Starving Children in Ethiopia

Published on May 16, 2011

I am in a coaching group where we are exploring our beliefs. In doing so, we are asked to journal about things we believe and whether or not that belief still serves our best interest or if it is outdated and no longer serving our intentions for our life.

A particular belief that I decided this morning that I have had way too long is this one: "I have to eat everything on my plate because there are starving children in Ethiopia (or wherever)!"

Who knew that this was such an ingrained thought and belief in my life? As a matter of fact, I realize just how ingrained it is every time I eat out at a Mexican restaurant. After eating two baskets of chips, a bowl of cheese sauce, and 15 little bowls of salsa, I receive my plate (who am I kidding... it's a platter) big enough to feed 25 starving children in Ethiopia. And when I am so stuffed that I have now relieved the battle between my tummy and my tightening pants by opening a button, I continue to shovel in as much as possible as to not disappoint the Happy Plate Gods by leaving even a bite of rice on my 80" platter.

So what is it that causes me to be so committed to the belief that it is critically important to "clean my plate?" My guess is that it has to do with that little blond haired girl with pig tails inside me that wants to please my mommy and daddy, Ma and Papa, Ma Jo, Aunt Sylvia, Grandma Kurtz and every teacher that ever paced the floor of my grade school cafeteria. It felt great as a kid to get a pat on the back, "great job," or "we are so proud of you" that I just kept eating. It felt even better that once I had cleaned the plate to the best of my ability I could then go out and play or color or watch cartoons. Frankly, I think the whole bit about "you have to wait 30 minutes to swim after you eat" was because you might throw up in the pool due to shoveling more food into your tiny belly than necessary and no one wanted to deal with that kind of mess. That's my theory anyway.

Interestingly, the same people who were so proud that I had eaten everything on my plate were the same ones that as a teenager began to share with me that I might want to consider eating 2 less rolls at holiday dinner, stay away from the 2nd helping of dessert, and to watch my weigh because my butt was beginning to get a bit too big for my Rocky Mountain jeans.  Wait a minute!! What happened to the pride of eating everything on my plate and seconds too? No pat on the back? No "atta girl?" No ... “you can go out and conquer the world now?"

Funny thing about all this... I repeated the cycle with my own children. Now they are grown and out of the house and the damage is done (sorry kids), but what about their children? Will I be the grandma that withholds play time until they have licked the very last sesame seed from their plate? "NO!" I say, "NO!" I will not.

As a matter of fact, I have effectively given up on this belief myself and will now stop eating when I damn well feel full. I will no longer listen to the little voices of my well-meaning mentors in my ear when sitting down to a meal and I will stop when my body has been nourished and indicates this is so! Incidentally... at the Mexican place, it is usually before the platter called my meal even arrives because I have been fully committed to not only cleaning my plate, but also the never ending baskets of chips they bring to the table as I wait for my "meal." Oh, and Heaven forbid this establishment also provide complimentary tortillas and relish!

Back to giving it all up .... I am committed to paying attention to what my body says and eating only what it needs. I will listen to the wise adult voice inside my knowing instead of those voices that I have recorded in my memory that although they meant well, did not know that I would take it to such extremes. I will remind myself that although there is still a food shortage in Ethiopia, that the likelihood of my eradicating starvation by eating all that is left on my plate is quite unlikely and that if I am truly committed to helping starving children I can best serve the cause by opening my checkbook and sending Feed the Children the amount of money I paid for dinner that evening.

That seems to be another hidden recorded belief in my head. The one about money and the cost for the meal. It doesn't seem to matter if I spend $8.00 on a salad at the mall or $39.00 for a 6 oz. filet mignon (not including side items) at a fine restaurant, leaving any part of it on my plate is as though I am leaving dollar bills and coins laying in my plate for the waitress to take away and dump in the garbage.

This one is a bit strange to me because I do not recall ever hearing that sort of message from anyone growing up. I don't really remember eating out much at all growing up to be honest, so maybe that was the message!!! Eating out is expensive so leaving any food on your plate would mean that we would not get to eat out again! Hmmm. I will think about that one because I can assure you that at this stage in my life I WILL be eating out again and there is little risk involved in my not getting to do so if for some reason I choose to eat only half of my enchiladas and not all of them.

My conclusion in all of this exploration about my own Happy Plate conundrum and my two cents as it relates to our culture's obesity problem is this ... We are operating off of a set of beliefs that worked quite well for our earlier generations. I mean really... they could eat all that was on their plates because frankly there wasn't much there to begin with! Not only that, what they ate was typically vegetables and foods that were NOT processed and high in fat, sugar, sodium, and other indistinguishable words. Then when they were finished eating, they went OUTSIDE to work and do chores where they burned off every last calorie they had just ingested (and more) and then they repeated the cycle again...and again... and again.  Interesting concept... burning calories at the same rate you consume them... anyone doing that these days other than athletes?? I'm just saying!

So it seems to me that we are unconsciously doing what we were taught to do but doing it in an entirely different environment where the actions no longer serve the same purpose... to be healthy and nourished. Now our actions (resulting from our old recording programmed beliefs) make us sick, tired, diseased, and generally unhappy in most cases. We no longer eat for nourishment - we eat for pleasure, social engagement, and something to do when we are bored. If the food actually nourishes our body... all the better (a bonus!).

So just a thought... The next time you sit down to a meal (or drive through to one), ask yourself some questions, "What is the conversation I am having in my head about this food? Who is the conversation with? Is it serving me? What would serve me better?"

Be sure to thank the person in your head that programmed this recording originally (probably from when you were little) because they were well-intentioned and go forward with your new belief that serves you today... the wise you, the conscious you, the intentional you.

By the way... that new belief will likely become outdated too, so don't get too attached to it!

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