Many of us were raised in “clean plate” households, where not cleaning your plate was considered wasteful.
And since our country does waste a lot of food, as I wrote about last October, this is important to think about.
But I’d argue that it’s just as wasteful to force yourself to eat food you don’t need or want.
Let me explain.
Imagine you’re out at a restaurant, or some other social setting, where you’ve eaten as much as you need, but there’s still food left. You’re not in a position to take leftovers home. Do you keep eating, or do you throw the food away?
I’ve been in these situations before. One of the most memorable was on my work trip to India in 2010. Since I was staying in a standard hotel room, I couldn’t bring extra food back with me. This was frustrating because people I was with ordered huge amounts of food so we could sample everything.
At a different time in my life, I would have eaten more to please my hosts and to prevent the food from going to waste.
But by my India trip, I had enough practice with mindful eating to know this was not a good option.
I thought about it this way. I was over there to train co-workers on some of our software. I also needed to keep up with my regular job as much as possible. And I wanted to take in the culture and environment, since it was so different from what I was used to.
If I overate, I would likely feel sluggish and sick to my stomach afterward. I wouldn’t be able to focus well for work or fun.
That could lead to poor sleep and a food hangover, depending on how far I went. And then the next day, I’d be faced with yet more food and more pressure to eat.
And since I’d already given in to that pressure once, it would be easier to give in again and continue overeating. Which would lead to more troubled sleep, poor focus, and not feeling very well.
I wouldn’t have the energy or ability to do my job or enjoy the possibilities around me.
From that perspective, eating food I don’t need is wasteful – it’s wasting away at my life.
Similarly, if I eat food I don’t particularly want but feel like I “should” eat, I won’t be satisfied. I might end up eating what I really want anyway, but by then I won’t be hungry anymore, so I’d be overeating. And, as noted above, that doesn’t turn out so well.
Ideally, it’s great if we can avoid such situations to begin with. To only take as much as we need, of food we want, or take extras home for later. Or see if someone else wants it.
But that won’t always be possible. And for the times when it’s not, it’s worth considering how wasteful it might be to try to clean your plate – no matter what your mother may have told you.