When I was in college I took a class in the psych department titled The Tyranny of Food. The main premise was that if we are concerned/obsessed about our weight, even one pound, we are tyrannized by food. The class and the book written to go with it was designed to liberate us from this tyranny.
The professor, an older man, had some revolutionary ideas. This was a time when eating sensible, dieting, and exercise were the tried and true course for weigh loss and management. Doesn’t sound that dated as I write it. His idea was basically that there are foods that HUM, the ones you and your body want, and foods that BECKON, the foods that snag you.
A food that HUMS is one that you generate. The scenario might go: I’m hungry and think about breakfast. I recall the spaghetti I made and stored in the refrigerator. I eat that. Or I might think of hot cereal with fresh blueberries and maple syrup. This might require going to the store and then I need to decide if I’m willing to do that. I think he would say YES because that is what HUMS.
A food that BECKONS is the pastry in the display case at Starbucks or Petite Provence. A BECKONING food might be what you think you should have for breakfast, or the item that’s in front of you when you open the cupboard or refrigerator. His advise would be, you want cereal and have Grape Nuts in the cupboard but you want muesli, get muesli!
He didn’t think you had to earn dessert by eating a good meal first. He thought it was important to get exactly what you wanted and when you wanted it. If you longed for a Chiquita banana with your cereal then don’t settle for a Dole. If you wanted pie for breakfast, don’t eat the eggs first. He also said that with whom, where, and when we eat are important. If eating with family is stressful, eat somewhere else or before or after them. Check in with yourself to make sure you are eating in a place that pleases you. Don’t eat by the clock.
The idea behind his theory was that when we don’t eat what we want, in the order we want, or the time we want; we will overeat because we are not satisfied. We will overdo in the hope that satisfaction will come. My experience and his thought: we’ll get stuffed and then finally stop in despair; perhaps to eat again in a few hours in the hopes of finding satisfaction this time. The flip side of this is we may not want to eat at all. I can think of many a time when a short rest would have given me the energy I wanted rather than food, or calling a friend would have been the companionship I craved or the comfort I longed for.
The class had a food day. We meet on a Saturday and brought our favorite food or foods. I made a challah bread, a large salad, and bacon. When I brought my foods the first thing I realized was these weren’t my favorite foods today, they were yesterday’s favorites. I chose a pickle, cheese, & salami sandwich. Before I finished it he suggested I take the salami out and see if that was a critical ingredient. I did this and discovered I love just a pickle and cheese sandwich. This is a family favorite since then. He had us place a potato chip in our mouth and leave it there. In a short while it tasted like a piece of cardboard. I haven’t tried this lately.
That summer I was still obsessing over the nine pounds I wanted to lose. I put his methods to the test. I wanted ice cream often. I got the flavor I wanted and ate it out of the carton (also the way I wanted it) with the sample spoon. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much ice cream before or after that summer. I lost the weight. Another situation was when I lived with several other women. We were often eating at different times. I wanted to share meals but soon learned I couldn’t eat every time someone else was. I decided to have a very small glass of sherry which I would sip as we chatted over their dinner.
I told people about my experience. I was in a nutrition class and presented the ideas to the class. Part of the experience was to list the foods one wanted as I went through a list of emotions. At the end, my teacher said, “When do we start eating?” She was a person who didn’t eat when under the influence of emotion. She told me her daughter was quite over-weight and she was at her wits end to help her. I’m guessing she and her daughter had different eating responses to emotion. Remember, this is PERSONAL. I told another woman I worked with about my ice cream experience, she seemed very keen on the idea. Later I realized she had an eating disorder. So there is caution here. This isn’t a cure-all.
What I realized after that summer was this: HE WAS ASKING US TO BE FREE. When I really stayed present to myself I had to be responsible for my decisions. When framed this way I realized his methods were not likely to hit the best seller list. I don’t think his book sold beyond his students. Responsible for our choices., a hard sell in the best of times and way too early in the 70’s.
To make the choice for freedom isn’t just about what I eat. Humming foods is just the jumping off point. I soon realized being free would seep into every corner of my life. This is scary! So let’s get real here, who am I going to blame when the choices I make turn out with results I didn’t want? Where would rock n’ roll be (my music of choice) if I took responsibility for my life? I’ve imagined these lyrics and they’re not too exciting. “I love you because I choose to be happy when I’m with you”. That might be the best of the lot, the other ones I thought of are pretty lame.
I love the Chinese proverb that says: “Given the direction you’re headed, it’s likely you’ll end up where your going”. How often do I really want to face the fact that things turned out as they did is in direct relationship to my choices and actions. When it doesn’t go my way there are usually lots of reasons why. The reasons always begin with something or someone who made it so. For example: ‘You make me angry’; ‘You made me fall in love with you’, ‘I couldn’t stop eating, it was too good’, ‘I was nervous so I ate too much’. Even when life does produce the result I want I have reasons: ‘my lucky day’; ‘I deserved this’; ‘I’m smarter than they are’.
As I write this, I don’t want you to think for a moment that I’m above or beyond this behavior. I might not get snagged by a Krispy Kreme but there’s many a cookie that took me out. In conversation when I’m angry or upset I‘ll go for: ‘If you had said it differently I could have heard what you wanted me to get’. That’s a personal favorite, make someone else responsible for my experience.
So how to be free? Here are some experiences that help me:
After a weeks meditation retreat, I had an insight. I saw that I had used the emotion of despair to go under life. I didn’t need to be responsible for my life because it was hopelessly awful anyway. I saw how I used meditation and spiritual seeking to go over life. I could just be above it all, untouched as it were. As strategies neither of these had worked, I was still sad and lonely. What I realized was that I had never been willing to just be in life. What a concept.
Use ‘I’ words. Speak for myself rather than others. Make the effort to say what I mean.
In the last few years I have been studying Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This is the work of Marshall Rosenberg. NVC has four simple steps. Make an observation. Say what you’re feeling. Identify the need you want to meet. Make a ‘doable’ request. I read his book and it is so straight-forward. Putting this into practice is the challenge. In moments of calm, I can do it all. Say something that triggers me and I’m off to what is habitual and (to our defense) readily reinforced in our language and culture (i.e. rock n’ roll). So I meet once a week in a supportive group to work with issues that are ‘alive’ for me. I practice in each moment I am conscious of my behavior. NVC, like my psych teachers class, is asking me to be free, to be responsible. I always know when I’m in this groove because the space is light and spacious and there is a sense of being home, at ease, safe, and satisfied.
Clarify my intention. When I have cleared the chaff of my thoughts and honed my intention, miracles occur. A friend told me her process: make the experience you want as clear as possible and then let the universe supply the form.
But how does all this interface with my personal dilemma: losing weight? Somewhere in the dark reaches of my mind I’ve been clarifying my experience around losing weight. I haven’t thought about humming foods for over twenty years and then it was there in my thoughts, the whole memory fully formed – like magic. I’m willing to accept divine intervention any time. So my plan for losing weight – look for foods that HUM. Learn to be free.