While reading Mr. Ebert’s entry – at times heartbreaking, nostalgic, hopeful, and thought-provoking – I found myself making parallels to several things I’ve dealt with while trying to control my weight. Is it shallow to compare the numbers on my scale to his unfortunate circumstances? Maybe, but my reality right now is framed by weight control and eating, so I read his words through fat-colored glasses, so to speak.
After his surgeries and complications, he said it became clear that he’d never eat or drink again and that he consequentially went through a period where he was obsessed with food and drink. To me, this tends to happen when I first cut back what I eat (and sometimes thereafter ). I focus on the things that I “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have, and I become obsessed with them! He talks about reading books laden with food and beverage imagery and being able to taste those things he’s reading about. He mentions stirring up memories of food and drink, being able to taste and feel those experiences again. These are all things that I sometimes do, especially when I first change my eating habits and am feeling relatively deprived. There’s a huge difference between overindulgence and deprivation, and my body and mind tend to overdramatize where they are on that continuum.
The first thing about his entry that drove me to write about it was his account of Googling pictures of food. I’ve told many people I do this as a way to quell cravings, and most of the time, people say “I could never do that, it’d just make me hungrier,” or a simple “you’re insane.” I hope that Mr. Ebert and I are on the same page here and that it helps illustrate my point; he cannot eat the things he thinks about, so looking at the photos and “tasting” them in his mind, either through imagination or memory, gets the job done. Likewise, I “shouldn’t” eat those things, so poring over Foodgawker or Tastespotting does the trick for me. The cravings I get are like an itch you can’t reach. There are certain spots on your own back you just can’t scratch well enough with your own fingernails. However, if you use one of those plastic backscratcher thingies, it’ll get the job done well enough. Foodgawker and Tastespotting are my plastic backscratchers.
I can identify with the latter part of his entry, but for mostly different reasons than his own. He laments the loss of his ability to socialize over food. Not because he can’t eat, but because he can’t speak. Now here’s where I feel bad for “whining,” because I still am blessed enough to have a voice (even though some people around me consider it less of a blessing – HA!). His last paragraph says so much (emphases added by me):
“So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.”He says it right there – it’s not about the food, it’s about the company. My experience says that dining out is such a hugely social thing. It really shouldn’t be about the food but about the people. Yet restaurants can be such a dangerous place for people with weight-control issues. It’s easy to get caught up in conversation and not pay attention to how many pieces of bread you’ve had, or to let the conversation get gossipy and looser as more and more drinks flow, or to “forget" to take a picture of your food or not take a picture "because the lighting was bad” and then scarf your entire butter- and cheese-laden entree. When I go out to eat lately, I’m trying (and mostly succeeding) to make the experience be about the company and not the food. It can be difficult to stop seeing dining out as an excuse to eat something out of the ordinary, especially since I’ve been doing just that for 20 years, but it really isn’t necessary if you’ve got good people to make the experience worthwhile.
So instead of making this a sappy “be thankful for what you’ve got” ending, I think MY take-home message is this:
- Cravings are largely psychological. Eating and enjoying food is a multi-sensory activity, often employing all 5 (or at least it should be multi-sensory, in my opinion!). Oftentimes for me, looking at pictures of food is enough to make that little pang go away. Drinking Crystal Light out of a martini glass makes me feel special enough to not make a mixed drink. Sipping tea or hot chocolate will often curb the desire for dessert. If you cater to the cravings instead of completely giving in, the itch will subside.
- If a man who has lost his ability both to eat and speak says that the thing he misses about dining out is the conversation, we should take heed of his cautionary tale. Like I said, I’m getting better about this, but still occasionally fall into the trap of “special occasion = go overboard.” No matter how far apart those special occasions are, they aren't excuses to binge or gorge yourself on crap. At restaurants, pay attention to the conversation, not the food. At parties, mingle and interact, don’t park your butt next to the buffet table. (I’m saying these things this way not to sound preachy and sanctimonious to anyone but myself. These are things I know to be true but need to keep practicing.)
- “Maybe you don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.” I’ve gotten so much out of the relationships I’ve developed through blogging and Twittering. People who I’ve grown up with and met through school, jobs, and activities could never understand me the way my healthy living blogger buddies do. I’m not going to say “don’t take social networking for granted,” because I don’t think any of us do. However, I think we should treat each other as friends you’d invite out to dinner, not as hits or page views or even mere “commenters.”