There’s this catch phrase I remember from when I was a kid, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” apparently tied to this 1972 Alka-Seltzer commercial.
Sometimes I wonder if this pop-culture slogan took root in my second-grade self as a personal challenge. How else to explain my attempts over the years to finish off an entire pizza or a carton of ice cream?
Interestingly enough, both of those conquests – one successful, one not — came AFTER I lost weight, rather than before.
Conducting research on my Inner Pig
I think all the time I was overweight I secretly wanted to try competitive-eating style feats of excess, but felt too constantly guilty to carry any of these fantasies through to reality. I might’ve eaten the equivalent of an entire pizza in calories during a binge, but I could never bring myself to do it for real.
Losing weight freed me up to experiment with my inner pig. Not to placate or encourage that part of myself, but to try to figure it out – and ultimately, hopefully, learn to control it.
Step One was finding a safe place in which to conduct these experiments. And by “place,” I actually mean “time” – as in a place on the calendar where I could afford extra calories without spiraling into uncontrolled weight gain.
Initially, when I was still going to Weight Watchers, this came right after the weigh in, when I still had an entire week or month to make amends. Later, during last fall’s experiments with the Slow Carb Diet, a Saturday “cheat day” fit the bill.
The ‘conquest’ collection
Over the last three years here are some of my attempted conquests:
*An entire bag of peanut M&Ms. (Finished about ¾ of the bag before I had to give up).
*A container of chocolate-peanut clusters. (Again, managed to down about ¾ of these. At the time, we had a “candy locker” at the city gym and I deposited these in there after a weigh-in for later consumption.)
*A large Little Cesar’s pepperoni pizza. (Managed to choke down all eight pieces, though I was pretty miserable by the last two.)
*A 1.5 quart container of ice cream. (This was a Cheat Day Conquest, and I was somewhat disappointed to discover that I couldn’t quite finish it off.)
*A Daddy Ray’s “Big Bite” 1/4-pound chocolate chunk cookie. This one was no problem. After all, what is a ¼ pound cookie compared with a large pizza? I’m sure I could’ve eaten two quite easily. But I wouldn’t have wanted to. This cookie just wasn’t very good and I’ve never been tempted to try one again, despite the fact that they are prominently displayed on the checkout counter at the discount bread store I frequent.
What I Learned
After conducting this “research,” my most immediate finding was that these conquests were a one-time thing. I’ve never been tempted to repeat any of these experiments with previously conquered foods, even those I wasn’t able to finish. That’s not to say I’m now immune from overeating pizza or ice cream. But I no longer pine for the chance to eat as much as I as I possibly can. I’ve got a better feel for what satisfies me, and while that’s a serving that’s still larger than ideal, it’s somewhat liberating to know the score and no longer be nagged by unfulfilled possibilities.
The other thing I discovered is that in general I’m much more satisfied by “finishing things off” rather than “eating the whole thing”.
This used to be a source of guilt as well, and I’m sure it goes all the way back to my childhood, growing up in a family of six and wishing I could have as much as I wanted rather than having to share. As a parent, back in my fat days, I sometimes secretly finished off packages of cookies or pans of brownies when my kids weren’t around. I had absolutely no self control. (This continued to happen after I lost weight, too, except that I’d finish off packages of low-cal ice cream bars and the like.)
Now, knowing my tendencies and having calmed down quite a bit, I try to match this desire to “finish things off” with leftovers that other family members aren’t especially interested in. Recently I finished off a partial container of fat-free Cool Whip in the freezer, for instance, crushing some chocolate graham crackers into it for an inferior but nonetheless workable imitation of Oreo ice cream. I knew I’d be tempted to finish off the wax-paper pack of graham crackers, but I also recognized that I was running out of steam, so I packed up the last whole cracker in a sandwich bag and put it in the cupboard where I keep the kids’ lunch-packing supplies.
The one conquest that remains a regular part of my diet is my Monday lunch of an 8-ounce bag of cashews. I justify this by not eating much else the rest of the day (there’s no need, as this is completely filling and satisfying both hunger-wise and otherwise).
Funny thing is, though, I’ve started carrying a ¼ cup measuring cup with me and removing one serving from the bag before I get started to add to the kids’ “lunch cupboard.” I don’t miss it when I take it out ahead of time, before I rev up my eating engine. Maybe at some point I’ll try taking out two servings.
But I’m not too wound up about it. This is what works for me now, and unlike the days when I was both fat and terribly self conscious, I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about it. This is between me and my inner pig, and we’re working things out.