An excellent method to reduce eating is to eat more slowly. Why? Because it takes time for your appetite switch to move from “empty” to “full”, and the lag time can end with swollen bellies and unneeded calories.
We’ll return to this later.
I remember my mom and dad taking me to the circus. Its one of my few memories of an intact family, and remember holding both their hands walking through the crowd, just totally in love with my life. I was thrilled by the sound of the calliope, the smell of sawdust and popcorn, the roar of the crowd and watching lions and tigers balancing on balls , or marching in step while slender girls balanced on their backs.
I had seen lions in the zoos of course, behind bars or moats, lazy and bored in the sun, but still beautiful.
And then, fifteen years ago in Ngorogoro Crater game preserve in Tanzania, I saw lions and elephants in the wild, and something inside me shifted. I remember the moment it happened.
Nicki and I were on the tour bus. It was open-sided, and we cruised among the predators, the lions and leopards and panthers and they paid little attention to us. Then one day one of the tourists dropped a disposable camera out of the side. One of the guides stepped down out of the bus to get it.
And the instant his foot touched the ground lions who had been lazing about twenty yards from us suddenly, and without fanfare, were ATTENTIVE.
It was as if a switch had been thrown. I could feel it in the back of my head, in that little hairless ape place. When we’d been in the bus, we presented a visual symbol that didn’t mesh with any of lion predatory triggers. We didn’t compute. They didn’t care.
But the instant a human being separated himself from that odd moving shape that did not trigger the “PREY!” response, he became PREY and every lion squatting in that shade started calculating distances and velocities and vectors, figuring whether the pursuit would expend more calories than it might yield, and deciding how close the guide would have to be before all systems were GO.
It was terrifying. This was not the mock-ferocious toothless old cats in Johnny Weismuller movies, and certainly not the friendly clowns I’d watched jumping through hoops and letting men with whips inspect their tonsils at the Ringling Brothers show.
No. This was death, and every one of us felt it. Then…the guide snagged the camera, stepped back onto the bus, and the moment was over. Just…click. And suddenly we were back to being tourists, and they were the show.
A few days later, against the warnings of those guides, a crazed Floridian lady teased a female elephant. And that elephant charged the camp. Being sure Nicki was ahead of me, I ran like hell. We all did, scrambling into the bus. The elephant took a few steps into our camp, and then as if satisfied by our terror, turned and left, striding majestically, as if saying, in its pachydermic way:
“Ya’ll musta forgot.”
Well yes, we had. But for a few frantic moments, we remembered.
I think it difficult for modern human beings to grasp how terrifying and mysterious and eternally beyond our control the natural world must have seemed to our ancestors. Filled with things faster, stronger, and better armed than human beings, things that wanted to feed us to their children. It was the development of edged pointy weapons and the domestication of fire that turned the tide. Everything after that was just details and tactics.
We’ve only been in control of this situation for maybe ten thousand years, if that. Large tribes, reliable spears with worked iron points, effective strategies for using fire to drive prey. But for at least two hundred thousand years, possibly more, WE were running from THEM. The emotional inertia, on a social and cultural level, is massive.
Humanity dreamed of a time it would not be hungry. We accomplished that in the western world, and now our problem is obesity.
We dreamed of a time the majority of our children would survive to reproduce, and now our greatest threat is probably overcrowding.
We dreamed of a time of material plenty, and now we poison the natural world with our refuse.
And we dreamed of a time when the fanged predators would no longer haunt our nightmares and turn the world just beyond our campfires into a hungry hell. And now…they balance on balls at the circus, amusing our children.
All of our mythologies and core cultural rules cluster around “survive, reproduce.” Because if a people don’t do these things, the rest of their values count for nothing. They disappear.
So much of our disbelief that we can damage this world, I think, stems from the fears our ancestors felt for the millions of chittering years before “humanity” even existed, combined with the millennia of rules and laws and myths and religious dictates we used to encode these basic instructions at the unconscious level. It worked.
Fear…works. It keeps you alive. Until you mature enough, as an individual or a species, to grasp that it is only another tool, that ATTENTION is what keeps you alive, and that fear is just a way for your body to get your attention.
Love works, too.
Hungers are healthy when your belly is empty. But if you still experience hunger after it is full, you have a problem. This is why eating SLOWLY is an effective “dieting” approach–you have the time for your hunger switch to turn off.
After your belly is full, hunger will kill you. After you have accomplished the basic purpose of fear, love is the superior strategy. Sexism, homophobia, racism, and destruction of the environment are all these survival drives corrupted, hungers that have outlived their window of usefulness and entered the realm of diminishing returns.
Maybe we’ve changed, grown, evolved our technology too quickly. The hunger button hasn’t had time to switch off. We should have “chewed” more slowly. But however we got here, we need to grasp that the game has changed between human beings and between humanity and its cradle. We have to realize that we’ve conquered the natural world. That we WON the war. And that it is now time to win the peace.