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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Everpresent Pull of the Golden Arches

A content note that this post deals with eating disorders.

Today I got back from a successful trip to Costco and Penzey's in which I purchased zero wheat and 100% foods that agree with my body only to go out to McDonalds with my roommate.  This is a problem for me... everybody knows that McDonalds is terrible for you, but in me there is a combination of factors that make it a particularly miserable experience for me after-the-fact. 

I have a serious food addiction that I've had since I was a kid and that largely went unrecognized (I know my mom knew something was up but she didn't really have the resources to understand what or how to deal with it).  In addition, I have a wheat intolerance, but it has a delayed reaction that makes it easy for me to eat a lot of wheat convincing myself I'll probably be fine (I almost never am: Wheat binges often result in me waking up with vomit in my throat in addition to many other uncomfortable symptoms).  The wheat issues and the food addiction wind up piggybacking on each other, with the addiction compelling me to eat wheat and the wheat triggering symptoms that make me feel like I'm starving, leading to the consumption of more wheat.

I've gone through long stints where I did great, sticking to a variety of different diets that omit wheat and make me feel great, but I am also easily sabotaged and having a hard time getting past that lately.  On the bright side, it's usually been one or two good meals followed by a poor dinner, and it's not every day.  It's really a process.

I've been reading a lot about willpower, especially in the context of restrictive diets and diets meant to keep people from getting as miserable as I often am.  Two main themes have stuck out in the past few weeks, and although they compete with each other, I think there's truth to both:
  1. Willpower is an act of empathy toward your future self.
  2. You should try to avoid needing willpower.
I mostly resonate with the first one, the problem is remembering that I resonate with the first one.  I keep trying to remind myself to create a wearable totem of some sort, like a bracelet, to remind myself of the concept of self-empathy in this way for when I'm knee-deep in Big Mac land.

Basically what this means for me is the following:  When I eat, I should be empathizing with how I expect to feel in two or three hours, or longer.  If I eat what I'm planning on eating in the quantities I intend to eat, in a couple hours am I going to be miserable?  Or am I going to feel refreshed?  If I eat this way daily, how am I going to feel about this in a month?  Two months?  A year?

There's also a tie-in to something I read about the Epicurean lifestyle, in which you try to maximize pleasure.  This on its surface seems hedonistic and counter-intuitive, as eating food that tastes good is pleasurable.  But you also have to factor in that eating said food will, in the long term, not be pleasurable.

This contradicts slightly with number two:  Avoid needing willpower.  One of the mistakes people make is that we place a value judgment on willpower, as if avoiding eating a hamburger when it's staring you in the face makes you a more moral person.  The reality, though, is that willpower is a finite resource for most of us, and being constantly exposed to addictive food will whittle away at that willpower until it's gone and you give in.

I should mention now that this is the response in an addicted person, which I have been all my life.  Every once in a while somebody--equally moralistically, I might add--will lecture me about "moderation," claiming that if I restrict certain foods entirely it will just create a binge later.  Since I hear it everywhere it must be true for somebody, but I really am aiming for eventually being totally free from my addictive foods.

It's like a cruel cultural joke to me, because in general when I'm alone I'm pretty good at keeping these urges at bay by keeping certain foods away from me, out of my house, or behind a "psychological barrier" (in which somebody has not offered me a specific food, it's not mine, and therefore I can maintain the willpower not to eat it).  Like all people, my willpower will crumble a bit between meals, and it's important for me to make sure I am eating enough good foods at the right time to prevent me from getting those cravings.  But when people go on and on about moderation?  That's just the worst.  There's nothing that shaves away my motivation and willpower faster than people telling me that if I don't eat whatever food they're trying to get me to eat, it will set me up for failure.  Which, ultimately, sets me up for failure.

Today it wasn't really that... it was just a moment of weakness when a friend asked if I wanted to go to dinner.  I at least have a good system for when this happens now... pop some antacids and elevate the fuck out of my head.  I've at least been not waking up with vomit in my mouth, but the long-term effects are still there.

But tomorrow is a new day... I'm thinking in addition to a physical totem piece I'll start making sure I have a mealplan set up.  Tomorrow I'll probably have spaghetti aglio e olio with either zucchini noodles or corn spaghetti, maybe an omelette in the morning as I have a lot of cheese.  And I'll have a lot of cool seasonings to try out, so there's that.

Anyway, happy trails,
-- Jackson