A Small Change Can Yield Large Results

Last weekend, when we were in Pasadena visiting my stepson, Nathan, his wife, Corinne, and our grandson Miles, at dinner on Friday night, Nathan suggested putting our fork down after every bite. He’s becoming certified as a nutrition counselor, and this was one of the suggestions the program offered as a hedge against overeating.

“That sounds like a fabulous idea,” I said, thinking that the suggestion was also a perfect example of small.

I have always eaten quickly. It seems as if I shovel in one forkful after another, the food disappearing from my plate in a flash. I’ve tried to slow down, to chew more fully and slowly, but with very little success. I might begin the meal with good intentions, but those good intentions are very difficult for me to remember and sustain. Conversation tends to speed me up. So does impatience. It’s difficult for me to slow down just because I think I should.

But now I had the perfect strategy: placing my fork beside my plate after each bite. This would certainly slow me down. And after a bit, it would most likely become automatic, accomplished without consciousness or effort on my part.

So far, I’ve eaten every meal since Friday this way, taking a bite, placing my fork next to my plate, chewing, and once I have swallowed, picking my fork back up and taking the next bite. Already, I can see several benefits.

First, I am eating more slowly. I realize now that I used to eat with my fork perpetually poised, ready to spear another mouthful of whatever was on my plate. With my fork always on the ready, it was difficult for me to slow down and chew thoroughly. Instead, once I had deposited one mouthful, I quickly had another in the wings

I have also realized that a poised fork triggered my appetite, making it difficult to perceive when I’d actually eaten enough. This, I now see, is a type of Pavlovian conditioning. A forkful of food signals that it’s time to eat—or continue eating–and assuage my hunger. Which means that even if I’m no longer hungry, seeing the forkful whets my appetite. However, with my fork resting quietly by my plate, my body has a chance to quiet down and assess my true hunger level. Which, in turn, means that I have been eating a bit less.

As well as slowing down and eating somewhat less at each meal, I think Nathan’s lovely suggestion helps put me in a calmer state as I eat. I’ve noticed that whenever I pack food for a picnic or a trip, I’m so fearful of not having enough, that I pack to excess. I don’t know where this response originates, but if you ask me, it signals a fear of deprivation, as if I’m perpetually afraid of not having enough.

Perhaps my habit of keeping a poised forkful nearby is a response to this same fear. Maybe there won’t be enough dinner, or maybe somebody will sneak up and steal my food, and I will be left hungry—or worse starving. Placing my fork by my plate after every bite, signals the opposite scenario. Don’t worry. There is plenty. You can relax.

So far, the changes are not dramatic. But they are substantial enough to inspire me to continue. And they are certainly large enough for me to embrace this new strategy as another example of the power of small.

A Small Window Into


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