Some thoughts on gluttony
Technically, I am not overweight. I’m six feet tall, so it’s not terribly hard for me to stay within a reasonable weight range for my ginormous height. But this only makes it easier to ignore one of the vices to which I’m most prone: gluttony.
I recently picked up a copy of Reinhard Engels’ No-S Diet book for some light reading to keep my motivation up during my processed foods detox. I only got it because it was cheap and I found it amusing that a computer programmer wrote a diet book.
Once I started reading it, however, I found that it has some of the most helpful, practical insights on maintaining a reasonable weight that I’ve ever heard.
A good (perhaps more descriptive) alternate title would be Conquering Gluttony. While most weight loss books devote 80% of the content to explaining the diet itself and 20% to how to keep up with it for the long term, this book is the opposite: almost all the content of the No-S Diet deals with how to overcome gluttonous tendencies for life.
The idea is that you work to develop lifetime habits of:
- No Sweets
- No Snacks
- No Seconds
- …Except sometimes on Special Days (days of the week that start with S, major national and religious holidays, and immediate family members’ birthdays)
When I first read about this concept, it didn’t sound that remarkable. But trying to put these ideas into practice in my life this past week has led to quite remarkable results…not necessarily in terms of weight loss (yet), but in the way I see my relationship with food. Here are some thoughts:
NO SWEETS: Making special days special
The idea here is that you put sweets in their proper place, enjoying them regularly but not whenever you feel like it. I like Engels’ point that “sweets weren’t designed for daily, routine consumption, physically or spiritually” [emphasis mine]. The discipline involved in forcing myself to wait a little while to indulge in sweets (just until the weekend, which is doable), has been as good for me spiritually as it has been physically.
NO SNACKS: Mindful eating
I’m not much of a snacker…so I thought. But making the commitment to consolidate my eating to three distinct meals per day has made me realize just how much I graze!
It’s also forced me into the practice of mindful eating: for example, if I’m really going to make it all the way between lunch and dinner without snacking, I need to think ahead and make sure I have a plan for both lunch and dinner. The first couple of days I found myself drifting around the kitchen at each meal, unconsciously reaching for the bag of pretzels to quell my increasing hunger while I tried to figure out what to eat. It only took a few days without snacks to motivate me to actually put some thought into what the next meal would be.
Also, as a somewhat “emotional eater,” I’ve found it a lot easier to honestly answer the question “Is it mealtime?” as opposed to the question “Am I really hungry?” With the latter, there’s a surprising amount of gray area depending on my mood. With the former, it’s perfectly clear.
And, finally, no snacking has also made me experience something that is very unfamiliar to me: hunger. I didn’t realize it until I tried following these principles, but I never used to feel hungry. At the slightest pang, I’d wander into the kitchen and grab a handful of cheerios or a granola bar. As Engels’ predicts, my body is adjusting and I find myself less and less hungry between meals as the days go on. But, frankly, the feeling of being hungry is actually kind of refreshing — and it’s made me truly appreciate and focus on each meal more than ever before.
NO SECONDS: Mindful eating, part II
For me, the “no seconds” rule has been the most powerful concept in terms of controlling my gluttonous tendencies. The idea is this: eat however much of whatever you want…just put it all on one plate. You wouldn’t think that that would be that powerful. Let me give you an example that demonstrates why it is:
A few days ago we went over to a friend’s house where they had some delicious quiche. I put a nice, dainty little portion onto my plate…and then realized that if I were really going to make it until the next meal with no snacks and no seconds, I would want more than this. So I estimated how much I would probably normally eat (spread out over second and third helpings), and put it all on one plate.
Y’all, that was embarrassing!
I saw my friend do a double-take as I walked back to the table with my huge dinner-sized plate covered with quiche. “I’m really hungry today,” I said with a self-conscious laugh. Even when I eat alone, it is very psychologically powerful to have the amount that I am eating stare me in the face.
These last two ideas, no snacks and no seconds, have really brought home to me something that Engels emphasizes in his book: Gluttony almost always involves lies.
This was a huge realization for me, and the main reason that this system of eating has changed the way I think about my relationship to food: unless I was counting carbs or calories (which is impossible for me to keep up with for the long haul), snacks and seconds allowed me to spread out my consumption and unintentionally lie to myself about how much I was really eating. Without snacks and seconds, there are no more lies. Without any counting or measuring, I can see with my own eyes (as can anyone else who’s around me) that I am eating huge quantities of food at each meal.
And the visceral reaction I have upon seeing so much food on a plate in front of me — and knowing that I will consume every bite of it — has motivated me to do something about my eating habits on a whole new level. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that my motivation is not about fitting into a certain size jeans. It’s moved from a surface level to a much deeper gut level where my most base instinct says, “This is not right.”
Now, I know better than to declare that this is the ultimate solution after only trying it for a week. However, I will say that in the past week these principles have given me more practical tools for overcoming gluttony than anything I’ve ever tried before.
If anyone else struggles with this or has practical tips for dealing with it, I’d love to hear about it!