Is it time to eat yet?
More than twice on our recent trip, I caught myself checking my watch to see if it’s time to eat. I laughed at myself, because I’ve recently been in the practice of listening to my body more, especially when it comes to eating. For example, my clock may say it’s 12:00 but I’m not actually hungry for lunch. I realize I’ve been caught up in the habits of the culture around me. When did we lose the ability to check in with our truest guide? Our bellies!
I’ve been lucky to live a life where true hunger is not something I had to experience. There’s always been more than enough food provided for me. Although, what has come along with this luxury is the routine of mealtimes, in my opinion, to a detriment. Our jobs determine our lunch time at work, we’re bombarded with health advice on how, when, and what to eat for breakfast, and we meet for enormous dinner gatherings according to family schedules. Are we living the routine because we’re told to or because we want to? Do we eat out of hunger or do we eat when the clock says it’s time?
Not only is our culture built around eating routines, but in many cases, it is taboo to go against them. Meals and eating tend to be a deeply ritualistic part of a culture. Straying from the traditional ‘rules’ can seem off, or even wrong. For example, in South Korea it is polite (and expected) to serve the eldest first. In the United States, it is common to wait until everyone has their food to begin eating from your plate. In many Latin American countries, it is important to give a ‘buen provecho’! to everyone before starting a meal.
In addition to these examples, mealtimes are deeply respected in many cultures. Let me give an example from our recent trip. Jonathan and I walked into a restaurant around 3:30 p.m. He seemed uncomfortable as we walked in, and said, Are you sure it’s okay? This isn’t really when people eat. As he said this, I wondered, when do people eat? The most logical answer would be when they’re hungry, and yet, my experiences haven’t shown that to be true.
People eat when they wake up. People eat when the food is ready. People eat when the party is starting. People eat when the restaurants are open. People eat when it is time to eat. When and how often do people eat when they’re hungry?
As a part of a program I’m participating in*, I recently did an exercise of waiting to feel hunger pains and sitting with that feeling. As someone who both loves to eat and can get hangry quickly, I was not excited for this exercise. Luckily, my initial fears soon dissipated as I began to learn something important about myself. What I came to find along with my hunger, was the realization of how rarely I do feel it. The truth is, I’m guilty of eating by the clock.
My personal journey has allowed me to grow and practice the skill of listening to and trusting my body to know when to eat. I’ve started breaking all the rules and I have to admit, it’s been quite fun. I’ve gone hours after waking up without an ounce of food (Gasp! Your metabolism! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!). I’ve gone to a restaurant known for its ribs and ordered only a side dish of green beans (Gasp! How could you not try the ribs? Won’t you be hungry later?). I’ve even gotten home from work and eaten dinner at 4:00 p.m. (Gasp! Are you 80 years old? You’ll be snacking all night!). These choices come from the part of me that knows best. You may have guessed it–it’s not my watch, it’s my belly.
Buried in a culture of consumption and overindulgence, it can be quite easy to follow orders from powers outside ourselves. From my recent practice, I’ve found that letting go of these restrictions is more liberating than I thought. I’ve let go of the expectations of those around me, be it society, other people, my friends. I’ve begun to embrace the wisdom of my body and abandon the clock.
*The program is called The Society with Samantha Skelly. I highly recommend checking out her work and book called Hungry for Happiness.