Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.
Disclaimer: This reveals my geeky side.
One of the interesting things about leading the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating workshops is that I start to view everything through that lens. For instance, while listening to Weird Al’s “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”. Weird Al has lots of songs about food – “Eat It”, “Lasagna”, “The White Stuff” (in the middle of an Oreo), “ Taco Grande”, etc. – but this one is a little different. It’s of somewhat epic length (around 10 minutes), and it describes in sometimes painful detail a husband and wife trying to figure out their dinner plans. What I find fascinating is how much it reveals about our society and food, which you can see as I walk through the relevant parts.
The first line that caught my attention is when they decide to eat. The narrator is the husband, and he says:
“It's gettin' late...what you wanna do for dinner?”
She says "I kinda had a big lunch.
So I'm not super hungry."
I said "Well you know, baby, I'm not starvin' either
But I could eat."
Right off, I thought about the “Why” and “When” parts of the AIH eating cycle. Why do they want to eat? The wife is more inclined to listen to her own instincts about eating, but she’s willing to be overridden by her husband, since she then says, “I don’t care, if you’re hungry, let’s eat.” Social pressure is a huge hurdle for people trying to pay attention to their eating habits, since many of us can fall into the trap of eating just because someone else is.
The husband seems like he might be a little hungry, but as for when he wants to eat, it’s mostly that “it’s getting late”. And how many of us have felt that way? We’re not truly hungry, or at least not very hungry, but we feel like we’re supposed to eat because that’s just what you do in the evening. It’s dinner-time, so let’s get dinner.
They’re not off to a very good start from an AIH perspective, but at least they do put some thought into the “What” part of eating. The husband says, "But first you gotta tell me / What it is you're hungry for!"
This causes some difficulty because they don’t have any leftovers. The tuna “went bad a week ago”, and as for the chili, the husband "finished that yesterday!" Then the wife suggests, "Why don't you whip up something in the kitchen?" To which the husband replies with heavy sarcasm, "Yeah… Why don't you?"
Which brings us to another very telling moment – cooking. Many people no longer know how to cook satisfying, healthy meals in a short period of time, or even if they do, they often feel it’s not worth the effort. Or they may do it so rarely that they don’t have anything on hand to actually work with. From the tone in the song, I suspect that in this case neither of them is much of a cook. That limits their options.
They discuss getting something delivered, but they get derailed on that. Then they talk about going out to eat. Except they need to decide where to go.
I… say "OK, where ya want to go?"
She says "How about The Ivy?"
I said "Yeah, well I don't know..."
I don't feel like gettin’ all dressed up
And eatin' expensive food.”
She's says "Olive Garden?"
I say "Nah, I'm not in the mood...
...And Burrito King would make me gassy
There's no doubt."
…Then I get an idea
I says "I know what we'll do!"
She says "What?"
…I say "We're goin' to the drive-thru!"
Ah, that wonder of invention, the drive-thru. It means they can go, get inexpensive food, and eat it wherever they choose. This wouldn’t be my first choice, certainly, since I’m not aware of any “healthy” drive-thrus. Still, in AIH, all foods fit, and occasional visits to the drive-thru aren’t the end of the world.
The main concern here is that they’re not necessarily hungry for that food. It’s just the most convenient. That, too, is something most of us have experienced. Many times, we don’t even go through the process of thinking about what we actually want at all; we just jump to whatever’s easiest.
We’re also very much creatures of habit, as shown by what happened when they actually got to the drive-thru. Without even asking his wife what she wanted, the husband orders, “Two hamburgers with onions and cheese." But again, the wife is in reasonable touch with her instincts because she interrupts.
Then my wife says
"Baby, hold on, I've changed my mind!
I think I'm gonna have a chicken sandwich
Instead, this time"
I said, "You always get a cheeseburger!"
She says "That's not what I'm hungry for."
I put my head in my hands and screamed,
"I don't know who you are anymore!"
This is a problem that we don’t always talk about when wanting to change our eating habits – the reactions of those around us. If we have a partner, or live with anyone with whom we share food, if we start to change what we eat, for any reason, it can be very disconcerting to those around us. They no longer know what to expect and may certainly feel like they don’t know us. How can they know what to offer us for meals if we’re changing? Will they expect us to do the same? If we don’t, will they judge us for it?
Still, the husband revises the order, adding curly fries and a medium root beer. Then he asks to have his order read back to him.
She says, "One, you want a chicken sandwich.
Two, you want a cheeseburger.
Three, curly fries, and a large root beer."
"Stop, don't go no further!
"I never ordered a large root beer
I said medium, not large!"
Then she says "We're having a special,
I supersized you at no charge."
This jumps ahead to the “how much” part of the eating cycle. As the movie Super Size Me showed, these types of “specials” can be very detrimental, especially if no one even asks if you want it. You can end up consuming much more than you expected, but why not? After all, it’s a better value for your money, right? The fact that in this case it was soda instead of the food doesn’t make it any better, since it’s apparently a regular root beer, which comes full of calories, and a large, free or not, is going to have more than a medium.
But then they hit a snag – the husband left his wallet at home, his wife “was only carryin’ three bucks”, and the drive-thru is cash-only. They scrounge for change but the cashier informs them, "You're still about a dollar short." Finally, realizing that they’re holding up the whole line, the wife breaks down.
She screams, "You know
I wasn't even really hungry in the first place!"
And so I turned around
To the cashier again
I shrugged and said, "OK
Forget the chicken sandwich then."
After all that, we’re reminded that she didn’t even feel like eating in the first place. Another good reason to listen to our instincts, although admittedly most of us don’t run into quite the same problems this couple did.
Now we come to the “how” part of eating.
And now we're finally drivin' away
And the food is drivin' me mad
With its intoxicating bouquet
I'm starvin' to death
By the time we pull up at the traffic light
I say "Baby, gimme that burger,
I just gotta have a bite!"
Remember that initially the husband wasn’t starving (“but I could eat”), nor was he hungry for a cheeseburger. But the smell of the food has convinced his body that it’s what he wants, and furthermore, that he has to have it now. And so he doesn’t eat mindfully, just cramming in a bite at the traffic light.
This, too, is something many of us experience. If we can’t tell for ourselves what we want, advertisements and food vendors are more than happy to influence us, something that’s very easy to do. The sight or smell of foods can make us long for it as if it was what we always wanted, sometimes even after we’ve just eaten.
And many of us (myself included) have eaten in the car. Although as Dr. May points out, if you’re eating in the car, you can only pay close attention to one thing, your eating or your driving. For everyone else’s sake, I hope it’s the driving, but if that’s the case, it doesn’t allow for the mindful experience of eating.
And after all that, the husband didn’t even get what he wanted.
I bite into those buns
And I just can’t believe it
They forgot the onions!
Even though the song doesn’t go into the “where” part of the eating cycle (where do you spend the energy you get from food?), I suspect that in this case, part of the husband’s energy goes into being annoyed with the drive-thru. At least he doesn’t seem the sort to beat himself up about eating fast food, or feeling guilty about it, as some might.
By the end, as I said, I was left thinking that this is probably an experience that many of us can relate to, and I wonder if things would have been different if both husband and wife had been more in touch with their bodies to begin with, to know if and what they wanted to eat. But mostly, I wonder what things would be like if most people were connected enough to themselves to know that. If so, how many would get trapped at the drive-thru at all?