Updated: Oct 2, 2022
“It’s a sin to waste food.” I grew up hearing this, which often was an admonition against throwing food in the garbage. The behavior that followed this advice, however, is illogical. That behavior, in my case, was to eat every morsel on the plate, even if I wasn’t hungry anymore. For years, I would shovel whatever was on my plate into my belly, regardless of how uncomfortable it felt to be that full.
I see parents of young children do this all the time. They’ll prepare a plate for their little ones, which their kids don’t finish, and instead of putting the food away to eat later, they shove the food into their own mouths to avoid throwing it in the trash. Parents often worry about “losing the baby weight,” but the problem isn’t baby weight. The problem is that they finish off whatever their kids won’t eat, in addition to eating whatever they had served themselves.
Years ago I was dining at a restaurant with friends and I commented to one of the gals I was chatting with “I’m so stuffed, but it’s wrong to waste food,” while I struggled to clean off my plate. In response, she asked me some pointed questions that gave me a lot to ponder. This conversation was one of many that helped me to understand how an idea I had carried with me from my upbringing failed to serve me.
My friend asked, “What do you mean when you say, ‘waste food’?”
I responded, “If I leave the food on the plate, they’re just gonna throw it in the trash, which isn’t right.”
She continued, “Who is harmed by that?”
This was a harder question to answer, but I said, “Well, directly? I guess nobody is directly harmed by it, but it’s about being grateful for what you have. There are plenty of hungry people in the world who would be glad to have the food that we so nonchalantly throw in the trash.”
She nodded, and for a moment I thought I had convinced her that wasting food is something we shouldn’t do, and then she asked me, “Do you know these people? And if you do, would you give them this partially eaten, picked over, room temperature food?”
I had nothing to say, so she continued, “It seems to me like you plan to overeat out of a sense of guilt for world hunger.”
I chuckled at that notion and said, “It sounds silly when you put it that way.”
She asked, “What if I told you that there’s no difference between putting the food in the trashcan and eating more food than what you want or need? Both actions are wasteful.”
“That doesn’t make any sense to me,” I said, “How are they both wasteful?”
She said, “Could we agree that waste is to consume something that you really don’t need?”
I agreed, “I guess that’s a reasonable definition.”
She explained, “Right now, your hunger is gone; you don’t have a need to eat what’s left on your plate. If you put the food in the trashcan, it’ll end up in a landfill, which will pollute the environment. Your plan is to treat your body like the trashcan, by eating this food that you don’t need. In the short term, you’re gonna feel physically uncomfortable, like how you’re feeling now. If you keep doing this, overeating out of a sense of guilt, you’ll gain weight, maybe develop heart disease or diabetes. If you treat your body like a trashcan by using it to dispose of food that you don’t want and you don’t need, you are polluting your body.” She said that if I’m really concerned about waste, then eating when I don’t have hunger isn’t the solution. I wrapped the food up and ate it the next day, when I was actually hungry.
I had never heard anyone argue that overeating is wasteful, but I never forgot that point. This conversation started before I had begun my weight loss journey and it’s something that I have continued to apply through the whole process. I had to let go of the guilt associated with not cleaning off my plate. I still take pains to avoid throwing food in the trashcan and I also know that I am not the trashcan.
I used to think that overeating was a morally justified way to manage food waste. This bit of baggage was heavy, and it was making it hard for me to get to where I was trying to go. In these 2.5 years and 75 pounds, I had come to several realizations that helped me to achieve my goals of improving my health and my physique. I can honestly say that getting the mind right is at least half the battle. Subsequently, I’d like to share some tips on how to shift the mind to support you in your weight loss journey.
I'll be hosting a 1-hour webinar, “Mindset Shifts for Lasting Weight Loss” very soon. If you have ever struggled to lose weight, despite doing everything in your power, you want to sign up for this webinar. If you have dealt with feelings of shame after eating or if you have withheld food from yourself due to guilt about what you ate earlier, you want to sign up for this webinar. If you wish you could get beyond negative self-talk about how you look, how you feel, and what you eat, you definitely want to sign up for this webinar. I'll be announcing the date and time via email, Instagram, and Facebook. Be sure to like, follow, and share the Nursing Current pages on Facebook and Instagram. Also, hit the link below to add yourself to the waiting list.