My dieter, Karen, is a well-loved teacher, whose students frequently bring in treats and baked goods for her. Karen is always very appreciative of these gestures and often brings the treats home for her husband to enjoy, too. In session last week, Karen told me that she recently realized that her husband rarely ate the treats she brought home and that, in moments of weakness, she often ended up eating a lot of them, even when she didn’t really want them. Karen had never had much of a sweet tooth, and it wasn’t often that sweets or baked goods would call her name. However, since she often had a steady stream of them, supplied by her students and their appreciative parents, Karen found herself eating more and more of them both because she didn’t want to seem ungrateful and because they were “there.” Karen told me that it seemed very rude to not eat what her students and their parents had so generously given her.
Karen and I discussed this situation in session and we realized one thing: Karen could not continue to eat all of the treats her students gave her and lose and maintain a healthy weight. Karen once again stressed that it wasn’t even that she particularly wanted to eat the treats, but it seemed very ungrateful to her not to. I asked Karen how she felt whenever a student brought in a treat, and she said that it always made her feel very good and appreciated. I then asked Karen why she thought her students’ parents sent in treats for her, and Karen replied that they probably did so to show their appreciation to Karen and to let her know that they valued the work she was doing with their children.
I pointed out to Karen the simple logic of what she had just stated: her students brought in baked goods and treats for her to show their appreciation and gratitude for her work, and Karen felt very appreciated and happy when she received these things – without ever putting a bite of food in her mouth. Karen and I discussed the fact that even if she didn’t eat what her students brought in, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel grateful for the gesture and what it symbolizes. She experiences the purpose of the gesture whether or not she eats anything.
Karen was able to take to heart the logic of this idea and realized that if she continued to eat all of the treats that her students brought in (even when she didn’t want to), it would actually negate the point of them in the first place because it would cause her to feel badly about herself and her eating.
The moral of the story: if someone gives you a gift of food, you never need to actually eat the gift to accept the person’s gratitude and for the gesture to have meaning. What happens after you accept the gift in no way takes away from the meaning behind it.