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Dustin LindenSmith

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reflections on eating (and the motivation for a healthier lifestyle)

It's no secret to those who know me that I've always struggled with my weight. It's true that I'm not an inherently good exerciser, but I think that the real source of my weight problems can be found in my unhealthy relationship with food. Since my early teen years I've used food as anything but a normal source of physical nourishment: it has been an emotional comfort to me, a distraction from boredom, or a savoury overindulgence for its own gustatory pleasure.

There are probably countless reasons why I'm like this. My wife once pointed out (probably correctly) that I substituted food for emotional support and comfort at an early age when I felt neglected and unsupported in an abusive family situation. But admittedly, I also just genuinely love food (you with me, wickenden?): I love preparing it, I love its smells, its textures, and its tastes. I don't think I'm obsessed with it per se, but I certainly think about it a lot and I often find myself reflecting on what my next meal will be.

Despite many successful attempts at losing weight by various means, I still haven't developed the right attitude toward food that has allowed me to reach and maintain a healthy body weight for the long term. I actually spend a fair bit of time thinking about why this is so, and I often come up with various reasons or strategies that I think will work "the next time." But it seems that no matter how good my intentions are at the outset of a new commitment to lose weight, I falter over time and start giving in to my cravings and lack of restraint. I've been particularly bad with that in the past six months, for whatever reason.

Having said that, I've been noticing some honest changes in myself recently. They seem to coincide with my having started a regular meditation practice, and I think that this practice has helped me to develop a more genuine mindfulness about my state of mind regarding food and my physical health. I've been making better choices about my food and my exercise lately, but for vastly different reasons than before: instead of not overeating because I'm scared of gaining weight, I'm not overeating because I'm paying attention to whether or not I'm actually hungry. Instead of exercising because I'm trying to lose weight, I'm becoming more active because it makes me feel stronger and more flexible. That kind of thing.

A good book I'm reading right now called The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznick (I can't believe that book title hadn't been taken already) is underlining many aspects of this change in me. Here's a relevant quote from page 100:
...when the purpose of restraint relates only to weight loss, you're motivated by tanha, a confused desire that has no relationship to changing or improving your life in a larger context. The control of food for your own sake is ultimately less satisfying and a less powerful motive than the control of food that links you to sources of meaning in life.
Bingo. Stop dieting because you feel you have to; start eating healthfully and mindfully because it's the most natural way to be. I can dig it. And it totally removes the sense of guilt you get when you're trying to be good all the time and then you screw up sometimes. If you're working on an overall healthier lifestyle instead of trying to adhere to a strict diet, then you're not putting nearly as much pressure on yourself and you don't feel the need to beat yourself up if you mess up sometimes. A far friendlier approach to yourself, and I suspect a more effective one over the long term.

So, talk to me in a year to see how I'm doing. That's about how long I figure it'll take to get within spitting distance of that mysterious "target weight" I'm looking for.

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let's see if i can make this make sense

vyus May 12th, 2005
if i try to motivate myself by not wanting to be fat, i'll find my little "id-kid" rushing in and has me eating the cookie quickly before my inner parent can chastise it.

that kind of "motivation" doesn't change the desire. instead, it's about suppression & willpower, and that doesn't seem to work for me in the long run. i like oatmeal cookies. that's not inherently bad.

and even when i'm successful at chastising myself out of eating something, i feel very narrow viscerally, not mindful, but more reactionary to the inner parent superego, which really isn't any better than being reactionary to the id-kid, if that makes sense.

sorry about the freudian terms -- they're just what comes up when i think about this sort of thing. being "mindful" is like having my ego free me from the impulses and inner chastising.

and my general visceral feeling when i'm being mindful is very expansive and much more calm & confident. so in my best states, i try to calm myself out of the id/superego reactionary mode and truly ask myself what i want. am i hungry? no? do i just want a treat? do i need it *right now* or can i wait?

this goes for anything that involves what conventional folks call "willpower." being mindful seems to mean willpower isn't necessary.

Re: let's see if i can make this make sense

iamom May 12th, 2005
being mindful seems to mean willpower isn't necessary.

From my perspective, you just hit the nail on the head with that statement. This is exactly what seems to be happening with me right now. And funnily enough, it's what I always suspected might happen if I could use mindfulness instead of will power to adjust my habits.

Thanks for this additional insight, man.

wickenden May 12th, 2005
you know it brother

d.

(Deleted comment)
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