I thought I killed it years ago. I’ve encountered its ghost many times since — a wisp of memory, the vague outline of an amputated habit. But now, though I knew better, I went and fed that foul beast. Twice! And now it’s gathering strength to stalk my mind again.
I didn’t perceive nibbling on my kids’ leftovers as anything other than a bad habit until I read Cutting Myself in Half: 150 Pounds Lost One Byte at a Time, in which author Taylor LaBaron describes the process of weaning yourself off trigger foods as “starving dinosaurs into extinction.”
It’s true. If you don’t eat French fries for several months, you lose the taste for them. The problem is, I think these kinds of dinosaurs can reanimate themselves much more easily than the ones in Jurassic Park. One taste may not do it, but two is definitely flirting with disaster.
The process I used to kill off this dinosaur wasn’t so much starvation as changing my camera angle. Instead of zooming in for a close-up view of the food — yum! French fries! — I zoomed out. And saw myself hunched over the discarded remains of a Happy Meal like some vulture perched over road kill.
Then, just to ramp up the disgust factor, I zoomed back in for an ultra close-up of the portion of the food where the kids‘ tooth marks remained.
That stomach-churning perspective stopped me from reaching out toward my kids’ discarded dinners long enough for the dinosaur’s power over me to fade, then die out completely. In the years since I wiped out this bad habit, I’d sometimes feel a momentary twinge of that old impulse. But it was never more than a brief flicker, easily ignored.
Ironically, I think my kids’ increasingly healthier eating habits are partly to blame. They’re now eating more of the foods I’ve come to prefer. And because those foods are often more expensive, it may have simultaneously ramped up another ingrained impulse: to avoid wasting food.
I’m just speculating. All I know is that when our 9-year-old, Colleen, decided she didn’t like her Wendy’s baked potato because it had a few flecks of chives, I began plotting my takeover, visualizing how many Weight Watchers points would remain in the carcass once I cut away the “contaminated” part she’d been eating.
Two days later, she decided she was too full to finish the packet of maple-brown sugar oatmeal she sprinkled over a bowl of yummy mixed fruit. I paused just long enough to congratulate her on recognizing she was full — something I’m still working on — before taking over her bowl.
I want to point out that in both cases, I’m not just gobbling blind. I calculated the points before I dug in. Both of those things fit into my diet; that’s not the problem. The problem is the long-term ramifications of a reanimated habit.
I need to starve this “dinosaur” back into ghost mode, just to prove I can do it. I don’t have the willpower to stop cold turkey. I don’t have the confidence to say, "Never again am I going to do this!" Because if I fail once, and then again and again, the power in that statement is gone. If even I don’t believe it, the dinosaur certainly won’t.
But what I can do is spread out this beast’s feedings. I can resolve not to let this happen again until at least one week has passed. After that, I’ll try for two weeks, then a month.
Like everything else involving eating, writing it down, tracking my progress, seems to help. Based on past experience with French fries, I know these dinosaurs are most vulnerable once you’ve got them down to monthly feedings.
And so I’ll bide my time. The dinosaur has been gaining strength. But I’m stronger now, too.