On Sunday, when Dan and I got home from Thanksgiving traveling, we got burritos at Chipotle. On Monday, what I wanted for dinner was a Chipotle burrito. On Tuesday, what I wanted for dinner was a Chipotle burrito.
I didn’t get them on Monday or Tuesday, because eating Chipotle three or even two times in a row is absurd (without, I suppose, a good reason — anyway it’s definitely absurd for me). Instead, I considered what it was about Chipotle burritos that made me want to eat them over and over again — the protein? The fats? Did I maybe just want to spend more money than I needed on food? Eventually I determined that it’s because it’s getting wintry here and I want to eat things that are substantial and warm. Eating a Chipotle burrito is like eating a hot water bottle, and that is what I want.
The point here is that eating what you want is not the same as satisfying all your desires at face value. Sometimes doing what you want means digging deeper than just noticing what pops into your head — it means evaluating, even second-guessing. It’s a fine line to walk, to be sure, between self-analysis and self-abnegation — asking “do I really want what I think I want?” sounds suspiciously like a diet strategy. But the baseline of not automatically denying yourself anything is still of paramount importance. You approach it thus: “Okay, I probably don’t really want another Chipotle. If I do, I’ll get one, but I think something else is really going on.”
Indulging my Chipotle craving would have had the following effect: I would have eaten two more Chipotle burritos, and tonight I would want another one. Evaluating the craving didn’t get me any burritos, but it got me to understand at a deeper level what kinds of foods will be mentally and physically satisfying right now.
By “mentally,” by the way, I don’t even just mean the emotional satisfaction one normally gets from eating. Here’s what I had for dinner last night. We normally call it “sour chickpeas,” which is what it’s called. I was having none of it. Dan, knowing my feelings in re: eating something warm and filling (I believe I had actually complained that sour chickpeas “sounds cold”), said “what if I call it curried chickpea stew?” In that case, I said, give me some right now. Sometimes it’s not even about the food, but about the context.
People sometimes feel put off by intuitive eating because they think it’s a matter of always having a clear, unsullied image of what foods you truly want. In fact, people’s desires are rarely so crystalline, about food or anything else. Intuitive eating, and body acceptance in general, rests not on a foundation of knowing just what you want but on a foundation of knowing that you are allowed to want. Society likes to tell us, especially women, that our desires are not only unimportant but unseemly. I’d like to say the opposite. Don’t just notice your cravings, but think about them, examine them, go elbow-deep in them, pick them up and look underneath. It’s not about having a perfect sense of what you want for dinner, but of truly, fundamentally understanding that you can desire and seek nourishment, emotional as well as physical.