Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Grilled Cheese and Filet Mignon

Is there anyone who doesn't love grilled cheese sandwiches?

There is just so much to love about them. The hot, gooey cheese, the thick slices of butter-covered toasted bread. Add to that the fact that your mom probably made them for you when you were a kid, served alongside a steaming cup of tomato soup with crispy, salty oyster crackers floating on top.


I love grilled cheese sandwiches, and I ate one the other day, something I haven't allowed myself to do it years.

But sadly, this sandwich was not that great. It was cold, and the cheese had hardened. There was no soup to accompany it. My mom was not there to eat with me. I ate it alone, standing at the kitchen table, quickly, stuffing it in like an afterthought, not enjoying it at all.

Since I've become more mindful of my eating lately, I've noticed that I've developed an unhealthy pattern. It goes something like this: I crave a delicious food, either because I'm serving it to my family or someone is offering it to me. I deny myself the food, deciding that it is too something (rich, high in carbs,high calorie, expensive.) I walk away feeling very virtuous. Then later (maybe just a few minutes, or maybe hours or days) I eat it anyway -- but now it's cold, or half-eaten by someone else. It's leftovers, and apparently that's all I deserve.

Now of course I know that the yucky grilled cheese sandwich I ate was just as "bad" for me as it would have been hot off the grill, when it would have tasted great. What in the world is wrong with me?

I seem to be an expert at self-deprivation. If I'm not strong enough to deny myself the foods I want, I will punish myself with less than perfect leftovers later.

This can't possibly be just about food. I think many of us have a tendency to attempt the lives of martyrs, and when we fall short we punish ourselves. It is really a form of scruples. (From the Latin Scrupulus, "a small sharp, or pointed, stone", hence, in a transferred sense, "uneasiness of mind.")

One Catholic encyclopedia describes scruples this way: "An unfounded apprehension and consequently unwarranted fear that something is a sin which, as a matter of fact, is not. It is not considered here so much as an isolated act, but rather as an habitual state of mind known to directors of souls as a "scrupulous conscience." St. Alphonsus describes it as a condition in which one influenced by trifling reasons, and without any solid foundation, is often afraid that sin lies where it really does not. "

Is it a sin to eat a grilled cheese sandwich? Of course not. Although gluttony is indeed a sin, enjoying a sandwich (with or without that bowl of soup) doesn't qualify as gluttony. What I've done is develop a set of rules for eating that have nothing to do with sin or virtue. Simply put, I think if I avoid certain foods I will become thin, and thin is good, and if I am thin I am a good girl. (There are many reasons I've developed this misconception -- that's why I started this blog!)

The aforementioned Catholic resource recommends scrupulous folk secure a good confessor to help them recover. In the case of my "food scruples," I think an "inner caretaker" of sorts is more appropriate.

I must continue to be mindful of what enters my body. Am I eating a variety of nutritious foods? Am I eating when I am hungry, not to avoid other uncomfortable feelings?

Am I making myself a martyr? Am I separating myself from my family with my food choices? Am I enjoying the bounty that God has put before me, in moderation and with respect for the gift of my health?

I made a bit of progress in this area over the weekend. My husband and I were enjoying an anniversary dinner in a beautiful restaurant with an elegant menu. I ordered the filet mignon. Why? Because I really wanted to. It was the most expensive item on the menu, and it was rich and high in calories.

It was delicious, served to me hot and perfectly prepared. I enjoyed every bite, as I should have.

But truth be told, I would have enjoyed a grilled cheese just as much. And the next time I want one, I will.


R.L.Scovens said...

I've really been watching what I eat as well! It's been a long journey for me, but God is helping me reach my goals with food.

*Mia Jude* said...

I have the same food issues as well! When I am at work, and everyone else is eating a burger, fries, pizza, or a yummy sandwich, I get a bland salad with a few croutons, an apple, and light dressing. It is nutritious, yes, but later on, when alone..I quickly eat the cookie I wanted, or the brownie, or pizza..but of course I eat a lot more of that tasty food than I would've if I would've just let myself have it in the first place...*sigh* slowly but surely, I am letting myself get away with eating what I want..when I want...

Sarahndipity said...

I love this blog! Thank you for speaking up for so many women out there who feel alone in the fight for body image.