Not long ago, I sat down to a meal with a group of friends. Everyone at the table had before them a plate of healthy vegan food – generously provided by the robust buffet at the side of the room. Before I had a chance to take my first bite, one of the people at our table tore into their food in a frenzy – not unlike the ferocity of a lion at their first meal in a week. Shoveling mouthful after mouthful in – well before the previous bite had barely cleared the entrance – I was blindsided by the intensity of this display. I could tell by the glances of others at the table that my reaction was not unique.
My gut response was a complete loss of appetite. As I tend to be reflective in nature, I turned attention inward to get an honest appraisal of the inner experience. With a long – though now distant – history of struggles with food and my weight as I tried one diet regimen after another to get a grip on the problem, the situation resurfaced some of the deep seated scars from my past. I could remember eating meals in this same frenzied fashion. It was always, always associated with a period of restrictive eating, where quantities or types of food – even within my veg guidelines – built up a wall of deprivation-driven tension and obsession with the “free foods” list – the foods that wouldn’t make you fat. And always, always accompanied by painful anxiety – as I measured my plate up against my dietary ideal, preoccupied with the ‘results’ I looked forward to down the road, completely obscuring the pleasure of the present eating moment. So perhaps this person hadn’t had anything decent to eat in a couple of days, and was really hungry? Noting an impulse to judge, I decided to reserve judgment in favor of evaluating eating styles for myself.