This Month: Eye Hunger
You have just finished a large meal with a small group of friends in a restaurant.
The atmosphere has been happy and warm, the food delicious.
The waitress approaches and asks, “May I show you the dessert tray?” You start to protest, “No, I’m really stuffed,” but find yourself saying instead, “It can’t hurt to look.” The tray appears. The eyes roam over an appealing array, a fresh Meyer lemon tart with a flower of whipped cream on top, a dark chocolate mousse with ginger shavings, a thick slice of apple pie oozing caramel filling, New York cheesecake in raspberry sauce… Hmm…
Even though the stomach is protesting, “I’m too full. Please no more!” the eyes are enchanted (and it’s hard to send the expectant young waitress back without an order). The decision is no longer whether to have a dessert but which dessert to have. Eye hunger has won out. The eyes say, “I could eat that!” even when stomach and cellular hunger are oversated.
People generally decide how much of a given food they will eat based upon feedback from the eyes. The eyes say something like, “Let’s eat half of this” or “Let’s eat all of this.” In his book Mindless Eating: Why we Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink describes research showing that people who are given a large bucket of free but stale popcorn will dip in twenty-one more times and eat 173 more calories than people given a medium-sized bucket. This happens regardless of whether they have just eaten a full meal or not. In other words, the eyes will override information from the mouth (“This stale popcorn tastes like styrofoam”) and from the stomach and body (“We just ate, give us a break”). The ears are coconspirators. It (sic) hard to listen to other people in the theater around you munching away and resist the desire to join in.
SATISFYING EYE HUNGER
What satisfies eye hunger? Beauty. Remember this common experience of eye hunger: You’ve eaten a filling meal and then the dessert tray arrives. If those desserts were blending in one bowl, a muddy mélange of pureed cheesecake, apple strudel, chocolate mousse, and lemon meringue pie, you’d say so thanks. It’s the deliberate eye appeal, the beauty of each dessert, that persuades you to take in the extra calories.
Our eyes do get hungry. When we are distracted and not really looking at things, we feel vaguely dissatisfied and disconnected. Think of yourself rushing off to work. You run by your child or partner and give them a quick good-bye peck on the cheek. This habit, of not really looking, of skimming our eyes over the surfaces of things, leaves us hungry and lonely in a fundamental way. When we stop and look with awareness, we connect.
A brief connection like this can lift our mood, feeling our heart for hours. When we just look, anything we see becomes beautiful: cracks in a sidewalk, a dead plant, the wrinkled hands of an old woman. The Navaho admonish their people, “Walk in beauty.” When we use mindful eyes, everything is beautiful and everyone walks in beauty.
Mindful Eating: A guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship to food. Jan Chozen Bays, MD, Shambhala, Boston 2009. pgs 21-14.