Quell the appetite

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Back in May last year I wrote an article about my somewhat radical approach to dieting:

For some of us, the war between weight and appetite needs to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If we’re to have war, it needs to be total war, and appetite must be not merely rebuffed but routed.  We need not only to change our eating habits, but to recognise the fundamental psychological and spiritual discord at the heart of a dysfunctional relationship with food.

It’s one thing to read or reread such statements. It’s another thing to actually recognise the role appetite is playing in your own daily life.

At first, we feel that only a small but significant proportion of our consumption is excessive. We draw a line between “enough” and “too much” that is largely moderated by experiences of extreme fullness. “I’ll just cut back a little.”

After a few weeks of repeated failures, we realise that “enough” is much more than enough. We still feel full, we’re not losing weight, and worse still, eating “enough” leads too quickly into eating just a bit more, pushing the limits back out to our old habits.

It’s important to note at this point that our experiences of fullness are not a good guide to how much is really enough. After all, it’s not the desire for fullness that motivates our over-eating in the first place. Rather, it’s the sensations, the sensual experience of eating that our appetites crave.

This is the key: to realise that your appetite desires sensation. Not merely taste, but the feel of food in your mouth as you bite it and chew it. It’s the texture, the flavour, the temperature and all the qualities that contribute to mouthfeel.

Once you truly recognise that appetite wants sensation at any cost, you will be free to see it as the core of your struggle with weight and consumption. The interests of appetite are opposed to our own interests. Yet the more we indulge appetite, the stronger it becomes and the weaker our resistance to it.

Most of the time, we experience an ambiguous collection of impulses that we think of as “hunger”. But once we recognise appetite for what it is, we can start to distinguish between it and genuine hunger. Often our diets fail because we allow appetite to “piggy-back” on genuine hunger – the genuine need for physical sustenance. We stick to the diet plan, resisting appetite when the rules tell us to, but indulging it when the rules allow.

Some people can do this. They have no trouble reigning their appetite in. But many of us need to learn to view appetite as a kind of parasitic entity, demanding sensual pleasure with no regard to the consequences.

Are you feeding yourself, or are you feeding your appetite? Are you eating for the food or for the feeling of something flavoursome in your mouth?  The difference is quite stark, and is rooted in distinct components of your psyche.

If you are overweight, chances are it’s because you (and so many of us) have been feeding your appetite, gratifying it regularly, and stopping only when your body was unable to take any more punishment.

Appetite doesn’t want a full stomach, it wants the sensations of eating, but none of the consequences of excess. It lives only for experience, which evaporates into memory once the moment has passed. Moment by moment, the appetite may seem to promise lasting fulfillment but the promise is empty. Sensations do not last, and their memory is small comfort against the displeasure of an overweight body.

This is part three of my reflections on dieting. Read part one and part two.



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