Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.
I recently went on vacation to New Zealand, and I knew beforehand that they are extremely strict about what food you can bring into the country – more specifically, they don’t allow anything. They are concerned enough that they search for food with X-rays and trained dogs, and if they find something, even if it was provided on the plane, it’s an automatic $400 fine.
I have to admit this caused me a moment of panic. I like to be prepared for travel with plenty of food, so as not to be at the mercy of whatever I can buy at the airport or they might serve on the plane. But in this case, I could only bring enough to get me onto the New Zealand flight; I didn’t want to risk having something extra that I would have to throw away.
Imagine, then, my chagrin when partway through the travel I discovered a Luna bar lurking in the pocket of my raincoat. I haven’t the faintest idea why it was there, but at 10 a.m., as we taxied into the Auckland airport, I had to decide – to eat or not to eat it?
I wasn’t particularly hungry, as we’d been given breakfast just a couple of hours before. But I also didn’t know how long it would be until lunch, and despite everything (such as reminding myself that I can let food go to waste or to my waist), I still have a hard time throwing food away.
So – I ate the Luna bar.
It worked out okay, since I didn’t get lunch until 2 (by which point I was hungry again), but that was not the last of my dilemmas. I was fine in Auckland, where I was staying with a cousin whose eating habits were similar to mine, but from there I was going on a 7-day tour of the South Island.
I did pack some snacks to bring with me (thankfully New Zealand could care less what you bring for food between the two islands), but I hadn’t quite counted on the flexible nature of mealtimes on the tour. Breakfast was fairly set, either 7 or 7:30, but other meals were more challenging.
My first day, for instance, I joined the group at 11:30, but for various reasons we didn’t get lunch until 3:30. By then I had gone through most of my snacks for that day, and I wanted to hold out so I’d be hungry for lunch. But I let it go too far. By the time we arrived, all I could think about was eating. I wasn’t interested in conversation, or admiring the beautiful farmhouse we were in. I filled my plate and even went back for seconds, since it was such a lovely meal. Finally I felt satisfied.
Then our hostess brought out dessert.
By then it was around 4, and I suddenly remembered we were also having a meal provided that night as part of the tour.
I was chagrined. Despite having just finished teaching an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating workshop, I had not handled the situation the way I would have hoped. I had to rapidly decide again if I should continue eating.
I was at the crux of many of the things we talk about in AIH? as reasons why we sometimes eat even when we’re not hungry:
The meal was included in my trip cost – I wanted to get full benefit
Our hostess was very gracious and had made the apple-walnut cake with fruit and nuts from their own trees – I didn’t want to offend her
Everyone else was having dessert – I didn’t want to start our time together by being the one dissenter
It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience – when would I ever back in New Zealand, eating such fresh food at a farmhouse?
I didn’t have time to think it through that clearly. Before I knew it, a piece of cake was in front of me. Again, I ate it, without consciously having decided that was what I wanted to do.
Three hours later, I found myself again agonizing over the prospect of dinner. The perch and lobster (what they call crayfish) were fresh-caught the day before by other members of the group, and again it was free, once-in-a-lifetime, etc.
Then I started laughing at myself. Why was I making this so complicated and stressful? I knew I wasn’t truly hungry, but that I would eat a little to taste, and that once the meal was past, I could wait to eat again until I was hungry.
From that point, it was much easier and more enjoyable. My snacks allowed me to avoid getting to the ravenous stage again, and while I did overeat sometimes, I generally didn’t eat again after that until I was actually hungry. That sometimes meant I simply sat with a drink while the others ate, or ate when no one else did, but I didn’t let it worry me.
In the end, I don’t regret anything I had – I just regret having spent so much energy that first day fretting needlessly. But it’s a good reminder that I, too, am still learning.