In Praise of Mindless Eating
Saturday, June 07, 2008
When I was in ninth grade, I read a book every day. In the morning, after I got off the bus, I would go to the school library and check out a book. Then all during the school day, I would read whenever I could get away with it--math class, English class, social studies, etc. Also pep rallies. They were great--I knew I would get about an hour of reading time, although it was noisy sitting on the bleachers in the gym with a bunch of screaming people.
Lunch was a critical piece of time for this project. That was thirty minutes, and I could knock out a big chunk of a book in that time. I had a workman's lunch box, and I would prop my book in the lid where the thermos would have gone, and read while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The other kids played a game of trying to distract me, but I ignored them.
So, mindless eating has been a big pleasure of mine for many years. Now, with technology, I love nothing better than to have something tasty to eat, something tasty to drink, and something interesting to do on the computer. I also still read through meals--I just got finished eating some pizza, drinking diet Dr. Pepper, and reading an essay in the New Yorker. Bliss.
A big advantage of mindless eating under these circumstances is that I tend to slow down. Most of the time when I do repetitive tasks, I find an efficient way to do them so that they don't take much time. For instance, if I have to do a series of copy and pasting on the computer, I use the keyboard commands and can get through the task as quickly and accurately as possible. I have done the same with eating, unfortunately. When I concentrate on eating, I do it very fast because I have done it for such a long time.
When I am reading, though, I don't eat so fast because part of my mind is taken up with the text. I eat a bite, read some while munching, reach for my coffee, take a sip, reading all the while. It just takes longer.
The problem with mindless eating, as I understand it, is essentially portion control. I could sit at the computer all day with an endless amount of whatever to eat and drink, and mindless eating in that situation would lead to big problems for my weight. When we eat mindlessly, we have no idea how much we have eaten.
Yet, in the way I tend to do it, with portions limited (there's only so much peanut butter and jelly in a single sandwich in my lunch box), it is a lot like the time I was in France and a single meal took three hours: reading is a conversation I am having with an author. The conversation is enhanced by the sensory experiences of eating something that tastes good and washing down each bite with a sip of something that tastes equally good, the way conversations with real live people are enhanced by gourmet cooking.
Maybe some day I'll give mindful eating a try, but I'm not ready to give up the pleasure I have enjoyed for so long--my conversations with people across time and cultures. And, given my habits, this kind of eating is probably advantageous. If I were to focus solely on food, I would have a big set of habits to change.
Instead, I promise to make sure that what I do eat is a reasonable choice, in a reasonable amount. Now, back to that New Yorker essay!