I’ve always had a hearty appetite. Really. During childhood when I came to the table to eat, it was with joy and anticipation, and I could chow down as well as anyone, even my three brothers, whom my mom referred to as “bottomless pits.” When my mom cooked a family favorite such as tacos, the food disappeared as fast as she could bring it to the table.
Fortunately, I grew tall as a teenager, had a good metabolism that helped me burn off the calories I took in every day, and stayed on the thin side until my freshman year of college. Nonetheless, those formative years solidified my identity as a “person with a hearty appetite.” Mention food, and I’m there!
Don’t get me wrong. Having a hearty appetite is a positive thing—except when I’m not hungry, which happens whenever my hearty appetite gets more than satiated at the previous meal. But a habit is a habit. If I approach lunch time with the preconceived idea that I’m going to put away a generous amount of food, I’m not taking into account how hungry I am. And I’ve done that for years. For example, when I was dieting, my view toward lunch was that it was going to be sparse, the price I had to pay to lose weight, so I had to tighten my belt and make do, regardless of my growling stomach. When I gave up dieting, at first I identified with the girl I used to be who could eat whatever she wanted and never gain an ounce, and I overdid it, just as I did during periods of bingeing, and just as I still do when I’m not paying attention to my hunger.
When I manage to eat mindfully, however, I realize that I don’t always have a hearty appetite. Sometimes, I want to eat nothing or just a little for lunch! For me, that doesn’t feel normal and makes me wonder if I’m coming down with something.
But recently I’ve been asking deeper questions. Can I be content with eating “just a little?” More to the point, can I give myself permission to carve out a new identity as a person whose intake varies, depending on my level of hunger? Who will I be if not the one with a hearty appetite? I’d like to think of myself as a discerning eater, a connoisseur instead of a bon vivant, or less flatteringly, a gourmand. After all, my tastes are changing as I get older. Perhaps as I get used to the connoisseur label, I’ll be able to internalize it. We’ll see.