“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings” is a well-known expression. Every adult I asked had heard the expression, and I assumed that it had been around forever. However, according to Wikipedia, it was first coined in 1976 by Ralph Carpenter, the sports information director of Texas Tech, referring to a sports competition. The “fat lady” is thought to refer to the often overweight sopranos of the opera, particularly Richard Wagner’s operas, in which the soprano sings herself to death at the end of the opera.
In trying to rein in my eating, I have been thinking that more care with brachos acharonos (blessings after eating) should be a big help in curtailing or controlling compulsive overeating. How does one make brachos properly in a situation when one eats, tries (and intends) to stop but then continues? If you wait after eating something and don’t say a bracha acharona, you are implying that you are not done eating yet, that you anticipate that you will eat more. If you make a perfunctory bracha acharona, not meaning it, and then resume eating, and continue to repeat this behavior, you could be making tens of brachos a night. (This is not a halachic discussion; consult your rabbi for his guidance.) But, if you could bring yourself to make the bracha acharona with kavana (intention, concentration), you are saying that you are determined to end your eating session. If this idea could be internalized, it is possible that, even if only for a short time, “It is over when the fat lady bentches.” We could work on keeping that commitment of ending a food session. Even if this “holds” for only a short time and then eating is resumed, at least some interruption in the compulsive eating has been effected.
I think that attention to brachos acharonos and more kavana in them would help me in controlling my eating. I don’t think there is a problem with using brachos as a way of inculcating good behavior; many of our mitzvos serve that purpose. And there is no question that there is a disconnect between the way we feel when we eat and the notion that our table has the ability to serve as a mizbeach (altar) and secure forgiveness for us. As the title for this overall series expresses, there is a sanctity to eating that needs to be restored, and making brachos carefully should draw us closer to that goal.
Unfortunately, in the Torah’s description of ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta (You will eat, be satisfied, and bless Hashem), we who have eating difficulties often cannot attain the ve’savata (be satisfied) aspect regarding food. But the Torah acknowledges that the satiation may be unattainable. In Koheles it says “gam hanefesh lo timalei,” the person cannot be filled. Yet we are still obligated to bentch. I think we can interpret the ve’savata as meaning that you acknowledge that satiation in this world is at best imperfect, but our intention to bentch means that we are able to define an end to a meal or an eating session.
I am not implying that making a bracha acharona will be enough in and of itself to control the eating problem, but coupled with other tactics, it may provide the additional power we need. Our Sages ask why it is that the bracha after eating is the mitzva from the Torah, while the bracha before eating does not have that status. One reason I have heard is that the bracha before eating is more natural. We need food to eat, so we make a bracha asking for it. But the bracha after eating falls into the category of hakaras hatov, a recognition of the goodness we have received from Hashem. This aspect is often neglected, since we have eaten our fill and are no longer needy. So, in a way, a bracha acharona is directly opposed to the feeling of the compulsive eater, who wants and needs and can’t be filled. A compulsive eater is a taker; he or she can’t grab the food quickly enough and needs more.
Rav Dessler says that we are all takers by necessity. Hashem gives us the provisions we need for life. But by thanking Him, we are putting ourselves in the realm of givers; we are giving praise to Hashem, not just taking and taking. If we could internalize this, we would be happier and better people.
Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives classes and talks on a variety of topics in the Baltimore area for the Women’s Institute of Torah and Cong. Shomrei Emunah. She can be reached at email@example.com. © Janet Sunness 2018