Eat Like You Mean It

We all slept late this morning, so I had more than the usual hustle to wake Dutch, attend to the my little girl, get the boy dressed and his lunch packed and with something in his stomach, then drive him to school. Not surprisingly (and as often happens) we had reached mid-morning before I remembered to eat. Usually I go with something light, like whole wheat toast, which I love, but which I also pick because, let’s face it, I haven’t run in a month or more and I’m about 20 pounds over a weight that I’m comfortable with and that my clothes are willing to accept without protest.

So I looked at the toast and, even though I wasn’t really feeling it today, I decided to go with it. And then, without bidding, a phrase popped into my head: Eat like you mean it.

I actually said to myself, “Hmm.” (People are always writing that they say that to themselves or to each other, and I usually don’t believe them; but this time I really did say it). I went to the fridge and pulled out the turkey breast Dutch had baked for us to use as the mood struck, and then I went to the pantry and saw the package of ramen noodles she bought for me at the store because she knows I like them. But I paused because the ramen we get tends to be more fatty than I would like, and I thought angel hair pasta might be a healthier option.

“But the noodles would be faster,” I thought. And damn it I like those flavory seasoning packets. Still…

Eat like you mean it.

So I pulled out the angel hair package and compared it to the ramen package. The ramen had more calories, more fat, more sugar, less protein, less fiber. Easy call. So I cut up some turkey, boiled the angel hair, sliced a tomato, and mixed it all with a bit of pasta sauce. Very satisfying.

But “Eat like you mean it” kept running around in my head, and I realized it had to do with more than food. It wasn’t about making myself nibble on toast rather than have a meal; I really do like my whole wheat bread, and it’s very healthy. It was about denying myself both legitimate nourishment and a legitimate desire for something more pleasing.

Nourishment or pleasure. It seems that so much of our culture bounces from one to the other, or presses us to choose: healthy choices or guilty pleasures; high art or pop culture; nose-to-the-grindstone work or frivolous play; transcendent love or meaningless sex. And too often I buy into this division. I “put in the work” because I’m supposed to, and I indulge in meaningless diversions because I’ve earned the right through my work.

Even my writing, which I do only because I want to (heaven knows nobody’s paying me) can slip into the category of “work.” I have to write so much a day; it has to be good; it should be this or that. But these are the signs of an attitude (as in “orientation”) that’s gotten out of whack. If I choose my nourishment (the things I need) with care and intention, I can draw immense pleasure from it. And if I choose deliberately the pleasure in which I’ll indulge, I can also find rich physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment in it.

Instead of swinging between dieting and stuffing my face, between punishing my body with exercise or spending all day on the couch, I can marry my pleasure and nourishment and in the process deepen the experience of living my life. I can remind myself that, one way or another, I’ve chosen my obligations and my pleasures based on what I’ve valued, and when those values no longer make sense to me, I can summon the courage to make new choices. I can eat–and live–like I mean it.

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