Saturday, I attended our church’s monthly men’s breakfast at a local diner. It’s a nice place. We enjoy the food there. And the atmosphere encourages good conversation. My biggest concern was keeping myself on track with my diet. I did research and found the diner’s menu on the internet, but they offered no meals or even a la carte items permitted by my program.
I had a choice—being the pastor meant not attending was not an option. One option was to order nothing, limiting myself to the permitted cups of coffee and a meal replacement bar. I chose instead to order some hard boiled eggs (permitted on my program, but only once a week). I couldn’t find of a vegetable to order; so, I ended up without a green for one of that day’s meals. That wasn’t the best choice, but I felt it was better than dropping off the program for one meal and trying to restart. This worked fine. I continued the rest of the day and felt a bit sluggish, but otherwise fine.
The hardest thing with such times is not the discipline when ordering. The hardest thing is maintaining the discipline around those who are not restricted in their eating. Looking around the table at bacon, eggs and sausage gravy poured over flaky biscuits could have been torturous. Such foods are some of my favorite and trigger wonderful comforting memories.
It is not the foods, their presence, or the sight of others that could make this so difficult. It is the feeling of deprivation. If I had looked at it as, “I want that but have to deprive myself to reach this goal,” then it would have been more difficult. It is a fact of humanity that immediate pleasures trump future pleasures. This explains so much of human society and history—”I could have that in the future, but I prefer this momentary good today.”
It was easier since I am convinced I don’t want those things. I don’t say this because I have had some miraculous change to my tastes or change to my taste buds. I still love the taste of such foods. We all have to admit “diet” foods are not as tasty as their full fat, greasy, artery clogging counterparts. This is just a fact of physiology. Our bodies crave high energy foods requiring the least calories to collect and digest. We are hard-wired this way.
Consider my experience with soda. I grew up in Texas where, of course, ice cold carbonated beverages are a staple. Every such beverage is called a ‘coke’, and one of the most popular forms of ‘coke’ is Dr. Pepper. Many years ago, I had a strange change come over me. I no longer wanted soda. It wasn’t that I decided soda was bad for me. I wasn’t convinced to stop drinking it. It wasn’t that I no longer liked the taste. I just didn’t desire soda anymore. People could drink it around me and there was zero desire for one.
This made me start thinking about the other foods I like. If I no longer liked them I could stop eating them and lose weight without trying. I tried this with ice cream. I tried to convince myself “I no longer like ice cream,” hoping this would help end the temptation to eat ice cream. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
But that is the problem. We can’t control what we do and do not like–turning it on and off like a switch. I still love all the foods my friends ate on Saturday. While I can’t control what I like—tastes, experiences, chemistry, and so many other factors control this—I do have some say in what I desire.
It is too easy to confuse what we like and what we desire. We think saying, “I like that” and “I desire that,” are synonymous terms. They are not. They are related, but different. They can both be related to the idea of “wanting,” but they differ. For one thing, liking can trigger wanting which can be experienced as desire, but liking something does not equate to wanting or desiring something. For example, we often think saying “I like eggs,” is the same as saying, “I want eggs.” They are not. Pointing at a woman and saying, “I like her,” is not the same as saying, “I want her.” In this example the difference comes into sharper focus.
While my friends’ breakfast foods were all things I like, they were not what I wanted. They brought no temptation and no feeling of being deprived. But what causes this. Why do foods which would have tempted one day, fail to temp another day? I think the difference is seen in how we put off a powerful desire for immediate gratification in favor of future benefits. It is a matter of what I want. It is also a matter of when I want it—not when do I want to have it, but when do I have the desire for it. When trying to lose weight with a diet, giving in to the temptation to eat other foods shows I wanted the food (or the pleasure of experiencing it) more than the benefits of the diet. Part of our guilt comes from knowing we should have wanted the goals of the diet more than temporary gratification. Our feelings of guilt are not limited to guilt over our actions. We feel guilty about the values our actions display.
Many are going to wonder how someone who just started a program to regain his health can claim such knowledge about temptation and desire. For one, I have thought long and hard about the things that drive me to eat. I know there is something psychological encouraging me to choose the quick, easy pleasure of food over the long term, hard fought pleasures of health. Those, I am still working through. But there is one other place where I have had this same conversation. As a pastor, I often counsel people over sexual misconduct–who have traded a lifetime of a healthy loving relationship for temporary pleasures. Our sexual drive and our drive for food spring from the same place. Have you ever considered the sexual nature and feel of our most decadent foods? We even call such foods ‘decadent’—a word synonymous with ‘immoral,’ ‘degenerate’ and ‘perverted.’ When talking to a dieter who has binged on forbidden foods or a husband who has strayed in his marriage, the words and the emotions are almost indistinguishable. In both situations, the results can also be life altering for both the one ‘cheating’ and for their loved ones.
How did I sit with other men who were all eating my favorite foods and limit myself to boiled eggs and coffee? Because at that moment I wanted boiled eggs and coffee, which represented much more to me than the temporary pleasure of those other foods.
Of course, this will not always be the case. There will be times I want food I can’t have. For example, I am starting to get bored with my food choices allowed in my Lean & Green meals. I’m looking for new ideas before this feeling leads to a desire to quit. In those times other things may have to step in to keep me in track. One thing that helps is removing some of the potential for pleasure from cheating. If a tempted husband knew others would find out about his dalliance, most would find resistance far easier. It is the secrecy that makes it easier for one to cheat. Fear of scorn and shame are powerful forces in humans. It helps to have accountability—people who will know if you cheated. This is one reason I blog about my experiences. Friends nationwide know about my diet and will read this. Yes, I could eat what I want and then fake it, but that is hard when one of those friends is at the table. Transparency helps as well. One thing that made it easier to hide my unhealthy behavior was that my build hid much of my weight from most people. Even at my heaviest, people knew I was overweight, but had no idea how much. Neither did they know the extent of my health problems. In my opening blog I shared my actual weight with the world and shared my health conditions. For someone with my background being like this is shame-inducing. The sense of embarrassment over my true health is a powerful motivation to turn it all around. I am driven to correct the situation, thus replacing embarrassment with a sense of pride—another powerful force in human behavior.
If you are reading this on your own journey, what should you take away from it? If you haven’t been honest about where you are, secrecy can undermine your resolve. The best thing to do is shine the light of truth upon your condition, and admit to others where you are. There is a good reason “Friends of Bill” (AA, NA, etc.) introduce themselves with a public admission of their addiction. Next, if you are trying to struggle alone get friends who will hold you up when needed. I don’t mean feel good friends who will enjoy the ride as you eat and drink yourself to an early grave. I mean real friends who will insert a boot up your “fourth point of contact” when needed. Finally set a goal for yourself—both measurable and feel-good goals. I have several measurable goals that work in stages—and none of them involve rewarding myself with a Snickers. A weekly goal is to be able to report a weekly reduction in my weight. This will show better than anything that I am on program. A monthly goal is to see some physical improvement—whether it is fitting into old suits, or being able to cross my legs or see my toes (this month’s achievement). Then I have several feel good goals. These include: (1) I’ve loved riding horses all my life and want to get back on one; (2) I was a paratrooper in the Army and I WANT TO JUMP AGAIN!