Food, or Non-Food

We might differentiate between foods we really like, and foods we just tolerate. Between things that we crave and things that we can leave alone. But we also differentiate between food and non-food. That is, while we might argue about the merits of a brownie and salmon, nobody is tempted by a chunk of wood or a stone. We are clear that we eat the food, and not the packaging.

It seems like this distinction between food and non-food would be a clear line and universal, but of course that isn’t true. While some of the distinction is biological, much of it is cultural. Various people consider all sorts of things to be food that others reject without consideration. Defining a fermented food as delicious or rotten has everything to do with the society that creates and treasures it and nothing with external measures.

The five-second rule illustrates this fluidity as well: at what point does something change from being food to being garbage? We clearly have certain rules guiding our decisions about that shift, which vary depending on the person and the situation. Something is still edible shortly after touching the ground if it is hard and the ground is fairly clean. If it is soft or sticky, and the ground is dirty (or more unknown), it immediately becomes garbage.

In trying to understand my experiences with strong cravings in response to feelings of deprivation, what Gillian Riley calls the Addictive Desire to Eat and I abbreviate to the ADTE, I find myself reflecting on this. The ADTE does not drive me to eat broccoli, or kale, or beets, nor does it drive me to eat grass or rocks or arsenic. I seem to be always pushed towards eating sugar or grains, and once I start I have a very difficult time stopping.

The specificity of the ADTE is shockingly apparent when I spend time not eating sugar or grains (especially wheat). After a time, the ADTE dies away, leaving actual hunger in its place. I’ve done the experiment of removing these triggers enough times that the cause and effect is clear. The ADTE drives me towards eating (almost exclusively in the late afternoon) regardless of whether I’m hungry or full, or whether I try to limit what I eat or I give myself full permission to enjoy whatever I want.

It is a scary feeling, but thankfully it is limited in scope. While I may experience a desire to eat in the late afternoon when I’m not eating sugar or grains, it doesn’t have the uncontrollable and often frantic pull on me that it otherwise would.

One of the ways I have chosen (over the last several years of practicing—this has been a process and not an instant transformation) to look at that situation is to see that for me, sugar and grains are non-foods. I feel so much better, both physically and mentally, if I don’t eat them at all. When they are, in real life, off the table and not even an option, I have less of a struggle against the ADTE. I can (mostly) notice that it comes up, decide if I’m going to eat, and get on with my life.