Years ago, at least five and maybe up to ten, my friend Erin casually commented to me that eating food you’re not hungry for is wasteful. I can’t remember the exact situation. Maybe we were sitting in a restaurant after eating, feeling totally stuffed, looking at two bites of delicious food left on a plate and I asked who was going to finish it off. Probably something along those lines.
I didn’t grow up in one of those strict families that won’t let kids leave the dinner table before finishing everything on their plates. My parents never made us feel guilty by reminding us of children starving in Africa. Still, my parents also never threw away food, and if there was some left on the table at the end of a meal, someone would eat it in order not to waste it. Because not wasting food was so deeply ingrained into me growing up, Erin’s idea of eating unwanted food as wasting it pretty much blew my mind.
At first, I instinctually knew Erin was wrong. Of course eating food is less wasteful than throwing that food in the garbage, regardless of how hungry a person is. Duh. Then I thought more about it and kept reasoning through it and realized my instincts were wrong in this situation. She was right! It is just as wasteful to eat those last few (unwanted) bites as it is to throw them away. Maybe even more wasteful.
How so? If you eat food you don’t want, the calories are just as wasted as if no one ate the food at all. Your body isn’t going to use that energy to do anything because you already have enough energy. The food is going to sit in your body, wasting away, requiring energy for processing, putting unnecessary strain on your digestive system as it turns into poop. The unneeded food might make you sluggish and lethargic. It might make you fatter and less healthy. It might stretch your stomach and contribute to a future desire to overeat.
Maybe everyone who reads my blog already knew this, but even 5-10 years after learning it, the “eating can be wasteful” idea feels new. I need to remind myself of it regularly, especially when at a nice restaurant and sitting face-to-face with food I’m no longer hungry for but view as unusual or expensive. Of course, I’ll take leftovers to go if it fits the situation, but oftentimes it does not because of the nature of the food or the way my day is planned.
It still takes quite a bit of conscious awareness for me to push away a plate that has food sitting on it. In these moments I have to sit and mentally walk through the logic, reminding myself that I’m being less wasteful by not eating what’s in front of me since I’m not hungry. Once I feel reassured that I’m doing a good thing by not eating it, a less wasteful/more healthful thing, pushing the plate away becomes easy. It’s remembering to do this and break through those old eating habits with conscious thought that is difficult.