When I was a kid and I finished everything on my plate, my mom or dad would say, “Oh, good job, you made a happy plate!” I always thought it was a fun little saying, so imagine my surprise when I’m in college and jokingly applaud someone for making a “happy plate” and said person responds with a blank stare and an “are you crazy?” look. Apparently “happy plate” is not a universally known phrase, but I know we are all aware of its twin, “clean plate.” For whatever reason, Americans have this belief that if food is on your plate, you must eat all of it. Every last bit. It’s what members of the Clean Plate Club do, and Americans are the founding members and chief practitioners. Where did this idea come from? I am sure when I was younger my parents wanted to make sure I ate enough, so they encouraged the “happy plate” mentality, and I know that often we are taught to eat whatever we are offered in the home of someone else so as not to be rude, but what if we are full before the plate is empty? Why do we feel the need to keep eating until all the food is gone?
I still struggle with this clean plate mentality. When I am eating a really delicious meal, especially a dessert, I want to eat all of it. I want to savor every single morsel, down the very last crumb on the plate (seriously, I have even scraped CRUMBS off the plate, sometimes to the point that you can’t even tell food was on it at all!). Even when the feeling of fullness starts to invade my senses, I fight that little voice inside me saying, “Oh, who cares if you’re full, there’s still a lot left! It’s YUMMY! You know you love it, and a little more won’t make a difference. Just eat it!” Sometimes I succumb to that little voice’s lies, other times I am cognizant of the fact that I am full and have enjoyed my food enough. It’s not as though the last bite tastes any different than the first bite. Food doesn’t get better as it sits on my plate, so why do I tell myself that I MUST eat all of it? Why do I chase after gluttony when my heart tells me that I must taste and see that the LORD (and only the Lord) is good?
I have said before that food is an idol in my life, and even though I’ve been trying to lose weight for the past 17 months, I am realizing that food is still an idol. I haven’t beaten it, but I am trying. I am redefining what it means to have a happy plate. A happy plate is one I can look at and know that I ate just enough, no more, no less. A happy plate is one that won’t make me feel guilty later. Most of all, a happy plate represents a meal where self-control defeats gluttony.
I’ll take that victory over a good dessert any day of the week.