I’m generally known as self-disciplined person, someone who sets and meets goals. I’ve beaten the odds, done the unexpected, gone beyond and proven doubters — and myself — wrong. It is a big part of what I do, helping others make progress through life challenges and toward desired changes.
About five years ago my Mom had a stroke, actually her third stroke. I had a habit of drinking three or four…okay five or more cans of diet Coke a day. My doctor had encouraged me to cut down. I blew it off, until that day. While visiting the hospital I decided no more. I have not had a diet Coke, or any other artificially sweetened soda, since. None, zero, period, end of conversation.
And I didn’t replace it with a similar course of sugar-sweetened soda. My “treat” is to drink about one (real) Coke a week and generally get by on unsweetened tea or water.
In spite of my discipline of ceasing to drink diet Coke, I fail when it comes to food. I could be referred to as a “fast food person.” Not that I frequent fast food restaurants — no, I eat fast. Too fast.
“Hi, I’m Jim.”
“I eat fast. Way too fast.”
It’s something of a life long habit. The end result is that I not only eat too fast, I eat too much. I know the equation, eat fast and the message can’t get from your stomach to your mind soon enough to tell you to stop.
I learned much of my love of food in my extended family. We would eat and then we would talk about eating. If you mentioned going out someone would ask, “Where’d you go?” which means, “What restaurant?” The follow-up is, “What did you have?” Which leads to comparisons with other restaurants, family recipes or a wandering conversation touching on various food related topics. Many of us worked in food services at one time or another. My first paycheck was from a restaurant, where my grandfather worked as well.
My Mom’s identity was in feeding “the boys.” That included my Dad, my brother, me and any friends or family who might be around. She often said her greatest joy was seeing us eat. When my sons came along, she became known as the “cinnamon roll Grandma.” Neighborhood kids would swarm our yard upon her arrival in anticipation of the famous treats.
In my young adult years I was anxious, driven, overly responsible. I was worried I’d never do enough, get it all done or do things quite right. I pushed others, but never as much as I pushed my self. As a program director at a Christian conference center, my responsibilities included coordinating summer staff. At mealtime I’d sit where I could see the room, all of the comings and goings, inhale my food. This would allow me to move from table to table checking in with staff members, keeping the flow of the day going.
As time progressed my work became less active; meetings, desk time and travel. Food related activities increased: mealtime meetings, working lunches, events and celebrations, and work trips with their endless parade of buffets and nameless restaurants. At the same time my metabolism went south. You can guess the result.
When the term multi-tasking became vogue, I felt I’d found my level. I loved the idea of being able to do multiple things as quickly as possible. I’d amaze mere mortals by crushing deadlines, managing an overly full schedule, holding together diverse interests, programs and people. Checking things off a list became a matter of identity. Accomplishment equaled value.
As time progressed, I was able to gain a better understanding of reasonable expectations for self and others. I became more aware of what could and couldn’t be controlled. I think others would agree that I became much more relaxed in relationships and responsibilities. I found ways to live more by flow than a driven linear model. I learned it’s not always worth getting things done if relationships are sacrificed in the process. I’m much more at peace with life, the world, others and myself. You might think this deep sense of balance would permeate all of my life. You might be wrong. I still eat too much, too fast.
I’ve developed strategies to change my behavior. I try to be the last served, wait for others in a meal line, chew more, put down my fork, sip water, converse — anything to slow my pace, but with little success. I hate when others notice and comment. It proves my weakness and failure at mastering this ever-hovering ghost.
I could make a case that this is some divine gift to keep me humble, remembering I can’t do everything. I know about strength in weakness, waiting, trusting, letting go, spiritual disciplines and self-control. And I still know I eat too fast.
Wisdom and science agree. Eating slower is better. Maybe someday my eating habits will align with best practices. Or maybe I’ll just have to keep working on it.