whole batch. I also didn't feel like I was being wasteful, since frozen cookie dough keeps longer than cookies. I imagine this would work for frozen individual pizzas - if you want more you can cook another one, but the time and energy is a disincentive. Also, avoid keeping food around your house if you know you won't be able to stop eating once you start (certain salty-sweet combinations make me never want to stop eating).
posted by fermezporte at 7:51 AM on October 14, 2009

Eat slowly. Nibble. Spend more time chewing. Savor every bite.

I love to wolf things down, but I am always glad when I'm able to remind myself that technically every bite contains the pleasure I'm hunting for. This is how you can learn to derive as much satisfaction from two cookies as you do from twenty. It's not about getting "full" -- if it was, then you wouldn't be eating cookies. It's about pleasure. Pleasure yourself generously by feeding your senses, not your gut.
posted by hermitosis at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quality is a huge issue. I used to eat a lot of chocolate. The problem was that it was waxy American crap chocolate. It was not fit to make candles from, much less hollow bunnies with nomable ears. If you get pricey high-cocoa chocolate, without much filler, a couple of squares will do you just fine. Chocolate is the most obvious area for this, but it is not the only one.

Also, turn off the TV, close the laptop, put down the book, then close your eyes and enjoy your food. Distraction cuts down on the amount of attention you pay to your eating.
posted by adipocere at 7:56 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

two book suggestions: intuitive eating and the rules of normal eating.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

One point which someone made to me is: forgive yourself if you change your mind in the middle of preparing something. We are so used to not wanting to waste food that we'll force ourselves to eat something just because we made it and it seems wasteful not to. so you get into a situation where you start making a big salad for lunch, but in the middle of making it you think "actually, I'm not all that hungry" or "actually, what I really want is just one croissant", but crap, you've already STARTED making this salad and you don't want it to go BAD you make yourself eat the salad, choking it down, and the whole time grumbling to yourself because "dammit, what I really wanted was that croissant," and it just becomes this big issue in your head and grows and grows until it becomes this huge craving that drives you to get a whole bag of croissants and you devour them -- all because you didn't want to waste that salad.

Instead, if you get that "all I want is a single croissant, actually," feeling in the middle of making something else, give yourself permission to put the something else away and get that one croissant. You're not "wasting" salad, or the effort spent making it, if you store it so you can eat it later. By training yourself to tune in to what you really want, you can stop the small wants before they become big irrational cravings.

It IS possible to get really fine-tuned with this. I know someone who thought a moment about what he really wanted each and every time he wanted to eat something, and he kept a surprisingly balanced diet that way. Some days, he wanted a couple pieces of pizza, sure. But other days, he realized, "you know, I want peas."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on October 14, 2009

Boy, do I feel you.

I came in to say 2 things which I see have already been covered: (1) buy single-serving portions of yummy rich food and (2) tell yourself nothing is forbidden to you. Boy, I can't tell you how effective that was in curbing my cravings for "bad food". Now I don't even think of food as "bad" or "good" anymore. It's just food.

But the other thing I wanted to say is: cooking regularly has really helped me enjoy eating more. It can be very satisfying to make something from scratch and take in all the different colours, sounds and smells. So, if you don't already know how to cook - you could learn. It may help. YMMV.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:16 AM on October 14, 2009

Maybe take a look at The Zen of Eating.
posted by Otis at 8:23 AM on October 14, 2009

Been there... done that... agree with not having around extra portions and also, you eat, don't do anything else, try to don't even think in anything else, just seat and eat. Enjoy!!!
posted by 3dd at 8:26 AM on October 14, 2009

Do you eat breakfast? I used to have similar problems with eating all the time in the evenings and overeating at lunch, but since I've started eating a full breakfast in the mornings I've found I just don't need to eat as much at lunch or dinner, and I don't snack as much either. I used to never believe (and still kind of don't) that breakfast is the most important meal of the day from a nutritional standpoint, but it's certainly helpful in regulating how much you eat later on during the day.
posted by pravit at 8:29 AM on October 14, 2009

On top of savouring the food as you eat it, and not feeling guilty about eating cookies, the other thing to do is try having the extra portions around. Yes, at first you'll binge on whatever, but eventually you know that cake and cookies are waiting for you whenever you want them, so you don't have to rush to eat them all now before they disappear, or before your guilt catches up with you.

It is crucial for all these things to be high quality, and, as much as possible, homemade.
posted by jeather at 9:12 AM on October 14, 2009

There are also lots and lots of books you can look at here.

Restricting your food choices during the day can cause reactionary bingeing, as you describe. If you can work on some sort of intuitive eating process, it can reduce both the restriction and the bingeing.

There's a book called Overcoming Overeating, and another called When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies that specifically discuss legalizing food and going through the process to help curb binge eating.

It's also a good idea to talk to a dietitian who deals with eating disorders, or who is trained in Ellyn Satter's methods. They focus specifically on "normalizing" eating, without either restricting or bingeing.

If you're in the US, you can go here and search for an RD in your area who has "eating disorders" as a specialty.

Good luck.
posted by Ouisch at 10:23 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to have the same bad relationship with food. The reasoning, for me, went like this:

"I know I'm going to eat something unhealthy and calorific and awful tonight, so I better do my absolute best to eat as little and as healthily during the day."

So I'd basically starve myself for hours and hours. If I felt hungry at, say, 10am, I would think "I shouldn't be hungry because lunch is in two hours." And I would wait two more hours to eat. By that time, I would be exhausted, irritable, and in pain because of hunger, and I would gobble down huge, horrible quantities of food because I was so, so hungry.

The same thing happened at night with dessert. During the day, I would think, "I would so love something sweet right now. But I shouldn't want something sweet right now. Dessert is after dinner, so I shouldn't have anything sweet until then." So then, when I finally ate dinner and finally had "permission" to eat dessert, I'd go crazy again. Huge, disgusting desserts that I didn't even enjoy, because I was so caught up thinking about how much I shouldn't want them. The next morning, I would feel bad about having eaten so much ice cream or whatever, and that would just reaffirm to myself that I should be as careful as possible not to eat anything sweet during that day.

I want to nth making sure you feel like it's okay to eat what you want. I also want to nth the idea that you should make sure that you have delicious, delectable food items available -- don't say "Well, these cookies are 1/3 less fat, and those cookies are full fat, so I should buy the 1/3 less fat cookies even though they taste like poop." All you're going to do is eat the whole container of cookies and feel dissatisfied about it.

But here's the thing that really made the biggest difference to me: eat when you're hungry, and eat what you actually want, not what you "intellectually" want.

It's so obvious -- painfully, painfull obvious -- but it did wonders for me. If I had a snack at 10am, I wasn't so hungry at noon, and that meant I would eat something smaller. It wouldn't be a constant, ravenous hunt for as much filling food as possible. Instead, it would be pleasant little romps into the world of food. I have such a smaller appetite these days. I used to eat for lunch an entire Chipotle burrito, because I had starved myself beforehand to such an extent I thought I needed that much food. Now, I know I don't need that much food, because I'm not that hungry -- and a handful of granola at 10am plus half a Chipotle burrito at 12 is so much healthier and happier than hunger pains at 10 and a whole burrito at noon. And the same thing is repeated for dinner and dessert. If I am hungry at 3, I eat at 3, instead of starving until dinner. So, I eat less at dinner. And if I want something sweet at 3, I'll get a piece of candy or whatever sounds good. So, I don't feel such a strong pull towards sweets at the designated "dessert" time of night. Starving yourself at one point during the day can cause you to binge at another point.

Also, make sure you eat what you actually think sounds good. Even if you end up making decisions that, intellectually, feel completely stupid, it's okay! Sometimes, a cheese danish really does sound great. So, get one! Or, heck, even two! And then, after you've eaten it, see if it actually made you feel as great as you thought it might. Let it be okay for you to want certain kinds of foods as opposed to others, and experiment with seeing how it actually feels to eat those foods you want. Now that I am perfectly willing to eat that cheese danish if that's what I really want, I've realized that it's not actually what I want that much -- now that I have stopped thinking of it as the "wrong yet delicious" choice and instead as just another perfectly acceptable choice, I've realized that, you know? I don't really like how my body feels after I've eaten a cheese danish and I actually do like how I feel after eating some fruit.

A lot of people have so much information available to them about what foods count as healthy and what foods count as indulgences, what foods should be avoided and what foods should be sought out that they think of eating as an intellectual exercise of counting calories, proteins, fats, and vitamins. This makes you focus on what your brain knows about food, and makes you ignore what your body feels when you eat certain foods. And your brain is really bad at making decisions about food.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:50 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ms. Saint's advice is awesome.

I've also heard that Intuitive Eating (rmd1023 suggested it & linked to it) is very good.

Eating a big enough breakfast and lunch helps me keep my food stable, as does eating sufficient fat. Ideally, I eat about 1/3 of my food for the day for breakfast, 1/3 for lunch, and the remaining 1/3 is split between an afternoon snack and dinner. The fat is also really important for me, for satiety. That's just what works for me - others do better with slightly smaller meals and more snacks. However, most people (though I'm sure not all) who have struggled with overeating at night need to be sure to eat a substantial amount in the morning and during the day, to ensure they're not overhungry by the time the evening rolls around.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:25 PM on October 14, 2009

I had a similar problem and there is lots of good advice here. What worked for me personally is not to do the whole ascetic diet thing. I read lots of scientific studies and came to the conclusion that macronutrients aren't that important, it's the nutrients and whole foods you are getting that matter. I make sure to include something deliciously fatty in all my meals. I feel nicely satiated afterwards and I actually haven't binged in a long time.

I do follow the rule though that I'll only eat something that makes me feel like crap if it's the the best freaking thing in the world. Yes, I will eat pastries made by Jacque Torres, but Little Debbies.... never again.

Learning to cook also helped me so much. Once I started making my own delicious food, I became more connected to the ingredients and caring about my food. One of the best things I ever bought was an ice cream maker because once I started making my own ice cream I realized that the Haagan Daaz pints I was downing weren't even worth it. I think my own ice cream is healthier too and I can't bring myself to buy storebought crap because I have this big huge machine sitting on the counter that would be wasted if I did.
posted by melissam at 5:21 PM on October 14, 2009

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