Food: A Love Story, Part II – I Just Want an Effing Hamburger

And now, for another guest post from MFF SuperNinja Stella Kaufman.  In this post, Stella discusses her psychospiritual battle between her fitness goals and typical American nutritional habits.

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So, there I was. I took a 6 week program that changed the way I ate, and the way I thought about food…or so I thought. I was given a formula to follow, fill in the blanks with the food I wanted. I was a master of the calorie.  I knew exactly what to eat to meet the desired protein, calories and carbohydrates. Wanting to lose the rest of the weight I needed to, I continued with the same formula after the six weeks.  In fact, I continued on the same virtuous path for eight months. Oh, there was the occasional piece of bread, the nibble of a dessert, but only in a restaurant. My daily life involved eating pretty much the same way—and often the same food—for eight months. Sixty pounds later, I was determined to keep that weight off.  I was fit, getting more and more toned, and enjoying every minute of it.  Until…one day, it happened. I was restless and bored with the food I was eating. One day I woke up, and heard a voice: “I just want an effing hamburger!” I looked behind me to see who was talking.  It couldn’t have been me. I don’t eat those things. The voice spoke again. “I just want an effing hamburger, some onion rings, and a beer.”  (Audible gasp)

Suspecting foul play, I ignored the voice. I was afraid. Afraid that a hamburger would lead me back to a road of unhealthy eating. And it wasn’t the science of it. I’m smart. I know that the calories and fat and carbs in a hamburger and onion rings and a beer will not destroy an 8 month calorie deficit. I swear I know that.  I was afraid that a hamburger would send me spiraling down a calorie vortex that would lead me back to a 60 pound weight gain and an exercise stoppage of epic proportion.  Let’s face it. We have all seen people lose weight, maintain for awhile, then slowly start to eat more, which, however counterintuitive, tends to lead to a cycle of shame that includes not exercising.  And (not so) all of a sudden, they are back to where they started. Or worse.

What to do? Trust that I may, in fact, have actually changed over the last several months, and go for the burger? Or just ignore the craving? I should know better than to think I could eat a burger. What was I thinking anyway?

All that thought over one effing hamburger. 

Well, I decided to have the burger, since, well, I really wanted it, and I felt like I should be able to take a chance on myself at that point. I ate with friends, out to dinner, and…I enjoyed it.  I didn’t obsess. I chose instead to live in that moment, and enjoy good company, good tastes. I was at the gym the next morning, as usual. There would not be an apocalyptic ending to this story. It was just an effing hamburger.  (For those of you who live with these food issues, and fear evenings with friends, vacations, parties, I know you were sweating it out right along with me.) 

What did I learn from this experience—I mean, other than the fact that I have a tendency to over-dramatize? I looked at this as a bold step into a world of normalcy, at least as it relates to food. And it took me a really long time— months before I could trust myself to have a true “cheat meal.” I realized that if I never allowed myself a little bit of indulgence, I would not be moving forward toward that healthy relationship with food that I was seeking as part of my lifetime plan. It wasn’t even that I planned to do this often, I just needed to know that I could…sometimes. Believing that you can have a normal experience with food is believing that you have the capacity for change. For me, it was proof that I was having success in altering my patterns of behavior with food.  

Success and gloating aside, I confess that I may never completely trust myself. That is, I will always maintain a healthy respect for how I am “wired.” Certain things will always be off limits for me. For example, while I may allow myself certain foods on occasion, I won’t keep them in my apartment: Snicker bars in the freezer (I like them frozen), chips in my cupboard (do people actually store chips?) and if there are Cheez-Its in my apartment, it’s because I’m eating them. All of them. We can be together sometimes, but we just can’t live together.

Wow – for someone who is trying not to think about food so much, there’s a lot of dialogue about food going on in my head—remember that the ultimate goal is to change the behavior pattern to the point that this kind of constant thought is no longer required.  So, where a “cheat meal” once was the start of a cheat day/week/2 weeks/month/get me off this hamster wheel, there is now a different pattern. Changing behavior patterns starts at the conscious level, so there will invariably be a lot of thought involved to get to the point where you don’t have to think about it so much anymore. Will I ever be able to get to the point where I just don’t pay attention at all? Which would mean that by consciously changing my behavior patterns over a long period of time I have changed the way I process things unconsciously? That is, can we actually change that “hard wiring?” I have no idea.  For now, I am okay being a person that needs to have a set of rules to help keep me on the sane side of all of this. 

Bottom line: Like the best of love affairs, food is meant to be enjoyed, savored, shared. Food is a part of our cultural and social being. It is to be experienced. The effing hamburger was just a step back to that place.  

(Let the rewiring begin?)

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