One thing I recognized early in the fight against my expanding waistline was that I ate way too much at meals.
How could I not? Have you seen the size of the portions you get at restaurants? And that's not even talking about that unique American contribution to cuisine, the "all-you-can-eat buffet."
Then take into account that it is rather difficult to make a meal for only two people (they have entire cookbooks dedicated to the problem). And it's really no wonder I find myself gorging until I'm so far past full it hurts.
It's fairly common knowledge that Americans stand pretty well alone in this habit of eating till it hurts, and that many other cultures do just fine with much smaller portions.
I recently read Michael Pollan's book, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto." And he refers to a couple very interesting studies dealing with this problem.
When the folks performing the first study asked people in France how they knew when to stop eating, they replied "when we're full."
When they asked Americans the same question, the reply they received was "when the plate is empty."
In another study some participants were given soup bowls that automatically refilled themselves from the bottom. The diners with the bottomless bowls ate substantially more.
These studies are not all that surprising. Our culture has long demanded that we "clean our plates." And in the feast-or-famine agrarian society that formed the code, it was logical.
But in our wondrous modern world where a never-ending supply of empty calories which go straight to our bellies are only a snack machine away, the rule doesn't make as much sense.
I have been making a concerted effort to eat less at meals. But it is a struggle.
Not only do I have to deal with the external forces of plate size, and the looks from meaningful family members who wonder if I'm starving myself. But I also have to deal with my inner demons, I'm one of those people who eat to comfort myself. If I'm stressed out, I want to eat.
I was surprised to find that I was sitting down to eat meals when I didn't feel hungry. And it came as quite a shock to realize I didn't know how to tell if I was really hungry or if it was just an emotional craving.
How could I learn to stop eating when full, if I couldn't even recognize when I got there?
My first step was to master the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Not to say that I never give in to the emotional hunger; I do, and much too often. But at least now I can usually recognize which is which.
The second move I've made is to reduce how much I eat. I take less and I try not to go for seconds.
Thirdly, I take longer to eat. Another interesting fact in Pollan's book is that it takes your stomach 20 minutes to signal your brain that you are full. So no more wolfing down a McDonald's combo meal (make it large) in 5 minutes.
My Beloved and I are trying to make our meals more of the social occasion they used to be. We talk. And we really try to savor the food. Really, what's the point in eating if you knock it back so fast you don't taste a thing? Might as well just hook yourself up intravenously.
It is a constant struggle, but I am making headway. Hopefully I will continue to have to punch new holes in my belt!