What Do I Want to Eat?

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When I threw out all the diet rules and food lists, I felt unmoored. Eating when I was hungry made sense. But what am I supposed to eat now? How do I know what to eat?

Only one guideline made sense: asking, “What do I want to eat?”

I had taken myself to the grocery store for an early lunch. I’d checked in—was it body-hunger I was feeling? Yes, the rumbly, tugging feeling was there, right around my navel—and I had determined that I didn’t want or have time to cook anything. By the time I chose my lunch, paid, and got home, I would be close-to-too hungry.

I can have anything I want, I tell myself. (I still need regular reassurance of this.) What do I want to eat?

For years I thought the question was “What don’t I want to eat?” But as I walk the aisles, I realize lots of things don’t actually appeal. Cookies and chips in flashy neon packaging, former “binge foods,” sound unpleasant. I want something rich, creamy… I round the corner.

Yogurt? God, no.

I kind of hate yogurt. It’s one of those foods I forced myself to eat over and over again because it was “healthy,” or because it was “macro-friendly,” or it was “something sweet I can have on this diet when all I want is dessert.” (Ever notice how many fat-free, artificially-sweetened things are named after and supposedly flavored like dessert foods?)

Pudding is creamy. Pudding? Maybe.

The grocery store is now my real-life Choose Your Own Adventure book. I select pudding, hold the page, and flip ahead. I see myself at home, sitting down to a bowl of pudding. I try to conjure up the sensation of eating: the weight of the spoon in my hand, the flavor, the texture, the feeling in my body as I push away from the table… Something is missing.

I flip back to the grab-‘n’-go meal crossroads page: deli case, individual bags of chips, hot soup, sushi, bakery…

I want cake.

Wow, okay.

It’s not even 11:00 AM, but I’m practicing not judging my desires. I walk over to the single-serving dessert area in the bakery and peruse the rows of clear plastic clamshells. The desire part of me is now wide-awake. Answering, “What do I want to eat?” is not hard.

I want non-chocolate cake, with buttercream frosting. Generous on the frosting. I want something salty and fiber-rich on the side.

I choose a piece of “Autumn Spice” layer cake and a small tub of garbanzo-fava bean salad from the deli. I feel confident, but also a little sneaky, like I’m getting away with something. My heart-rate picks up, and I remind myself kindly, “We’re not going home to binge, remember?”

I take my guilt-free-but-still-kind-of-embarrassing lunch through the self-checkout. I drive home and plate the food. I set a place at the table.

Cake for lunch, I think. Slow, mindful cake for lunch. Here we go.

I remind myself that I’m fine. This is okay. This is allowed.

I savor every crumb of that slice of cake. I put my fork down between bites so I don’t numb out and miss this, my carefully-chosen, just-what-I-want-to-eat lunch. The bean salad is too vinegary. I eat a little of it between bites of cake and have the idea that I should finish it, but no. It’s not what I want. There is no “should.”

I finish the cake and put the bean salad back in its deli container. I put the container in the fridge to maybe-eat later. I feel an unfamiliar sense of inner calm as I close the refrigerator door.

The food war is coming to an end.

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