I had just left the Academy for Eating Disorders Conference in Miami. I’d shared a cab to the airport with Dr. Tracy Tylka, a psychology professor from Ohio State University who studies intuitive eating. At the Delta gate, Tracy was sitting to my right. To my left was a four or maybe five year old girl anxiously clutching a box containing a hot dog from a Nathan’s concession stand.
This little girl was traveling with her mother, father, and siblings. I think they were from South Africa. Each member of the family was holding a box containing a Nathan’s hot dog. Dad was eating his hot dog with great relish. But the little girl to my left kept looking at her box with great suspicion. She opened the box, then closed it again. I caught her dad’s eyes, he smiled and confirmed that this was her very first hot dog, ever. It was the first time she’d ever even seen a hot dog. Imagine!
This little girl kept looking at her dad, who was encouraging her to try it. She opened the box and touched the hotdog. Then she tried to wrap her hands around it. Then, in earnest, she tried to figure out how to get both the bun and the hot dog into her mouth, as she had seen her dad do. She couldn’t do it. Her mouth was just too small. Stumped, she closed the box again and walked around for a minute or two, as if trying to decide on a strategy.
Then she climbed back into the chair next to me and sat way back in the seat, reopened the box, looking ready to give it her best try. But the bun still confounded her. So she pulled the hot dog up a little past the top of the bun and took a tentitive bite of just the tip of the hot dog. A look of disdain covered her face. She chewed for what seemed like many minutes and then got up and handed the hotdog back to her dad. She had tried her first hot dog and she did not like it!
Tracy, the psychologist sitting next to me who researches intuitive eating, had also watched the little girl explore, experience, and reject this foreign food called a hot dog. When this child gave the hot dog back to her father we both smiled and in unison said, “that was a great example of intuitive eating!” She truly tasted the hot dog, didn’t like it, didn’t eat it.
I wanted to experience a hot dog as mindfully as this little girl had. It was 6pm. I was hungry. I went to the Nathan’s counter and bought a hot dog. Then I ate it the way the little girl had. I looked at it as if I were seeing a hot dog for the very first time. I bit into the meat, only, as had the little girl. I experienced how weird it felt when my teeth pierced the tight outside skin of the hot dog and I got a burst of hot dog juice on my tongue. I could taste the spices and the fat. I don’t believe I had ever tasted a hot dog so mindfully, so thoroughly.
Was there ever a time in my life when I actually tasted my food? I assume so. Today, do I EVER taste my food that mindfully, or make my food choices that intuitively? The answer is a resounding no. That evening in the airport, while I waited for the announcement to board the plane, I actually tasted my very first hot dog . Unlike the little girl from South Africa, I enjoyed every bite…and felt totally satisfied with my choice. And I didn’t feel the need for another…
When was the last time you truly experienced the food you’re eating?
Ellen Shuman is a Life Coach who specializes in emotional and binge eating recovery. She is the founder of A Weigh Out & Acoria Eating Disorder Treatment, Vice President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and Co-Chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, email@example.com