No Finger Foods

If youíre really convinced that youíre hungry, itís time to eat. This means food on a plate to be eaten with utensils (knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks), not fingers. What a radical thought.

When I was losing weight, a friend called me at work: "Did you have lunch?" Franklin asked.

"No. I just grabbed a hot dog on the corner," I said.

To me, the words just, grabbed, and on the corner" meant it didnít count because, a) it was only a hot dog, a small amount of food, b) I could hold it in my hands, so it was too insignificant to count, and, c) it was eaten on the corner with fresh air and sunshine. How could it be bad?

I thought that eating food sold on a street corner wasnít really a meal. It was . . . well, thatís the point. It didnít fit any category. So I ended up having a second lunch with my friend.

Another friend and I were walking down First Avenue in Manhattan around 5 p.m. as Paula spied Rayís Pizza. She said: "Letís have a slice." Knowing it was a visual stimulus that had pushed her salivating button, I asked: "Are you hungry?"

"Oh yes," she replied. "Iím starving."

"Okay" I said. "Then letís have a slice of pizza which we can eat with a knife and fork, and order a salad, too. Itíll be dinner."

Iím not that hungry," she said. What she really wanted was to have a slice of pizza and eat dinner, too.

How frequently do you eat finger food and think it didnít somehow count?

When I talk about putting food on a plate and eating it with a knife and fork, I mean committing to the structure of a meal.

If you eat slowly and thoughtfully, cutting, spearing, chewing, sipping, and swallowing, you are present at mealtime. You experience the feelings of satiation and enjoyment. The meal registers. Then, an hour or two later, if youíre thinking of eating again because you see or smell something tempting, you know you couldnít possibly be hungry. You just had this terrific breakfast, lunch, or dinner two hours ago. You remember it.

When eating finger foods, the reverse happens. Even a few minutes after consuming a finger food you think: "I can eat again because I didnít really eat. I only had a bagel chip, some black coffee, one rice cake, a low-fat pretzel, and a carrot stick. It was nothing. It doesnít really count towards my daily food consumption because it was so small, or so low in calories, or so insignificant. It couldnít possibly count."

By rushing through the eating experience, by shoving food into your mouth, by not savoring your food, you numbly fill up your body, without satisfying it.

One cracker may contain only 11 calories. Thatís not the point. The question is: How many crackers are in the box and how many boxes have you knocked off already and itís only Tuesday in the middle of February, May, September, or whenever?

An apple a day becomes bushels at the end of the year. Do you eat bread so often you could count it in loaves? How much of your food enters your mouth without your seeing it so you think none of it counts? It all adds up.

How often do you mindlessly put your fingers into a box, bag, or basket of something and put the contents into your mouth without thinking about it? Do you wonder every morning why the scale remains where it was the day before, or, more depressingly, goes up?

Are sandwiches, bagels, muffins, and hors díoeuvres at parties a part of your life? Is a bag of popcorn your appetizer? Are nachos a main course? How many chicken wings make a meal? Hard to count. Hard to know.

Now think: Are you hungry enough to commit to a real meal with food on a plate to be eaten with a knife and fork? Or are you not that hungry?

* * * * *

"I finally understand about food on a plate, eating with utensils. Any bite on the run, even a raw carrot, is totally mindless Ė Iím not even aware of what Iím doing. And that goes for all sorts of Finger Food Ė whether itís pretzels and popcorn or canapťs, it just finds itís way to my stomach magically." Joseph K

"Every meal was a special event, even if I was only eating Oatmeal. It broke me of my eating-on-the run, eating-on-the-street, and eating-in-the-car habits." Karen C

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About The Author / Credits: This article is an excerpt from the book Conquer Your Food Addiction authored by Caryl Ehrlich. Caryl also teaches The Caryl Ehrlich Program, a one-on-one behavioral approach to weight loss in New York City. Visit her at to know more about weight loss and keep it off without diet, deprivation, props, or pills. Caryl welcomes questions or comments about this article and the behavioral methods she incorporates into her weight loss program. Contact her at or call 212-986-7155.

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