One of my favorite classes at Green Mountain is "Eating Scary Foods." I remember so vividly how I felt when I first saw it on the schedule, during my very first day of my very first trip. It was offered for people not in their first week, and I thought to myself, "I hope they offer that again, because I really, really need it."
On the phone to Carol that night, when I mentioned that I'd seen the class title and hoped it would come around again during my month there, I discovered one of the eternal, absolute dicotomies in life. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think "scary foods" are things like snakes and insects (like Carol), and those (like me and all the other women who go to Green Mountain) who know that "scary foods" are those comestibles which call out to you from behind closed refrigerator and cabinet doors, the foods that you are afraid to start eating because you are sure that you will never stop, the foods of which you can never get enough.
I don't want to give away any trade secrets or spoil the class for anyone who plans to take it, but I will say that it involves interacting with such foods mindfully at a time when you are not hungry, and really, truly experiencing them, for better or worse. And the way to take the power of those foods away is to give yourself permission to eat them.
During that first trip, I knew that ice cream was the scariest food in my life, and part of the eating plan I went home with was including a serving of ice cream with my dinner each night. I bought a cute little bowl that held just half a cup (knowing that I could have more if I wanted), got my favorite flavors of the best ice cream and proceeded to enjoy ice cream every single night. After a few months, I realized one day that I hadn't had ice cream for over a week, and didn't really want it any more. The ice cream was no longer scary. Now, I enjoy it sometimes, but always and effortlessly in "normal" portions and can go for months without the urge.
There were other foods that shriek and hiss and call out in the night, and though I tried the daily dose approach with them, I was never as successful as I had been with the ice cream. During a subsequent stay at Green Mountain, I realized that though I thought I was giving myself permission to eat those things, I had gotten all rigid and judgmental again. In a class called "Exploring Normal Eating," I learned about Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch, and immediately knew that I had to delve into this issue further, as I discussed in my blog post Pathology or Punishment, Part Two.
So, I made my list of foods that beckoned and foods I felt I'd never get enough of and began to work my way through it. Never mind the foods being scary -- this process was terrifying, as I knew from my reading that it could lead, in the short term, to gaining more weight, and there was always the possibility that I would discover a desire for something which would actually never be satisfied. But I trusted the program and trusted myself and began that next stage of my journey.
Interestingly, the food I decided to start with was not one that I regularly craved, but the one with probably the most emotional power for me -- halvah. Specifically, bulk marble halvah from the local kosher grocer. For those of you unfamiliar with this delicacy, it is an incredibly rich, uniquely flavored, nut-based confection that we had had only on very special occasions when I was a child, primarily because it was considered fattening beyond all other desserts. I remember my father being the keeper of the halvah, unwrapping the white deli paper and doling out thin slivers of the treat to all of us. I also remember feeling as though I would never be allowed to have as much as I wanted.
One of the tenets of all the programs that teach overcoming overeating through permission is that once you've decided to neutralize the power of a food, you need to have on hand several times as much food as you could ever physically consume in a sitting. The rationale is that you need to be able to feel that you can absolutely have as much as you want without being limited by running out, and as soon as you eat some, you have to replace it so it will be abundantly available the next time you want it. If you want to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you should have it at all those meals and eat it mindfully, sensuously and, most important, openly. So I bought a couple of pounds of marble halvah and proceeded to have it whenever I wanted, usually eating a lot more than the slivers I remember from my youth, but not nearly as much, at a single sitting, as I feared. I began that process in early November and brought three packages with me to Hawaii two months later, just so they would be there if I needed them (as you can imagine, halvah is not big on the Big Island). And I threw them out, untouched, when we packed up to leave that April.
There were other foods and other revelations, but they will have to wait till my next post.
A hui hou.