gratification, delayed

Once, after a night of drinking, my friend Brian and I went
out for pizza. We got our slices, greasy and perfect on top of a belly full of
whiskey. It might have been the alcohol, or it could have been the hour and
the florescent lights buzzing overhead as if we were in a surreal
nightmare-world where our brains were about to be eaten by zombies.  Regardless, three
bites in, Brian put his slice down on the paper plate in order to watch me eat
my own.

"What?" I said.

I was eating the way I always eat
pizza–spinning it around and starting from the crust down. You see, the tip
of the pizza, that’s the best part. It’s the cheesiest, and it’s got all the
exciting and delicious grease sliding down, and it is the single best mouthful
of pizza you will ever taste, and shouldn’t that be the mouthful you eat last?
Of course it should be. So I always start at the crust, which I don’t like very
much, and I eat my way down.

I explained that to him, and he did not get it. "I
don’t get it," he said. "What’s not to get?" I said. As it turns
out, he didn’t understand why I would eat the crust if I don’t like the crust.
I didn’t want to say, "So I can get every last bit of value out of this,
the last piece of food on earth I may ever eat!" because that is
embarrassing. Also, stupid. Also, stupid because it’s true.

Right there, encapsulated in that single sentence: the two
things that have been my problem with food for the whole of my life.

That second part, where I must finish all the food because
who knows when I’ll get it again? It means that the break room at work was a
terrible and dangerous place for me. If someone left free cookies, I had to
eat those cookies. Because they are free! If I missed this chance for free
cookies, I would die unhappy and alone! Cookies don’t grow on trees! Oh my god cookies I will die without you nom
nom nom nom
. And, scene.

If we were having a going-away party for someone, I would have
a lovely conversation with my coworkers, standing by the table laden with chips
and donuts and deviled eggs, and the entire time I was watching those plates
from the corner of my eye, hoping to God someone didn’t steal the last
chocolate sprinkled. It was like I was raised on the tundra, and food was
scarce, and I was known to have killed polar bears with my bare hands just to
keep my family alive. Except a lot less impressive than that. Maybe, a little
sad. Especially sad now that I can’t eat the chips, and the donuts and the
deviled eggs.

It is getting better–food is becoming less dangerously
fascinating. You’d think I would be even more irresistibly drawn to the elusive
and beautiful things I cannot have, such as cake and Hugh Laurie, but (in the
case of cake, anyway), I have found myself–perhaps in an amazing and
evolutionary attempt at emotional and psychological self-preservation–drifting away. I have not found myself
face-planting a pie and breathing deeply, or climbing inside a vat of French
toast batter and sobbing quietly to myself, or wearing a bag of cookies on my
head. Mostly, I get along fine without my friend chocolate chip cookies, which
is fine by me, because chocolate chip cookies never loved me back.

It has become a sort of puzzle, looking at a spread of food
at a party. Let’s see: what I should have, what I can have, what I can get away
with, and what I will not touch. The will not touch category is growing, as my
ass is shrinking, and I am pretty proud of myself.

The first part, though, where I save the best bit for last?
That’s been a hard-as-hell habit to break. My whole life, I’ve done the weirdo
pizza thing. I’ve eaten sandwiches around the perimeter, to save the
filling-rich part for last. I ate the
shortbread off the Swiss
Fudge cookies
and made a little stack of the fudge to eat last. I’d
drink all the broth out of my soup, and
have a bowl full of delicious noodles to savor. You see what I’m
saying. It
always seemed like the smartest thing to do–by getting through the
less tasty
part and saving the tastiest for last, I was brilliantly postponing
, which science tells us is the emotionally intelligent
thing to
do. High five for me!

The thing about having my belly surgically reduced, however,
is that there is no longer room for the things I don’t like, or even things I
don’t love. I have to be careful about eating right, getting an appropriate
amount of nutritious with a healthy helping of delicious before I am stuffed
full. It’s like, there is a window of opportunity here, every three to four
hours, and I have to make the most of it. Eating the crust? That is not making
the most of it.

I go right for the tip of the pizza, I tear off the crust
and take my first bite right out of the center of the sandwich. I have learned
to enjoy things, immediately and with great pleasure. And when you’ve had
something so immediately gratifying, there is no need to keep going. You toss
the crust, you ditch the shortbread, you enjoy the best parts of your meal and
don’t waste your time with, or your calories on, the rest of it. I wish I had
learned that years ago. I don’t miss the looks I used to get for my backwards
pizza eating.

11 Replies to “gratification, delayed”

  1. OMG I could have written this post! I have always done the sandwich thing and the cookie filling thing. I always used to eat the perimeter of my steaks first, saving the juicy medium rare center for last. Now, I am so much pickier with the things I eat and have no problem just tossing the pieces that hold no nutrition and totally enjoying the flavor of what I do eat.

  2. Did we go to the same school of eating? And you’d think I would have figured it out as a kid, when my dad would ask, “Are you going to eat that?” as he speared the most delicious – and therefore saved – morsels from my plate.

    Maybe I saved the best so that people wouldn’t think I was “piggy” by taking the best first. Hmm.

  3. As I type this, the desk in front of mine is home several packages of cookies, which I indulged in heartily last week. This means I’ve tasted them and should resist them now. But they are free… and they are from the UK – we don’t have these brands here! I’ve read your post at the ideal time. I’ll get over their presence. In the meantime, I’m going to dig out those plump blueberries that I was saving for my afternoon snack….

  4. We did too love you back! You just made us feel like sh*t after that trip through your digestive system.

  5. In the book Mindless Eating they said that if you were an only child or from a small family you were more likely to save the best food on your plate for last. If you came from a big family you were more likely to go for the good stuff first or else everyone else would eat it.

    I’m at a point now where I want all my food to be the best food, just like I want all my clothes to be my favorite clothes.

  6. The principal behind “Eat Dessert First” is that you eat what you like best, first, in the event that there is neither enough room, or impending doom, which will prevent you from finishing your food.

    Always eat the best part first. That way, if you get full, you’ve already had the best part.

    It’s a good approach, even for those who haven’t had surgery. Food isn’t a punishment you have to endure in order to reach the goal, the things that you want. Eat what you like … then stop. Or eat the rest, if you’re still hungry. But eat what you like best, first.

  7. “Oh my god cookies I will die without you nom nom nom nom.”

    (I’m still laughing at that.)

    I can’t really relate to saving the best for last, I am more inclined to want to take a face plant into a bowl of dip and devour it all at once. (I don’t, of course. I’m housetrained.) But eyeing the buffet table? This is going to sound unrelated, but stay with me here… I worked in a grocery store when I was a teenager and we had this absolutely ridiculous sale on bananas. So help me God, we were actually down to the last bunch of bananas, and there were these two little old ladies actually fighting over them… wrestling this sad little bunch of bananas between them. I can’t say I didn’t laugh. I just can’t.

    But I also can’t say I can’t relate, because 29 cents a pound for fruit was obviously as magically rare to them as a lavish spread is to me. I can see me, if someone reached for that last deviled egg on the buffet table, just breaking off conversation mid-sentence and full-out lunging. Fair warning to anyone who tries to move in on my aunt’s cheese ball this Christmas. It comes with it’s own little knife, people.

  8. Wow! How different it would be if we all only had room for the things we loved. Or if, better yet, we just naturally allowed ourselves to choose only those things and felt OK about it.

    I’ve had that experience too, of watching the buffet table as I pretend to socialize. I’m listening with one ear, while inside I’m frantically monitoring what’s still left, what looks the yummiest, what will not be too embarrassing to be seen loading up on, who’s watching and how many times I could go back without looking like a total pathetic fat-girl freak. All with this sense of urgency, just as you said, as if this might be my last chance to fill up for the next week or two.

    It’s exhausting.

    How great it would be to be able to calmly walk up to the table, choose a few wonderful things and be finished with the matter. Sounds like you’re getting there, and that’s wonderful.

  9. Wow, I thought I was the only person who ate the perimeter of a sandwich first. I’ve been eating more healthy lately, with protion control and all that, and I find if I control my portions I can still save the best for last. It’s kind of how I operate. I start with what I like least, eat all of that, then move to the next least liked item, and so forth.

    Apparently I even have weird food rituals when I’m being healthy.

  10. Wow. That’s like my mantra. My mom *always* used to get me to clean my plate by telling me to “eat the worst first and save the best for last.” Every time I sit down to dinner, I have that going over and over in my head.

    And it wasn’t because she was trying to get me to clean my plate, either – it was because I *detested* vegetables. I loved meat and potatoes, but I hated the stuff my mom thought was “good”.

    I never took it as far as eating the crust of the pizza first (and I’m still laughing at the “cookies I will die without you” thing) – but I did – DO – always eat the thing I liked the least first. And yes, even when I’m full, I’ll still eat, simply because I haven’t gotten to the good stuff yet.

    And I’ve been trying to teach my children this. God help me. Screw that – no more!

  11. I could have written this post. I thought I was the only one that ate around the edge of sandwiches too. The center had all the mayo dammit! God, mayo makes me ill now.

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