When I think of people who don’t eat between meals, I think of old-fashioned warnings from mothers or grandmothers from other eras, warning us not to “spoil our appetites”… It’s almost a quaint idea nowadays. In our culture, it seems people never stop eating. There is a lot of mindless snacking going on.
That’s not really the part I want to talk about with you. I want to talk about specifically what I love about not eating between meals. I used to do a lot of mindless eating myself. For much of my life actually. When I began to discover what I needed to escape the misery of my own eating disorder, the whole issue of boundaries was a big theme. It still is- I believe that good boundaries in all areas of our life are essential. They let us define what is important to us. They create space between us and other people. They help us get very clear on what we are doing and what we believe in and what we don’t.
Boundaries around food can feel very diet-y, which freaks everybody out, but let me explain. One of the most important boundaries I ever created around eating was about only eating at mealtime. Most of the eating that spun me out of control had to do with snacking and snack-type foods. I could eat all day long and up until bedtime, easy. I used to also smoke cigarettes all day and up until bedtime- I did quit almost 20 years ago but the eating got worse before it got better.
I didn’t quit snacking or completely wipe out between-meal eating all at once. I think the first place I drew a line was around after dinner eating. Honestly, I go to bed so early it seemed kind of stupid to eat after dinner and I quickly saw that when I could keep that promise to myself and finish eating at dinnertime, that the after-dinner time was calm and relaxed. It felt good to have a line that eating did not cross. It was a little taste… of freedom. And of peace. And of being able to focus on something other than eating which as you may know can feel very crazy when you’re thinking and obsessing about it. It’s miserable and causes lots of shame.
At some point, I decided to eat meals only and give up any eating in between. When I made that decision, I began to see all of the times I would have put something in my mouth. All of the women giving samples at supermarkets, grabbing a candy bar at the drug store (they even have them at the checkout counter at the Pet Store, geez..). See it, eat it. Feel bored or antsy or whatever, eat something. I saw how much unconscious eating goes on in our culture.
And then something really big happened…
An older family member, a woman who would kill me if I told you her identity, came to visit. I watched her nibbling nonstop through the week, no matter where we were. I watched as she continued to put things into her mouth, in a sort of trance, totally disconnected. It freaked me out a little, to tell you the truth. I did not want to identify with her but I did. I knew that I did these things too, and I felt ashamed.
I hated the unconscious aspect of all of this, the self-medicating, nonstop orality of it all. I stopped eating between meals. I learned to say “no thank you” to the nice ladies at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and BJ’s. I stayed out of the kitchen during my workdays at home. I was a little afraid- of what I’m not sure, initially. Of being hungry I guess. Of feeling uncomfortable on some level. Of having to wait for things longer than I was used to. Of change. All of it, felt a little weird.
The really good parts felt surprisingly good after I got used to it though. I came to really love eating at mealtimes. I was hungry and happy to have a wholesome meal to eat. I stopped eating on the run. I stopped eating fast food. I stopped eating for no reason other than to pacify myself around some passing feeling. I started feeling quite good that I could have all of this space, mentally and emotionally and spiritually in between meals. I could focus on living. This was a pretty big deal to see all of these spaces that no longer needed to be connected to food. There would always be another meal. Probably a really wonderful meal. A meal that I could enjoy, without feeling guilty, or having to pretend I was hungry.
If you are reading this and have had your own struggles with compulsive eating or addictive eating, you totally get what a big thing this was and is for me. Putting eating in it’s proper place is a luxury that many of you have not had a chance to experience. You might think it will be hard, or really uncomfortable. It’s possible that it might be at first. Just as making any change in the way we live can feel that way.
But freedom, peace of mind, and having a sort of orderly rhythm to things that felt formerly chaotic and driven is an amazing blessing.
I want that for you.
xox and blessings-