True confessions: I love to eat. I love to graze.  If I had my way, I’d eat 24-7.  In truth there have been many periods in my life when I have done just that. The price for those forays, both emotionally and physically, is high for me.  I know I’m not alone with these challenges.

Centering my eating around the whole food, plant-based approach as detailed here at Meridian by Jane Birch has been enormously helpful.  But I still love to eat too much and too often, and it’s usually not because I’m hungry.  It’s odd to think that the Savior and the Bible would have the perfect answer for compulsive, emotional and binge eating, but then again, maybe not. His unbounded love for each of us and oft-repeated request for us turn to him to conquer our weaknesses surely includes this common challenge.

A talk by Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky of the First Quorum of the Seventy (who was a visiting General Authority for a Stake Conference several years ago), has given me a comforting place to turn for strength when my appetite and love for eating starts to rear its ugly head.

He had us turn to John 6:1-14, where the Savior feeds the 5,000. “While this is a story of a miracle, it’s also a story of the importance of reverence – of preparation, and the importance of each individual soul …” he said. “The Savior wanted them to be ready for this experience, so he provided a place where they would be comfortable.”

As we read the passage sentence by sentence together, a floodlight went on and scales were lifted from my own eyes. How could I have missed these thoughts and these verses before?  It was as if I’d never read them! While he was sharing these scriptures to explore the Savior’s approach to teaching and the value of each individual, I knew that I had found my answer for managing my often recurring desire to constantly eat.

For ease and review, I have paraphrased it as follows:

Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples … When Jesus lifted up his eyes, he saw a great company come unto him and said ‘Whence shall we buy food, that these may eat?’  One of his disciples saith unto him ‘A lad hath five barley loaves and two small fish’ …And Jesus said, ‘make the men sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, . …and the disciples distributed to them that were set down.  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.’ (John 6:1-14)

As he read these phrases out loud, slowly and meaningfully, knowledge and a personal plan quickly emerged.

1) We Function Best After a Real Meal

The first and obvious principle, of course, is that none of us does well when we’re physically hungry.  Now, we may well have eaten, but if it’s empty calories of junk food that do not nourish the body, we’re still hungry!

The Savior clearly wanted to feed those present physically as well as spiritually.  A good teacher knows that we’re better able to concentrate on a spiritual message when we’re physically comfortable.   Each of us functions better after we’ve sat down and had a nutritious meal that our bodies will recognize and accept as a genuine feeding.

It brings to mind Brigham Young counsel to the members of the Church sent to rescue the Willie handcart company: “Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place on this occasion; give every duty its proper time and place. …”

It is interesting to note that what was available from and provided by the lad were nutritious foods, barley loaves and fish – whole grains and protein!  It was not cupcakes, chips and soda or doughnuts, or sweets.  This is counsel to us as well that we need food that truly nourishes our physical needs, not things that create a desire for more synthetic foods.

Resolved: When binge eating or eating out of control, look at the picture of the Savior teaching!  Prepare a simple sit-down meal with real food, mostly fruits and veggies that are simply prepared, with little or no carbs or sugar. (Our favorite cookbooks are from Amazon:  The Forks Over Knives cookbook and the China Study cookbook.)

2) Prepare a Pleasant Place

Elder Sybrowsky pointed out that most of the terrain in the area where this miracle took place is rocky.  Then carefully, and no doubt going way out of his way, the Savior found this place of “much grass” that would be pleasant and much more comfortable than the rocky ground to sit on. He prepared a nice place to receive the miracle to come!

For us, how much more enjoyable it is for us to eat in a pleasant place, where the dishes match and the table is cleared off.  How little effort is required to add a candle, some music, or a little centerpiece – even when we’re alone.  Eating is one of the delights of mortal life, meant to be openly enjoyed in every way.  Eating in a pleasant environment is truly preparing for the digestive miracle to come as our bodies absorb the food and apply the nutrients.

Resolved:  When bingeing or eating out of control, look at the picture of the Savior teaching. Then clear off the table and create a pleasant place to eat.

3) Sit Down

This is a big one for me – and definitely the biggest culprit of my problems.  The physical act of just sitting down to eat a prepared meal, and giving up the mindless grazing on everything in sight eliminates thousands of calories, bites-licks-tastes-nibbles, extended standing in front of the refrigerator or at-the-sink binges, etc.

How much overeating we can and will avoid by simply declaring to ourselves that we do NOT eat while standing up, except at special social occasions.

Resolved:  When bingeing or eating out of control, look at the picture of the Savior teaching! Then move to safe eating locations (dining room table, kitchen table, a place at lunch, etc.) and do not eat elsewhere! Decide on those safe eating zones and make sure they include a chair at a table. Put up signs if necessary that declare these other, non-safe areas as “non-eating zones.”

4) Let Leftovers Remain Leftovers

Verse 12 says “when they were filled” he asked the disciples to gather up the leftovers.

That means … they STOPPED eating, even though more food was available. They left food uneaten … This is a BIGGIE that keeps US big!

How often do we just keep eating when we’re full?   It takes at least 10 minutes after eating for the body to register it’s full, so it’s easy to 1) extend the pleasant experience of eating tasty food, 2) to eat to just socialize with or eating companions, 3) I find that often continue eating as a way of procrastinating what needs to be done next or 4) Other odd compulsory habits.

For example, in a weird way, for many of us there’s a strange, nonsensical need to “finish” things off, rather than let them remain either on the table, and then to be packaged as leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for later — as if these things will not be available to enjoy or use later.  We may even have a false Depression-era mentality or desire to avoid waste.

So, how do you know when you’re full?  And how do you stop eating when you are? What’s a good guideline for how much time it takes to get full and how long it should take?

Resolved:  When bingeing or eating out of control, look at the picture of the Savior teaching.
1) Serve food from the stove in portions so it’s not on the table, 2) stop when full, quickly scraping the food away or 3) sprinkle a generous amount salt and pepper on it so that you’ll stop eating.

Dr. Patricia Raymond. M.D. says:

Unlike what the food-service industry has taught us otherwise, the total volume of a meal should be about the amount you can comfortably hold in two cupped hands. What’s the result of those nonetheless heaped plates? Sixty-six percent of us are overweight or obese. We need to learn when to say when. We need to feel when we’re satiated. What is satiety (suh-TIE-uh-tee)? Here’s the definition:

Satiety: The state of being satiated or glutted; fullness of gratification, either of the appetite or of any sensual desire; fullness beyond desire; an excess of gratification which excites wearisomeness or loathing; repletion; satiation. —Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 

A filled-up stomach triggers the release of brain chemicals, making your hunger disappear. Normally, you should feel satiety about 10 minutes after you’re full—not a big help if you wolfed down that entire pizza in record speed. If you just ignore the sensation and keep eating, you will become uncomfortably stuffed.

Fortunately, there are some tricks to cue your body to the feeling of satiety. For example, distractions play a role: Are you eating in front of your TV or computer.  If so, you may have missed your cue.

In addition, in 2003, a small University of Florida study found that if you’re obese, your feeling of satiety may be delayed by four to nine minutes—and you can do some serious damage to your calorie counts in that extra time.

I left that Stake Conference marveling at our Heavenly Father’s ability to provide us with not only inspiration and courage, but direct answers and specific guidance!  Even for a behavioral challenge that shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but absolutely is.

I went away humming a Primary Song that eventually I added my own verse to:

Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear
Things I would ask him to tell me, if He were here
Talesof the wayside, tells of the sea
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.

Tell how he gathered his children, both young and old
Tell how he fed and he nurtured, with love untold
Through food for the body, His words for the soul
Come peace, joy and health worth far more than gold.