I thought I killed it years ago. I've encountered its ghost many times since - a wisp of memory, the vague outline of an amputated habit. But now, though I knew better, I went and fed that be! And now it's gathering strength to stalk my mind again.
I didn't perceive nibbling on my kids' leftovers as anything other than a bad habit until I read a diet book that describes the process of weaning yourself off trigger foods as "starving dinosaurs into extinction."
It's true. If you don't eat French fries for several months, you lose the taste for them, just like Taylor LeBaron says in Cutting Myself in Half: 150 Pounds Lost One Byte at a Time. The problem is, this kind of dinosaur can reanimate itself much more easily than the ones in "Jurassic Park." One taste may not do it, but two is definitely flirting with disaster.
The process I used to kill off this particular dinosaur wasn't so much starvation as changing my camera angle. Instead of zooming in for a close-up view of the food - yum! French fries! - I zoomed out. And saw myself hunched over the discarded remains of a Happy Meal like some vulture perched over road kill.
Then, just to ramp up the disgust factor, I zoomed back in for an ultra close-up of the portion of the food where the kids' tooth marks remained. That stomach-churning perspective stopped me from reaching out toward my kids' discarded dinners long enough for the dinosaur's power over me to fade, then die out completely. In the years since I wiped out this bad habit, I'd sometimes feel a momentary twinge of that old impulse. But it was never more than a flicker, easily ignored.
Ironically, I think my kids' increasingly healthier eating habits are partly to blame. They're now eating more of the foods I've come to prefer. And because those foods are often more expensive, it may have simultaneously ramped up another ingrained impulse: to avoid wasting food.
I'm just speculating. All I know is that when our 10-year-old recently abandoned an egg-white omelet, I couldn't resist cutting away the "contaminated" part she'd been eating and finishing it off myself.
A few days later, it was a partially consumed veggie burger, thoughtfully tucked inside a low-cal Slimwich.
"Want this?" Colleen asked, thrusting it under my nose. "I'm full."
I paused just long enough to congratulate her on recognizing her limits - something I'm still working on - before accepting the burger.
None of this stuff is particularly deadly. But extra calories are extra calories, no matter how "healthy" they may be.
I need to starve this "dinosaur" back into ghost mode, just to prove I can do it. I don't have the willpower to stop cold turkey. Even now, three years into weight-loss maintenance I don't have the confidence to say, "Never again am I going to do this." Because if I fail once, and then again and again, the power in that statement is gone. If even I don't believe it, the dinosaur certainly won't.
But what I can do is spread out this beast's feedings.
I can resolve not to let this happen again until at least one week has passed. After that, I'll try for two weeks, then a month.
Based on past experience with French fries, I know these dinosaurs are most vulnerable once you've got them down to monthly feedings.
And so I'll bide my time. The dinosaur has been gaining strength. But I'm stronger now, too.