When does passionate love veer into obsession? At what point does a drive become a compulsion? Why are our seemingly mighty intellectual faculties so often powerless in the face of our base urges?
As embodied, appetitive beings, most of us struggle with these questions at some point. History is densely populated with dead people who got that way because they couldn’t reign in the extremity of their desires.
Each night at work, I’m astonished at the restraint shown by kids who push their plates away after just a few bites. But, of course, it’s not really restraint, not in the sense of a conscious decision to refrain from overeating. They’re just… not hungry. There was a time when I, too, possessed that seemingly magical ability to leave food on my plate, uneaten. A time when the idea that eating is the greatest pleasure there is, a panacea for all sorrow and dullness, hadn’t begun to override my body’s satiety signals at nearly every meal.
I’m sitting at Rancho Bravo, eating tortilla chips, sort of regretting not just getting a burrito. I got a salad because it seemed like the virtuous option: I already had french fries smothered in rich cheesy sauce, bread with olive oil, and part of a buttermilk biscuit at work. But, of course, the salad, substantial as it was with beans and lots of vegetables and cheese and even a few tortilla strips, was not enough. I still wanted salty crunchy things.
My salivary glands do a weird thing when I’m really digging the idea of eating food in the absence of true hunger: They go into pulsing overdrive, flooding my mouth as a combination of anxiety and guilt and desire fills me with furtive anticipation.
Last spring, a confluence of awful circumstances dragged me into a crushing depression and I pretty much lost interest in food. Instead of cooking and eating beautiful meals with friends and family, I ate kale and peanut butter and yogurt and almonds and fruit, made sure that I got just enough nutrients and calories to stay healthy. It was strange and unsettling and I felt at times as though I’d forsaken my very soul. But I was eating incredibly healthily, and, much as I hate to admit it, reveling in being exactly as thin as our highly distorted media culture tells women they should be. I felt powerful and energetic and fierce.
Then life got better and my passion for food was reawakened. Putting weight back on was hard at first; I’d fallen into a delusional infatuation with my adherence to an arbitrary “sample size.” But with renewed happiness and balance in my personal life came active rebellion against the pernicious lies of those who would profit from my misery and self-loathing (see this), and I came to believe that my body is just fine the way it is. That it’s the only one I’ve got, that some day in the not-too-distant future it will be dust, so I damn well better enjoy it while I can.
While this new-found empowerment freed me from the tyranny of constant anxiety about my appearance, it also pretty much did away with my self-control around food, and I started to feel less vibrant, more sluggish.
I want to be healthy and feel good in my body and make rational, measured decisions to that end. I also want to let myself succumb to the pleasures of the table with hedonistic abandon.
Moral of the story: A good balance is hard to find!