Stranger Days #28: Chasing the Taste

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Estimated Reading Time: 5.5 minutes

Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

I've heard it said that much about addiction is about chasing the elation of the first experience.  Trying to recreate the dopamine payout but never quite getting there. This description also reminds me of how memory works. We are often not remembering the event itself but recalling the last recollection of it; a reflection of a reflection that may be endowed with many flaws.  In both cases, it's a sense of trying to get to something one simply cannot get to.  

I've been thinking about that for the past week as it relates to my experience with eating.  I've always had a struggle with it and being homebound for four weeks with an abundant fridge, ample stress, and a range of emotion (the last two being big triggers), I know that it is quite easy to gain more weight than I already have in the last year (about 15-20 pounds to where I find myself happy and healthy).  

And before I go forward, no, I don't have any solutions, so if you're finding yourself in a similar situation. I don't offer solutions; only solace.  

However, that idea of chasing the high or re-remembering the taste has helped me better understand what I am doing coupled with why I am doing it as they go hand-in-hand to explain the behavior (at least for me).  

As I mentioned, I'm a stress and emotional eater. For a chunk of my childhood, maintaining my weight had both familial and social implications. If I was too heavy, then I would end up on a youth football team with older and significantly larger players.  Four years of my life--from 9-12 or so) were ruled by the scale and familial food monitoring. The result was an unhealthy relationship with food that included bouts of bulimia.  

My relationship with eating has reasonably improved in the decades since. Bulimia is long past and I've learned to keep my weight and health in what I consider a reasonable and manageable range for me (largely thanks to vegetarianism and running).  But improved is not necessarily resolved and so I still grapple with a healthy relationship with food.  

Right now, the ceaseless stress of needing to stay indoors and the clear economic disaster unfolding around us definitely plays on my stress and emotion. I know that for now, I am fine and yet, it's hard to believe that will be the case for the foreseeable future.  

Thus, the reptile brain in me kicks into action and encourages me to eat and eat and eat. Many days, I'm better at navigating the activation to eat more than is healthy but judging by the scale, it's not enough.

I'm still getting exercise; typically 40-60 minutes of (mostly) running a day or the occasion stationery bike, yard work, and some body exercises (hey, I'm up to 35 push-ups--there's that to celebrate).  But I'm also probably getting less physical activity that I might when I'm out of the house more often.  The trip to the bathroom is 10 feet, not 50; such things add up especially when more calories are coming in.  

But I'm also trying to be kind to myself or at least kind to my self-judgment and recognize that these are very intense and emotional times. Changes are likely to happen because there's no playbook for us individuals on how to navigate this.

That's the why of it.  Emotion and stress spike the brain to find comfort in food.  

The what of it is often again, chasing the taste of some previous time. I know this because of how I eat. I shovel food into my mouth and finish it fast.  Last scoops with the hopes (somewhere--not necessarily conscious) that a big spoonful of ice-cream will be as equivalent to the probably child-sized spoon that I used decades ago when first tasting it.  I'm hoping that quantity will get me back to quality; which isn't the case but doesn't keep my reptilian brain from tricking me into do it.  

I not only increase the size of the spoonfuls (let's be real and call them shovels at this point) but also the size of the dish that I use; often convincing myself (without much struggle or even intentional thought) that I want to make sure I'm really getting a the full experience, even if the full experience is possible in a smaller dish.  

Regulating food intake may seem like a trite point during a pandemic when there are inevitably people who are just struggling to get food. I get it. But it is what I'm struggling with right now and I know others are struggling with as well.

My most recent moment of progress about this is what I've been describing herein, the chasing the taste. I've known it, but really sat with it this past week.  On the weekend, my partner suggested we try an homebound meditation retreat as a way of grounding ourselves.  I can't find the one we did but it featured Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, two the of big names in mindfulness.  It was a mixture of sitting and walking meditations and while during the meditations, I wasn't thinking about this, it was during a break, when I reached for some food, that the insight about chasing the taste crystallized as I ate some dried cranberries. 

I almost began to wolf them down when I just realized I was rushing to get the intensity of taste.  Yet each cranberry had the fullness of taste and I would inevitably miss it in most cranberries because, funny enough, I was too busy trying to taste the cranberries.  

But to pull my attention to the single cranberry is hard as I imagine it is for many others.  To sit with the food longer and make our way through it slower is a challenge, especially if we're chasing the taste and all the things that come with it: comfort, emotion, satiation, etc.  

I don't know that I'll always be able to bring that awareness to my eating; even in the week since realizing it, I have stumbled many times. However, I hope in the new-found awareness and even in the sharing of this experience that it just might help me and maybe some other folks.  

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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