Going on a "Diet" ... outcome vs. process
(I first posted this essay on 10/10/02)
A bunch of the guys I hang out with on a regular basis are "dieting" right now. I got rid of my scale earlier this year and haven't thought of myself as being on a diet since. Getting rid of my scale has been a boon to my self-esteem :-) Now I don't terrorize myself each morning with arbitrary weight loss goals. I weigh whatever I weigh.
Instead of having a diet, or particular weight goals, I make a priority to exercise nearly every day, I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and I pay attention to the messages my tummy sends me. If my tummy says, "I'm hungry!" then I eat. If my tummy says, "I'm starting to feel full!" then I stop eating. Once in a while I'll stuff myself, but only once in a while, on special occasions, less than once per week.
I don't specifically avoid candies, munchies, or cakes, but when I do eat these things they are part of my meals, which means I only eat them when I'm (still) hungry.
A couple weeks ago I was on a walk with a friend, and he was talking about his diet. It sounded like he was imposing restrictions on himself without regard to hunger and satiety. I proposed that there are two general methods of dieting. One is top-down, where the brain imposes rules on the body, and the other is bottum-up, where the brain listens to the body and responds to its needs.
My friend told me that if he listened to his body he'd keep on eating. I didn't see anything wrong with that!! So keep eating until your body is finished!!
I tend to see everything through a Buddhist lens these days, which can be tiresome for others to hear ;-) But I'm more interested in the life that is happening in front of me than in particular outcomes for my future. It seems like a lot of the dieters I know are grasping for a particular numerical outcome -- a scale reading a particular number of pounds. Their desire for this outcome leads them to bludgeon their bodies and their egos for perceived failures, to guilt-trip themselves into submission.
That doesn't sound fun at all, and it doesn't sound healthy for either mind or body.
I'd prefer a "diet" that is focused on the process. A diet that listens to the body and takes care of the body. A diet that springs from self-love instead of self-hatred.
If the dieter starts with a simple emotion of love for himself, then he'll want to take care of himself because he loves himself. Taking care of himself means getting some exercise each day, and eating a moderate variety of nutritious foods. Taking care of himself means occasionally taking a day off to celebrate, without feeling guilty afterward. Loving himself means loving himself unconditionally, as he is, whatever the scale might read on any particular day.
I don't think many diet plans start with self-love. Most of them start with fear and guilt. They label the dieter as "obese", rattle off a bunch of statistics about how obesity causes dire health consequences, and then focus on what the dieter must give up in order to reach his "ideal" weight.
I'd rather start with love. I love myself. I love my body. I love my brain, my mind, and my soul. Because I love myself, I care for myself and my body. One of the ways I care for myself is by moving my body in various ways, like running & biking & walking & rowing & lifting weights. Another way I care for myself is by eating a variety of nutritious foods, including a full breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. Another way I care for myself is by not stuffing myself at dinner, because stuffing myself feels unpleasant and isn't healthy. Another way I care for myself is by rewarding myself with occasional treats, alcoholic beverages and parties :-)
I focus on taking care of myself, on treating myself as a beloved person. I don't berate myself for not living up to an arbitrary standard. And, I don't cycle through periods of gluttony and starvation. I eat pretty much the same amount of food every week of the year :-)
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