Lately I’ve been eating a lot of food because I’ve been visiting with friends and family. In the past I would’ve eaten full portions of each item but now I eat smaller amounts. Even so, a little of this, a little of that adds up quickly. The next day I wanted to eat as little as possible to make up for the feast, yet food called to me with its nagging pains. How could I be hungry after consuming so many calories? I shouldn’t be, but I was, and so I ate. Small amounts.
This made me think. It was great to spend time with my family and enjoy good food but why did I feel guilty after eating? I needed to dig into these feelings and unearth truths.
Culturally social gatherings are surrounded by food. Did this tradition originate because people had so little, thus a bounty of food was a special celebration? I remember in Little Women when the March family gave what little they had on Christmas day to a family down the road who had less. The children had been looking forward to a lavish meal, with foods they rarely had, and they gave most of it up selflessly without complaint to those who had less. This was such a lesson to me.
Truth 1: I feel guilty because I don’t appreciate what I have and take it for granted. I think the root of my guilt was my complacency. I was content with abundance and I didn’t even realize how lucky I was.
I can go to the store at any time and get what I need. Besides being careful with the budget, I have access to cream, butter, sugar etc. We eat meat more than twice a week. For some these items are for a special occasion and are used sparingly. Some families sacrifice nutrition for frugal meals out of necessity. I was reading Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers and the characters had to be careful to make sure to eat less so that everyone could have a piece of the meal, what little there was. If the main character wanted an extra piece of toast he counted how many were left before he ate it to make sure there was enough. To him food was precious and had to be rationed, which is like during WWII.
Why do we eat so much? As Abba Dorotheus of the 6th century stated: “Eating is a habit, and one eats what one is used to eating.”
Truth 2: I eat more than I should and my choices are not always the healthiest. So part of the issue was the value I placed on food and how I viewed it. Since I viewed it as a pleasure for the senses, nourishment was secondary to taste. If I ate simply to be nourished I would appreciate food much more: like after fasting on Sundays I’d be happy with a piece of bread, some figs, and nuts.
Truth 3: I sabotage my own goals by my food choices.
Truth 4: It’s hard for me to say no to food.
Once I taste something I want more. So I’m working on avoiding the food all together. Recently I was proud of resisting one of my number one temptations: donuts. When I give in I feel guilty because I am now further from my weight loss goal. “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things” (Philippians 3: 19, NRSV). I feel this sums up how I feel after I eat a lot.
The Ephraimites were blessed by God with water from rocks but they wanted more. If God can provide water what else can He provide? “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?…can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?'” (Psalm 78:18-20, NRSV). When one serving is not enough am I not the same as them? Am I not unsatisfied and ungrateful for what I have been given and need more to be fulfilled, only to feel guilty afterwards as punishment?
So I am learning to eat more thoughtfully, more simply, appreciate what I have, have smaller portions, and not give food power. It’s a work in progress and I still stumble every day, but I try.
May you find your own balance in the midst of a culture that says more is better.