At the end of Part 1, I summed up my self definition with two, socially repugnant words: ‘obese’ and ‘hedonistic eating’.
It was my realisation that my fundamental problem could be summed up with the provocative and evocative word ‘hedonism’ with regards to my approach to eating.
‘Hedonism’, like ‘obese’, is not a word to be lightly bandied about – it is a very serious word with a serious meaning and grave implications.
For me, the realisation that I was not just enjoying what I was eating, but I was eating to enjoy, that brought the understanding. It dawned on me that I initiate snacking and eating for the sole enjoyment of it. This was an epiphany, a revelation, a ‘light bulb’ moment.
The best word to describe approach is ‘hedonism’. Hedonism is the notion that ‘pleasure’ is the highest good, or to live a life in pursuit of pleasure or a lifestyle devoted to pleasure-seeking. Not the best of life motivations, methinks.
Now, to be fair, I was not wholly sold out on and living in this manner. But there is a spectrum to hedonism, and I was definitely being motivated by my desire to consume food for the pleasure, for the comfort, for the sheer joy it provided.
When I eat, the food being consumed is enjoyed, but the danger comes when my ‘motivation’ is primarily to eat for the pleasure that consumption brings.
When I eat and enjoy and when I eat to enjoy, ‘enjoyment’ plays a part, but the motivation, the small but distinct difference in the eating experience makes the crucial distinction – is the ‘what, when, and how much’ I eat simply a part of the experience, or is it the goal of the experience?
How many times have I consumed something, not because I was hungry, nor because I ‘needed’ something, but because I was simply bored? I was ‘bored’ and eating to alleviate my boredom was what I chose to do.
Or have I eaten simply because ‘the food was there,’ or it was something that I really enjoyed and desired? Eating driven by proximity.
Or have I eaten because I was tempted with something which I should never eat, but there it was and it looks so good? Wherein is my ‘self control’? Wherein is doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing?
Or have I eaten because I was feeling low and I desired some ‘comfort eating’? We all sense the need for comfort – but where do I turn for that necessary comfort?
The problem is not so much my eating, but the ‘why’ I am eating – the motivation in my choosing to eat.
If my motivation is to seek pleasure, to bring myself joy, to engage in some comfort eating then I am dicing with hedonism. It is not necessarily ‘hedonism’, but there is a danger of sliding into a pattern, a habit of indulging my pleasures and passions and giving way to my inherent hedonistic tendencies.
‘Hedonism’ is plainly the pursuit of pleasure, or pleasure-seeking, in whatever form it takes; it could be music, films, sports and it could very easily be food…
When do I lose control over my eating or my food choices? When do I consume, imbibe, or otherwise indulge myself? Why do I succumb to temptation?
Often it is when I say, “deep down, I have a desire (or want) for…” and follow that primordial urge.
From time to time there are various dishes and foods that we long for, and this is not a problem, but it can be a ‘stumbling block’ when what I am seeking is not the dish in question, but the joy and pleasure its’ consumption will bring me. In this case that ‘primordial urge’ is simply to consume it for the pleasure, for the joy it brings.
The subtle difference between a simple, natural longing for some dish or food and an hedonistic passion boils down to the ‘motivation’ – the ‘why’ we desire it and to a certain extent, our ability to walk away from it.
Why I want to eat it, how often I will partake of it and the amount that I will consume of it all form part of the appraisal of my eating and my motivation.
I firmly believe it is right, proper and good to fully, wholly enjoy the food that I consume.
The problem arises when that enjoyment is the goal, when the motivation that is the determining factor in what, when and how much I consume, is the pleasure I derive from it.
Personally, I gain weight incredibly easily. I only have to break from my routine in the minutest way, and I will gain weight. As I said, this is a great blessing in a time of famine, but in a time of plenty, I need to manage this blessing lest it become my own, self-created curse.
I find eating routines to be very helpful.
As a diabetic, I need to ensure my blood sugar neither rises to too high, nor plunges too low. To avoid ‘too high’, I need to be careful in what foods I eat, for some are natural ‘blood sugar’ accelerators. To avoid ‘too low’ blood sugar, timing is essential – I need to consume a ‘slow-release’ food at the appropriate time to maintain the balance.
A non-diabetic can benefit from a like approach – non-diabetics can experience low-blood sugar slumps and it is never healthy for anyone to have sugar highs. What we eat, when and how frequent call all affect our health, well-being and can be crucial in how we handle the vagaries of life.
For most people, portion size is a small and yet powerful way to contain how much is being consumed. Another meaningful aid is setting a simple rule of ‘one filling of the plate’. This is especially helpful when the decision is made before the wonderful, delicious, savoury food is before you and filling your nose with all the tantalising and captivating smells. This pre-decision can aid in ensuring you control you intake, and yet full enjoy it. If you are determined to only have one plateful, then you can determine to eat it slowly and enjoy it in the process.
For my meals, I have procured a small plate – a small plate brimming full is more satisfying than a large plate with a meagre portion occupying a small segment of the vast space available.
Additionally, it is easier to keep to small portion sizes on a small plate. Once the small plate is full, there is no more room. On a large plate there is a natural tendency to ladle out a wee bit more because ‘it looks so inadequate’.
As mentioned, one helpful approach is to eat slowly, taking small bites which can be fully consumed and paying attention to the flavours, chewing fully. When you slow down and savour the food, you are more aware of all the flavours and derive more satisfaction from it.
I must confess that rather regrettably, in times past, the food was moving so quickly into my mouth, and was passing down my gullet at such a rate that it resulted in not much attention nor awareness of the flavours and tastes of the food.
However, the goal now is to slow down, savour it, appreciate it and to know it. Fully masticated, and properly enjoyed, it makes the wee bit eaten of more value than the vast quantities that I previously vacuumed up.
At the same time, it gives the gut more time to report back that it is full. When speed-eating, by the time the gut says, “I’m full,” a whole load of food has already streaked passed the mouth door and is inexorably proceeding on its way…
For me and my body / temperament type, I have the ability to store any extra calories away, therefore, I make it a principle not to eat after the evening meal. In the evening my activity level natural diminishes, and hence any extra calories will be surplus to requirements and for me and those like me, it will be stored away for a rainy day.
For those of different body / temperament types, you will be able to judge where your balance point is, in order to maintain your weight. If you are gaining weight, simply spoken, you are still eating too much. By considering smaller portions, less frequent eating, being aware of late-night eating and being wary of wonton or habitual snacking, you can enable yourself to eat, enjoy and maintain a healthy weight.
What I have determined, ultimately, for me, is that the key is not so much what I eat, or how often I eat, or some kind of diet – nay, for me, the key is ‘why’ I eat. These are all important, ‘what I eat’, ‘how often I eat’, but I have found that the motivation, the ‘why’ is the key and determining factor for me.
When I cease allowing my inherited, inbred, natural hedonism to influence, dominate or dictate, then I can both properly enjoy all I consume and keep it in balance and, most importantly, in control.
When my weight is where it should be, my blood pressure is normal, my triglycerides are normal and my blood sugar is ‘well controlled’. There are real benefits for me to keep my weight in check.
But to do this I must be disciplined all the time.
My body is fantastically efficient. If I indulge, I will gain weight. This I have observed many times as I have indulged many times….
I am challenged by many references in Holy Writ, the call to ‘deny myself’ – not of something necessary, but to deny myself the tyranny of my underlying hedonistic passions and desires. To deny myself that which results in my self-esteem plummeting or health problems manifesting is not a hardship or something to be shirked, but to be welcomed and embraced.
It is the way to life; full, abundant, enjoyable life.
Then there are the references to ‘self control’ – self control being expressed not to my harm but to my profit. When I abstain from that tasty, and often for me, greasy treat which is brimming full of fat and sugar and has precious few nutrients, I lose nothing of profit, but gain much.
I eat every day.
I dare say I enjoy my food more than most. The smallish portions that I have a few times a day, I enjoy. I enjoy what I consume, I am nourished, my weight is under control and I feel good about myself.
Jesus said that we are called to ‘freedom’.
I am free from being driven and controlled by my passions and desires. Hence, I am also free from the consequences of over-indulgence.
I eat. I enjoy. I enjoy the fruit of self-discipline. At a healthy weight, I look better. Although I never felt ‘bad’ in the former days, when I look at myself now, I feel better.
Oh, and did I mention… I enjoy the food I eat.
The opposite of ‘hedonism’ is not the absence of pleasure, nor is it extolling misery and suffering… the opposite of hedonism is choosing to live wisely, not by passion but by wisdom.
By eschewing hedonism and allowing my mind to dictate the motivation, the controlling factor, in my living and my choosing… I can fully enjoy my food and my drink and not entertain the bondage hedonism inescapably brings… God enables us to enjoy our food and to take pleasure in our eating – but not that the enjoyment becomes the determining factor, the goal of eating, a form of bondage…
Because I am continuously addressing the underlying motivation behind my eating, because I address the elephant in the room, my fundamental hedonistic tendencies, then eating properly and maintaining a healthy weight becomes something that can be sustained over the long term.
If I were to entertain the query: “When is indulging in hedonism advisable, or good or desirable?” The answer to this rather rhetorical question is easy – “ah, never”.
I recognise that in indulging my hedonistic tendencies, I may enjoy the experience, but, inescapably, I reap the extra fat, the clogged arteries, the negative impact on my health and my self-esteem. I gain nothing of value except the transitory, momentary, fleeting joy of the act of over-indulgence.
Losing weight is not about diets, special or otherwise. Losing weight is not about a ‘superfood’ or a ‘new tablet’ or ‘exotic regime’ or ‘eastern miracle’. Generally everyone recognises that all diets come to an end, and when they do, our observation declares that the weight, slowly or quickly, piles back on.
It is my contention that losing weight can be sustained in the long term by changing my approach to consumption, by addressing the question of my underlying motivation, by focusing on the ‘why’ rather than on the ‘what’. In doing so, I have the tools and outlook to enable me to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
All things in moderation – so says the Bible.
All things in moderation – so say the public health pronouncements that I’ve heard all my life.
It is true.
Do this and live.
But if I allow my hedonistic nature to call the shots or simply to advise on the way forward, this becomes a perennially unreachable goal.
The choice is ours, in how we live and what we choose to motivate us…