Even though I was raised in a family where we never had to worry about running out of food, I had an innate fear of not getting enough to eat. As I ate dinner, I was already thinking about having seconds or what I’d get to eat next before I was even finished. What if someone else got what was left in the casserole dish or the last pork chop before I did? What did we have in the cupboards that I could have later? Even as an adult, when I lived along and could buy anything I wanted, I still couldn’t control how much I ate. I realize now that this fear was driven by the food addict in me.
I have since recognized this behavior in others with food issues. About a year into my lifestyle change, I was at a restaurant with a new friend and his friend. When the food came, his friend asked if she could try his sweet potato fries. I registered his reluctance in wanting to share and I knew exactly what was going through his mind. Anyone with a similar food issue could recognize that feeling of not wanting to share because it means less for me.
I immediately thought- Wow! That was totally me! But what I simultaneously realized–for the very first time in my life–was that I no longer felt that way. Until that time, I had been obsessed with getting enough of whatever I ordered that I didn’t want to share. Only if I wasn’t crazy about it or just couldn’t finish it would I offer some to others. And whenever we ordered something for the table, I was always concerned I wouldn’t get enough, but at the same time, didn’t want to look greedy. I realized at that moment that I’d had a breakthrough with this food issue.
People who are overweight clearly have enough to eat, but psychologically, often feel that they’re not going to have enough. Addressing this issue is essential to making a lifestyle change. In hindsight, the fear of not getting enough was more likely due to what I was eating. Growing up, most of our dinners were meat and potatoes or pasta with a side vegetable. I had a voracious appetite that clearly wasn’t satisfied with even larger portions of these foods because I wasn’t getting the bulk to fill my gut. (And that’s why a vegetable-centered meal is so much more satisfying!)
I developed two strategies for dealing with this issue. First, I consciously decided before I began to eat exactly how much I would eat. It’s really helpful if you can limit what you cook to exactly the portion you’ll need to for a meal or specifically for planned leftovers. Even if you have to make more for your family, make up your mind that you will only have the amount you planned to eat. Avoid serving food family-style, when possible, so extra food isn’t sitting on the table, staring you in the face, at arm’s length, just begging to be eaten.
It’s also helpful, when practical, to prepare food in individual sized serving dishes. My sister told me, after reading Going Tiny, that because she regularly makes casseroles, she bought tiny dishes so she wouldn’t be tempted to eat more than what she portioned out as one serving. Individual portions are also handy for packed lunches. (Why you should absolutely pack your lunch is for another post!)
Second, I learned early on that filling up first on the cheap stuff, like non-starchy vegetables and fibrous foods, was the key to success. I always began dinner with as big of a salad as I wanted. I never measured non-starchy vegetables. I made and ate as many as I wanted. If I was starving hungry during the day, I allowed myself to eat as many raw or left-over naked, cooked vegetables as I wanted. This strategy proved effective because by the time I got to the smaller portions of the really good stuff on my plate, I could really savor eating them and didn’t feel shortchanged with what were comparatively minuscule portions to what I was used to having.
I’m not sure exactly when or what happened that got me to the point that I lost my fear of not having enough to eat. Maybe it was learning portion control. Maybe it was realizing that food tasted better when I didn’t overindulge. Or maybe it was because my relationship with food finally started to change from one of obsession to one of appreciation. But one thing I do know is that I’m no longer a hoarder but a sharer.