What I learned during 30 days of eating like a child

Inspired by Matt Cutts’s TED talk, “Try something new for 30 days,” I decided (and blogged the decision, of course) to “eat like a child” for 30 days. Before I tell you how that went, let me tell you that now, having actually completed a 30-day challenge, I’m hooked. Thirty days is just enough time to give something new an honest shot, but not so long that the commitment itself is scary. Nothing like, oh, say, committing to love fearlessly for a year. (What kind of insane person does that?)

I’m hooked, and I’m making “30-day challenges” a regular ZS category. I’ll let you know each time I begin one just in case you want to do it too. (It’s always more fun when you play along with me.)

Okay, back to the challenge at hand. You can read my original post to see why, but I had just two rules for myself during the 30 days. First, I could eat only when I was actually hungry, and second, I had to stop when I stopped being hungry (which is not the same as being full). Here’s what I learned during 30 days of eating like a child…

Me, when I knew how to eat.

1. I don’t normally listen to my body very well.

I knew this of course, especially when it comes to food, but I was surprised how often I had an impulse to eat just because it was time, which, when you think about it, is a very grownup notion. We grownups have tight schedules to keep… schedules that aren’t all bad because they do allow for eating to be a communal experience. I learned that if you want (as I do) to eat with other people, it’s best not to wait until 11:30 to eat dinner just because that’s when you finally got hungry.

On the other hand, eating on autopilot, just because it’s time, totally ignores your body’s natural rhythms and desensitizes you to its true needs. Asking myself each time I reached for food, “Am I really hungry?” forced me out of my mindless routine and got me paying attention to myself in a way I hadn’t before. My body knew things my mind did not. We all carry around with us – in our bones and blood and organs and muscles – a powerful biological logic… which we ignore at our own peril.

2. Logic begets logic.

Once you start questioning your autopilot desire to eat, two things happen. First, you eat less; the answer to “Am I really hungry?” is sometimes no, plain and simple. Second, you start to question a whole shitload of other autopilot activities like drinking a third cup of coffee just because there’s still more coffee in the pot, or checking email for the fourth time of the morning, or spending your evening glued to a television or logged onto the internet.

Once you start noticing how many things you do on autopilot… you stop. You make choices, and while you may still decide to sit on the couch and watch the Olympics for three hours, it will be a conscious decision. There’s power in the pause.

3. Slowing down is a good idea.

The second rule of “eating like a child” was to stop eating when I was no longer hungry. News flash: you can’t do that if you eat at light speed. By the time you notice you’re not hungry, you’re often way beyond satiated. (And by “you,” I mean “me, the Speedy Gonzales/Tasmanian Devil of eating.) In order to feel when I stopped being hungry, I had to slow way down (by playing with my food, telling stories while I ate, stacking condiments and glassware). Besides being endlessly entertaining (just ask my family), I enjoyed my food more, and not once in 30 days did I feel uncomfortably full.

My 30 days are up now, but the habit of checking in with myself is established. I’d call that an enormous, unqualified success.

Onto the next challenge…


Don’t get too excited; It doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up. I’m reading Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. In it, she talks about “wordlessness,” which is a state of pure presence (my definition, not hers). It’s when your chattering monkey mind quiets and what you’re left with is wholly experiential, free of the stories we tell ourselves, the worries about possible futures, the regrets about our pasts.

When we’re in Wordlessness, Beck says, we’re accessing our nonverbal minds, and here’s the really powerful part. While our verbal minds process information at about 40 bits per second, our nonverbal minds process at about 11 million bits per second.

Yeah. I want to go there.

There are many ways to get there, and Finding Your Way offers lots of exercises to try: Stillness (meditation), play (yoga, hiking, learning a new skill), surrender (complete acceptance of the moment you’re in). For the next 30 days I’ll be attempting Wordlessness a little bit every day.

I once wrote that Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now taught me how to calm the hell down. I think this is a little bit like that. I’ll let you know how it goes.


What about you? Did you attempt something for 30 days? How did it go? (By the way, I think there are lots of ways to measure success. If you try something and part way through decide, “holy shit, I’m miserable” and then stop… you learned something new about yourself and acted on the new information. Success!)

So, what would you like to try for 30 days?


Click here to see who won free registration to Connie Hozvicka’s Dirty Footprints Studio Art Journaling Workshop (which I’m so curious about, I think it might need to be a 30-day challenge). And thank you so much to everyone who joined in on that conversation. I was inspired by your answers!



  1. Nuttin' on August 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

    I did do a 30 day challenge when you first wrote about it — I’m not sure I actually learned anything or maybe I was hoping for a huge kumbaya moment or something, I don’t know. I’m not sure I actually learned from my specific challenge. But, there are some residual effects, I learned that it’s okay for me to hope and to grow and to still not be “seen”, I see me. People I surround myself with see me — it hurts less, I guess, now. That’s a good residual. I also started to pause much more often, I think a 24 hour rule to pause and wait is good on anything that might make those tiny pangs of pain flare up.
    So, I don’t know about the 30 day challenge, I feel like I’ve been on a 789 day challenge and I’m tired of being challenged. But, I like Martha Beck so I’ll read what she’s saying about this and give it a whirl.
    Anyway… I’ll give it a try, again.

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 7:14 am

      I’m not sure I followed all of this, but if it helps, none of the challenges I’ve thought of so far are as fraught with emotion as it sounds like yours was. Mine are about how I eat, how I get quiet… maybe I’ll do the art journaling thing because I like experimenting in unfamiliar art forms. I’m definitely sticking to less emotionally thorny goals.

      And of course I’m the expert because I’ve done this one whole time. 😉

    • Nuttin' on August 2, 2012 at 7:37 am

      I’m not sure I have goals that aren’t emotionally thorny right now. I think it would be great to fall asleep for 30 days and then when I wake, everything is the way it should be and no more thorns — sometimes, my goals feel like I’m climbing a greased pole, I’m just too stupid or stubborn or hopeful or weird to just let go.

  2. Amy on August 2, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Wait, it’s “already” been 30 days?! Suppose it didn’t fly by for you, but…I was really interested in your results and glad you had a positive experience. This might be my next challenge after all. If I can do Insanity and cut out junk food for 21 days, I can certainly do this, right? Hm…

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 7:16 am

      Yes, it did feel like 30 days to me. Especially at social gatherings when the food was bad for me and delicious looking and I kept having to answer to myself whether or not I was REALLY hungry. Grrr!

      Insanity is way harder. You should try this. What pleasantly surprised me was the spillover of consciousness into things other than eating.

  3. Rita on August 2, 2012 at 7:19 am

    This post made me smile like a child. Loved it! I had forgotten your 30 day challenge so thanks for the reminder. I always smile when I find a Zebra Sounds email in my inbox immediately upon awakening. thank you for that also.

    I love 30 day challenges. I am a HUGE fan of them! The last one I did was a 30 day Cold Shower Therapy Challenge which led to another 28 day cold shower therapy challenge…and well…it’s month #5 now and I have no intention of stopping . And it’s funny you say that about auto pilot. I am very aware of my cold showers. It’s hard not to be. They are freezing! So you tend to be aware of how cold and when the damn timer is going to go off. but I tell you..I have never been more present in the rest of my life. I can highly recommend that. Not to mention all the other amazing side effects which I could talk about endlessly.

    I just started, on Aug 1st m y own 31 day challenge for the month of August in the area of my health and fitness. And I can tell you that so far..it’s going swimmingly! I’ll be writing about it too.

    I’m excited to see what your next 30 days brings! xoxo

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 7:32 am

      Oh, yay! August is my Wordless month too. I’ll cheer you on and you cheer me on, girlfriend!

      And thank YOU for the reminder too. I just realized that I bookmarked your post about why you do the freezing showers (because I sort of can’t imagine myself doing it), and it’s still waiting for me to go read it. Pouring coffee and off I go! (Maybe you’ll convince me.) xo

    • June O'Reilly on August 2, 2012 at 7:38 am

      cold shower therapy?? really tell more please

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      1. I absolutely loved that post, Rita. Everyone should read it. http://cinderitaadventures.blogspot.com/2012/07/just-little-bit-crazy-for-cold-showers.html

      2. I even love why you committed to the daily cold shower “practice.”

      3. Not going to happen here. (Laughing as a type.) On the other hand, check in with me in a few weeks. I seem to be in the midst of a huge personal evolution right now. I may see the wisdom, given more time!


  4. June O'Reilly on August 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I too had forgotten about the 30 days of eating like a child..
    giggling at the image of the condiment towers :~)
    checking in with ourselves always a good thing to remember
    as I leave for vacation I shall be checking in with the kid in me for sure
    off to Disney World… look out Mickey
    and for sure I will be eating like a kid
    acting like a kid
    singing like a kid
    and sleeping like a baby

    off the the unfolding

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      YAY! (And posting pictures, I hope!)

  5. Estrella Azul on August 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Oh, j, I’m so happy for you – for all you’ve learned about yourself and your eating habits in these 30 days.
    For me, eating like a child is not a big challenge in general, except for when I have to eat with other people. Being invited to a birthday lunch for example and having to wait two hours before lunch is actually served is not something I enjoy (or any other kind of lunch/dinner/etc. in other people’s houses where one can’t exactly say “well I’m hungry NOW, why can’t we do that later and eat now?”).
    But I figured that one out as well – I had a snack when I was feeling hungry, then ate only as much as I wanted later at the lunch.

    I’m willing to give this Wordlessness a try, sounds very interesting. Probably won’t be too easy to quiet my mind, but it seems like something I need to try. Plus, it’ll be fun to compare notes with you next month 🙂

    • j on August 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      Oh, how I wish I had the relationship with food you do (especially when I was your age!) Alas, we all have our Achilles heals. I may not be describing Wordlessness well enough to try it, but 30 days of trying to get your mind quiet would be beneficial. For all of us!

  6. Pam on August 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    I didn’t do a 30 day challenge. (Not yet, anyway.)

    I’m glad you learned from yours!

    I think I can say with some confidence that I won’t be choosing freezing showers. (If you saw me get into a cold pool, you’d know I mean that.)

    • j on August 3, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Yeah, me either – cold showers, cold pool, cold anything. I am a wuss about being cold. (You doodle daily. That’s a big more-than-30-day challenge that I LOVE.)

  7. Christie on August 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Ummm, nobody has mentioned anything about that really adorable picture of a child looking like a fearless love warrior back in the day (not so long ago mind you). 8^)

    Love, love, love you, you beautiful child!! ♥♥

    • j on August 3, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Love you back!

  8. C. Fassett on August 3, 2012 at 5:17 am

    I love this post, j :). And Christie is right, that little cowgirl pic of you is just too precious for words! I can still see her there, in the grown up version of you <3.

    I'm with Rita, I love 30 day challenges. I read once that it takes 30 days to change a habit, and it was after reading that that I decided to give the practice of daily gratitude a shot to see where it took me. Of course I was hooked, and since then have explored many other 30 day challenges.

    But there was never a time that I didn't go into it willingly, consciously making the decision, and planning beforehand, "this is what I'm gonna do." So I must tell you…the timing of your announcement for your 30 day challenge couldn't have come at a better time for me as a reminder that I have a choice in how I'm going to view things. Particularly helpful when it seems life has taken an unexpected turn, and the worry for my very well being was weighing me down.

    So I decided to let go of the essence of worry itself…worry for myself, worry for things I have no flippin' control over! I had already been in the practice of it to a certain extent, but faced with one overwhelming challenge after another, it was sporadic at best, and I continuously found myself in a state of freak out. So when you brought up the 30 day challenge for yourself, it was a reminder for me to tighten my focus.

    Wow! I can't even thank you enough! I get the wordless thing, and to continuously bring my trembling self back to the present moment from my very busy mind making scary projections into an uncertain future, where I found that, yes, I'm still here and okay….may not necessarily like the here I'm in…but I'm still okay, and with that surrender, I found that there is, after all, some good still present…I reached hard for that. I found that releasing worry opened up space within me where I could breathe, and allowed me to not feel so squeezed and trapped, and helped me see I still had options, which is always a good place to be.

    I'm glad your 30 day practice was beneficial to you, j, and I thank you, with everything in me, for sharing all that you do. <3

  9. j on August 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

    ” I found that releasing worry opened up space within me where I could breathe, and allowed me to not feel so squeezed and trapped, and helped me see I still had options, which is always a good place to be.”

    I love how you’ve captured the power in being absolutely present. I’ve found that too. So much of our pain comes from the stories we tell ourselves, either about our pasts or our scary futures… and, of course, what we lose is the now. I think people get confused (or at least I did) and think that acknowledgement of the moment you’re in, full acceptance of the current, right-now reality means that you’re not trying to improve your situation, but that’s not true. You can work to change your circumstances in the long run, while still remembering that right now, in this exact moment, what I have to do is breathe… and write the next word (or take the next bite, or turn the door knob, or feed the cat).

    Thank you back, Cindy. You are a constant source of inspiration to me. <3

    • Nuttin' on August 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

      Yes. That makes sense.
      Figuring out the past while still living. Sometimes, I think if I’m too happy I should feel guilty because of whatever situation in the past that I haven’t “repented” “straightened out” “resolved”. I can’t (or haven’t) move on without going back, and I don’t think that’s so bad. What I think is bad is silencing the past, nothing is ever resolved or put to rest by ignoring it.
      I don’t believe movement occurs through stagnation (mental) or silence — unfortunately, I guess people are never on the same trail… one persons torturous silence is another persons saving grace.
      This fits in nicely with some work I’m doing (on my own shit), a balance between accepting that I’m happy in the moment even though the past lacks resolution, if that makes sense.
      As always, thank you for the space here.

    • j on August 5, 2012 at 10:20 am

      For what it’s worth, I don’t know very many (any?) people whose past doesn’t lack resolution. One of the reasons I fell in love with Eckhart Tolle was because he says it isn’t so important that we fix our pasts; it’s important that we live our nows, and (as Danielle LaPorte says), “stop blaming our parents.” She’s being metaphorical, of course. Her point is that at some point, it’s up to all of us to move on. Our evolutions are our responsibility (and our gift).

      For the most part, we choose where we want to dwell.

    • Nuttin' on August 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Last comment, then I will stop dwelling here (this train of thought) as well… when you add in depression and anxiety to a feeling that you have a past that you completely don’t understand and all you want to do is understand and so you dwell and no matter how hard to try to loosen that grip and just “accept”, you can’t. You can not. Stress, anxiety, depression changes everything, nothing fits the mold of “this is how you should feel”.
      There’s a quote from a boy with Aspergers, he says, “… having Autism means I see everything, I hear everything, I feel everything.” That’s not metaphorical. It’s the same with PTSD or anxiety or depressive disorder — you can get all the clutter out of the way to see the beauty. Not all the time anyway and you have no control over which day or which hour or which five minutes it will all be clear. You dwell because you need to know what is back there, you need to know why you’re the monster in the closet.
      Anyway… I’m perseverating, sorry. Thank you.

    • j on August 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      You’re absolutely right that depression makes it much, much – infinitely – harder to “choose where you dwell.” It’s hard within the context of a blog post (especially one that started out as a 30-day challenge post) to write in a way that will meet the needs of everyone, no matter what they’re facing. I didn’t mean to minimize your plight.

      I’m personally finding it challenging to stay absolutely present (hence my current 30-day challenge). I’m also finding it rewarding beyond my ability to express. I think it’s really important to remember that everyone starts from a different place and faces different demons. Of course, your challenge (if you even want to try it) needs to be something that is true to you.

    • Nuttin' on August 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      … so a 30 day challenge shouldn’t be something you do because you want to make someone happy or to make them see you the way you know you are, it should be something that makes you see yourself the way you know you are?
      It’s the “challenge” part that fills me with anxiety. I’ve been nothing but challenged by life and challenging to others and challenging to myself for the last three years. Maybe I’ll do a “30-day-try-to-relax-and-breathe-and-be-seen-for-who-you-are-by-whoever-is-willing-and-able-and-just-as-complicated-as-you-are-so-they-see-you-experiment”.
      I just want to be seen.

  10. Joanne Marie Firth on August 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I’ve been thinking and thinking and I’m having a hard time coming up with something I could stick to for 30 days. I only eat once a day, so food is out. I do eat too much when I do eat, then I go to bed. Very bad and my weight is high right now. Which feels yucky.

    I’m thinking I need to get back to the pool at the community center I joined. If I had stuck with it, I’d be in much better shape right now. It’s been months since I went for a swim. Can I do it 30 days in a row? I don’t know. I can give it a try though along with trying to adjust my terrible eating habits. Maybe I can eat earlier in the day and just have a protein shake before bed. It’s time for a healthy change and I thank you for the challenge and the inspiration!


    • j on August 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm

      Also, remember, you don’t necessarily have to commit to an everyday 30-day challenge. You could maybe commit to something like 3 swims a week for 30 days.

      And can I just say that eating healthier, however you define that, is a GREAT 30-day challenge? I’ve been vegetarian now for over a year and while I know vegetarianism isn’t for everyone the decision to do it, to commit to a healthier diet was huge for me. It made me more health conscious in general. I feel better, my insides work better and I have more energy. You might be amazed and what comes out of a decision like that.

      No matter what you decide, do something with me! I’ll cheer you on. xo

  11. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) on August 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    This is a real dilemma that I’m always having while I try to figure out how to live with a person who has a “normal” body clock type of schedule. I’m not normal. I love to stay up late, get up late and eat when I’m hungry.

    When Brian is around, I cramp up my body clock schedule so we can have dinner together at a reasonable hour. But when he’s away on business trips, I can be myself. Like today, when I got up at nine feeling beautifully rested and didn’t eat breakfast till one, because that’s when I got hungry.

    It was fascinating reading about your 30-day challenge, and what you learned. I wish I could live by my body clock more fully, but it’s not always easy to do when you share a house and a lifestyle with other people.

    P.S. I think I must have been Italian in another life. I think of meal-time as a license for conversation, which means that Brian (an engineer who thinks meal-time is for eating) usually finishes way ahead of me. The times I finish first, you know I was really, really hungry and the food was really tasty. ;~)

    • j on August 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      It was funny with me because it actually took a while for my own body’s clock to kick in. Once it did though, It moved me in exactly the the direction of yours, eating later and later all the time. Ultimately, I decided I’d rather have company than abide by my my body’s natural rhythms. (Though I admit, there’s something sort of sad about that.)

      And, I like to talk though meals too. You and I are infinitely compatible when it comes to eating!

    • Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) on August 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      Put a glass of wine in the mix and conversation over dinner is non-negotiable – even if I have to talk to myself. ;~)

    • j on August 9, 2012 at 7:58 am

      Ha! I’m in. *clink*

  12. Tall Pajama Man on August 11, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Quite interesting, J. I love the perspectives you gleaned from the process. I did something kind of similar many years ago, interestingly enough, challenging myself to be more loving. I think it worked 😉

    • j on August 12, 2012 at 9:13 am

      I did that one too, for a year. It’s more challenging than it should be. 😉

Leave a Comment