Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.
This past week a work conference I attended had an evening event that included dinner. Before the meal, wait staff circulated with various appetizers, all of which I passed up. On one of those occasions, the woman I was talking with accepted an appetizer and, when I demurred, said to the waitress, ”She’s being good.”
The comment bothered me, reminding me as it did how our society uses food as a means of judgment, of others and ourselves. After all, if I was being “good” by not having the appetizers, the inference was that those who were eating them were being “bad”. Yet while some might have assumed that I was being – and feeling – virtuous for resisting the cheese and crackers, mushroom poppers, fruit, shrimp skewers, and more, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I was not declining the food with a sense of deprivation or the idea that I was trying to be “good”. Rather, as we talk about in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, my goal was to feel good. And in this particular case, that meant deliberately eating beforehand so I wouldn’t be hungry at the dinner.
Since this may sound counterintuitive, I’ll explain. I knew from last year’s conference that even though the event started at 6:30, we wouldn’t be sitting down until at least 7:30, and likely not have food until 8, with the meal finally wrapping up at 9:30. Considering that my normal bedtime is between 9:30 and 10, this was very late for me to be eating.
Additionally, when I had been hungry at the event the year before, all I could really think about was food. I didn’t know when or what we’d be eating, and being quite hungry made it difficult for me to focus on the people I was with, or the exhibits at the museum.
Finally, experience has taught me that eating a large amount shortly before trying to sleep generally doesn’t work for me; it leads to a restless and sometimes largely sleepless night. Since I had two presentations the next day, I simply could not afford that.
Given that, this year my goal was to go to the event without worrying about the food. That’s why I deliberately ate enough to satisfy my hunger before I left.
The result was exactly as I had hoped. I spent the evening focused on the attractions and the people, having fun in the butterfly display, pretending to be afraid of a T-Rex, and chatting with clients and co-workers.
I did not feel deprived as I passed up the appetizers because none of them seemed spectacular – and I simply wasn’t hungry. During dinner, I had bites of the things I wanted to sample, and that was all I needed; I was perfectly okay leaving food on my plate because I wanted to sleep well and be refreshed for my obligations the next day. And I was.
I wish I had said some of this that night, even something as simple as, “No, I’m not being good, I’m just not hungry right now.” But I felt awkward venturing into such potentially fraught territory at that time, so I kept silent.
In the future, though, I will try to remind people, gently, that if I ever give the appearance of trying to “be good”, in reality I’m trying to act in a way that meet my true goal, which is, instead, to feel good.