Monday, 12 August 2013

The Satisfaction Factor

Have you ever had a non-fat, sugar-free latte? They suck. The fake sugar in the syrup makes your stomach hurt, and the skim milk leaves something to be desired. And more often than not, you drink it, then prowl around the coffee shop or the mall or your kitchen wondering what’s for dessert. What if you had consumed what you actually wanted? I’m not saying the 16 ounce frappuccino with extra whipped cream, but a nice, fully flavoured, syrupy, latte with some real milk? I’ll tell you what would happen – you would feel satisfied. And you might feel satisfied after drinking three quarters of it, half of it, maybe even after a few sips. The body is superbly intelligent. It tells you if you need a glass of water (I know, I know, we’re taught to believe that the minute you experience thirst, you’re already so bloody dehydrated that your kidneys are failing).  It tells you, if you listen closely enough, when you need nourishment and when you don't, even if it means stopping mid-slurp or mid-munch.

Who is to say how many calories you need and what the correct portion size is for you, at this very moment? Is an envelope of dry miso soup (my obsession du jour) the right size? A cheese string? A box of Kraft Dinner? An apple? Some say that Mother Nature got it just right: the size of an apple is perfect for a snack. But how does Mother Nature know how long it’s been since I've eaten, how much muscle I have on my bones, how much activity I've done today? She doesn't.  There is a communication between these components of my life and my belly, and only it knows for sure. And I’m learning to trust it.

Here’s a concept I once fell for, but now I can’t stand it: “It tastes just like real {insert decadent food that was put on this planet for our physical senses to enjoy, but that our minds have convinced us is a cobblestone on the pathway to hell}. Fat-free frozen yogourt, bean-laden brownies, cholesterol-free margarine, no-sugar added Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. For heaven’s sake! Tell me who is eating this without falling into the following traps:  “I can have six of them because they’re healthier/lower in calories/fat/carbs than the real thing”; and/or an hour later “In retrospect, those brownies tasted like shit. Screw it – let’s order a pizza.” The dreaded "real thing" could have been savoured and thoroughly enjoyed, the resulting satisfaction lasting for hours. The alternative leaves a void waiting to be filled.

The severity of it all, the torturous nature of the deprivation that we put ourselves through is staggering.  I went to a children’s birthday party a few years ago where I met a 40-something lady for the first time. I had been warned that she was a serial low-carbist, that she had even renounced all fruits, and had stuck to it for years.  Yes, she was thin as a rail, but I could see that her mind spun like a top. She hung out at the food table the whole afternoon, hovering, watching everyone else (there’s the wonder and envy disguised as scorn I mentioned earlier). Then, when the rest of us adjourned to the living room to open the presents, she began picking. First she would take a piece of watermelon. She didn't even stop to look at it; she popped it into her mouth like it didn't even happen. Then she walked away at lightening speed, busying herself in the kitchen.  Next, she came back for cantaloupe.  Same thing, only this time her eyes were everywhere, praying that there were no witnesses. She went on and on like this. The expression on her face – I could see that she was already imposing a penance, all of this for fruit!  

One of my husband and my favourite places in the world is Reykjavik, Iceland. These people do it right. One day I tried to order a large, low fat latte in a cafĂ© downtown.  Guess what? There is no low fat, and there is no large. Have your creamy little coffee, hell, add a pastry, relish it, fill up as needed, then go about your day. Walk around the breathtaking city for a few hours! There is so much more to life than denial and punishment. 

Not only does your mind know that that latte at Starbucks was ‘skinny’, so does your nose, your tongue, your taste buds, your eyes and your ears (“Skinny caramel macchiato for Sally, ready at the end of the counter!”). Poor Sally. She’s gonna be hungry later.

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