The Half-Full Plate

So I went to bed at 7:44 last night.

(Yes, I realize that I’m really not setting myself up as the most marketable author for a book on how to live your best life in your twenties.)

Originally, I was only going to rest for thirty minutes and then get on to working out and running errands, and then I realized that I could barely keep my eyes open–and actually, I was done with work, had no plans with friends, and could in theory push off everything to tomorrow. So viva la procrastination it was.

Plus, I’ve been trying to listen to my body lately–which is not going so well.

One of the things I’ve often heard recommended when you struggle with binge eating (and yup, I do) is trying to eat only until you’re full.

Now if you have a healthy relationship with food, that might seem like a duh. But in my case, when eating is too often about other factors (enjoyment! escape!) it’s honestly been a bit tough to get accustomed to thinking ‘Am I full now? Is this what being full is?’

Because a lot of the time it feels like an irrelevant question, either because I’m following Weight Watchers and it doesn’t matter how hungry/full I am, I have X amount I can eat today, or because I’m just eating whatever I want, and it’s really not about being not hungry.

And one of the areas where I struggle the most with eating in accordance with Real Hunger is restaurants.

I love going out to eat. All the flavors, none of the work of needing to mince your own garlic or cube your own veggies. And: no cleanup!

But I also find it almost impossible to not eat my entire meal at a restaurant, no matter how many times I’ve read that current portions in most American restaurants are oh, 16 times the recommended amount of food or whatnot. (OK, it’s not 16. It’s like two, or three, or maybe, at Cheesecake Factory, five. I’d google it, but I’m lazy, and I don’t get paid for blog writing, so: google it yourself.)

(Because of course, you should not have to decide between mac and cheese and a burger.)

In theory, I get that it makes total sense to cut up your meat into multiple portions, and to cleave your rice into two or three piles, and just eat some of it, but oy vey, in practice, it just feels so darn sad to me.

And while it would be convenient to blame my parents, I tragically have absolutely zero memories of being told I had to finish my food at dinner or I wouldn’t get dessert or anything like that.

So maybe I was just born this way, thinking that leaving food on a restaurant plate–even when I know the plate contains enough food for several meals, and if I was debating how many rations I could fit into my wagon on the Oregon Trail, and aware that too much weight in the wagon could result in the premature demise of my oxen, I absolutely would not let anyone count this as one portion (90s educational computer games for the win!)–is just the saddest.

Which brings me to how I spent Father’s Day.

So for an embarrassingly long time, I’ve wanted to go to a nice steakhouse. And somehow I never successfully conned anyone into taking me. (Mind you, before you start to think I’m basically equal to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl, I somehow conned my way into one job, airplane tickets, musical tickets, a free hotel stay in Rome, etc., etc., during this same period.)

So I asked my brother, who has some kind of business gig I can never understand but does involve occasionally hitting up nice restaurants, if he could recommend a steakhouse and go with me.

And somehow the only night we could both make it work was on Father’s Day, which makes perfect sense as our dad lives 3,000 miles away (and would pick Chinese over a steakhouse).

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(The first shot of our meal, all demonstrating why I am not about to start a food photo Instagram empire.)

So we ended up at Ruth’s Chris in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, because you can see the Potomac River wind past and watch the planes take off at Reagan Airport. Now if you’ve never been to Crystal City, you might wonder if this neighborhood was some whimsical Disney environment, a rip off of that ice castle in “Frozen.”

You would be very wrong.

The biggest motivation behind the construction of Crystal City seems to have been an abiding belief that there is nothing office workers hate more than being exposed to the sun. It is a bunch of clunky office buildings, and below them is a maze of basement restaurants and bizarre shops selling landscape art or fashion that seems to rely heavily on sequins, and almost all of it is in the ground and connected by tunnels lined with yet more shops. Last time I went to Crystal City, I saw the carcass of a dead bird in the underground tunnel leading to my parking lot … and I thought: this fits the vibe.

But yeah, Ruth’s Chris itself is on top of one of the clunky office buildings, so it did have a lovely view. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but when I saw the interior of the restaurant my first thought was ah, we’re back to hotel basic: everything looks comfortable, in bland colors, and there is no hint of a color or shape that would ever impress itself upon your imagination enough to be recalled a day later. Inoffensiveness maximized.

(In my defense, I kept finding myself in hotel ballrooms in 2011-2012, and amid taking notes and tweeting out politicians’ latest warblings, I had an inordinate amount of time to contemplate what exactly hotels were trying to achieve with their decor.)

So in between trying to help out waiters who were unsure whether to wish my brother a happy father’s day (and for that matter, a toll worker wished me happy mother’s day this year, which sent me down the path of a good, long meditation about how I am doing my hair these days), we analyzed the menu–and went for broke.

Cocktails. Calamari. Steaks. Mashed Potatoes. Brussel Sprouts. Creamed Spinach. Wine. And yes, we assured our attentive waiter, we could probably cope with a refill on the bread basket.

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Given that I had been wanting to do this for oh, a decade or so, I had already decided I wasn’t going to try to eat healthily at this one meal.

Then the crisis struck: after I’d had about four bites of my steak, I realized I was … full.

I was stunned.

Genuinely!

I ate a few more bites of the ribeye steak, which was amazing (although maybe a smidgen over salted?). I ate a few brussel sprouts, and some potatoes, and some creamed spinach … and just felt fuller.

And then I noticed, as amazingly delicious as every mouthful was, I honestly didn’t want to eat anymore–that somehow the discomfort emerging from being full was truly worse than the sadness of a barely eaten steak on the plate before me.

It was like the bizarre feeling I experienced when I first saw the Parthenon in person after having looked at a poster of it in my college dorm room all four years: the shock of recognition when you encounter something you’ve never known first hand, but have often contemplated..

(OK: I have been full before, so I might be exaggerating a little …)

So ultimately, I asked for a box for my steak. And to both my and the waiter’s stupefaction, the default box size was too small for the amount of steak I had left. So he somehow procured a larger box, and yes, I ate the rest of it as a delicious weeknight dinner the next night, along with some of the leftover sides.

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One of the things I learned in therapy is if you have a bad habit that you can’t break, it’s probably worth contemplating what you get out of the behavior (the idea being that in the long term you can try to see if there’s another path to get that reward sans the bad habit). So as I have struggled, time after time, to leave uneaten even a few bites at a restaurant meal, just to try to get acclimated to the idea of not eating it all, I have gone full-on self-centered and pondered why exactly I, who was born in the 80s and have never faced a food shortage in my life, seem to think that leaving oh, even three fries uneaten on a plate, is akin to sinking into a food shortage situation straight out of the Depression.

Which brings me to Pinterest.

So I have a very not cool fondness for cliches and motivational sayings, and sometimes I scroll through Pinterest to hunt for them. One of the Bible verses I encountered that way, probably set to a background of a field and someone’s sandalled feet, was “The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly,” which is apparently from John 10:10.

(I do anticipate my future life, post weight loss, will exclusively involve sunrises.)

It’s a verse I’ve thought about it often in the past few weeks, because I’m pretty sure the bleakness of not finishing meals is, for me, a rejection of abundance. And in my own life, it often feels like my faith is a source of negation, not abundance. Don’t do this, or that, or oh, most definitely not that.

Which, if I was the type to embrace personal responsibility, I might concede that my own focus is partly to blame for this, that maybe if I slowed down and savored a little bit more the amazing things God has done for me, my mindset would shift … that I would not just intellectually believe “the rules” were there to liberate us from affections that can’t lead us to true happiness, but would emotionally believe that as well–and also cherish the gifts from God I so often take for granted.

But at any rate, I’ve been trying to think more of the paradox that God both wants us to live abundantly and that He also wants to lead healthy lives … which means my ultimate abundant life might mean a lot of uneaten french fries.

(Side note: I’m never sure what to make of the fact that I have almost no angst over accepting things like, oh, the Trinity, but I do struggle to understand things like the above.)

(I have no idea who this person is, but I can pretty safely say I’ve never left a fry uneaten at Shake Shack.)

I can see, sometimes, that lack of overeating could lead to other kinds of abundance: moving more easily, being able to do more, not getting tired so easily (and er, um, crashing at 7:44 at night).

But oh, I want it all: the energy and the food. I want somehow to be in a world where we can both afford a lot of food and where our stomachs can magically process it all without having to expand.

Yet that’s not our world.

So … I keep trucking on. Since that dinner, I’ve managed to not eat past fullness at an Ethiopian restaurant, an American restaurant (where I left behind a lot of fries!), and even at a Baskin-Robbins, where when I realized I didn’t like a flavor that was advertised as peanut-butter tinged because I couldn’t taste the peanut butter, I let the rest of the scoop fall into a liquid state.

Of course since then I have also managed to eat a full portion of take-out pad Thai as well (which I’d roughly guess counted as four Weight Watchers portions of pad Thai), soo … no worries of me becoming an annoyingly perfect role model any time soon.

In case you were angsting about that.

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