Exercise for pleasure and distraction

Finding things to replace overeating as your primary source of pleasure and escape is not immediately easy.

I’m drinking more coffee, but coffee is a hobby for me, not just consumption. What else can I do?

It will probably end up being a combination, a variety of different things. And some of those things might stretch and challenge your idea of what constitutes pleasure and enjoyment.

It’s a bit like the cliché of a drug addict whose whole life revolves around their next hit. When they eventually get off the drug it’s not as though any single other thing replaces it. They replace the drug with a life.

So think outside the box.

One unexpected source of enjoyment might be exercise. Going for a walk when you’d usually eat, doing a couple of sit-ups, moving your body in a different way…

Exercise can be enjoyable. Doing something different can be enjoyable. Variety itself is enjoyable.

So if you’re struggling to find something more enjoyable than eating, try finding four things that are less enjoyable on their own, but enough to liven your life and get you exploring possibilities.

And isn’t it also enjoyable to find new ways of changing your long-term eating habits? Even if something doesn’t seem enjoyable in its own right, it can become enjoyable when it serves a greater purpose.

Your thoughts create your reality, so…

I’ve been working on this New Thought/law of attraction stuff for a few years now, and I no longer have any doubt that my thoughts create my reality. So what now?

It took me a while to process lots of negative beliefs about myself and about life; perhaps the biggest challenge came from maladaptive strategies I put in place decades ago.

It also took me time to understand how I differ from the majority of people eliciting advice from teachers like Abraham-Hicks. It took me time to translate their teachings into my language, and appreciate the advantages of things I’ve already worked out and accomplished.

So I’ve cleared a path, and now the teachings are really really simple: just make a practice of thinking thoughts that are better than your usual thoughts.

It’s best to stay general and brief and just reel off thoughts that you know to be good, positive, and aligned with your desires.

For example:

I love my life

I love being me

I love myself

I love how easy my life is

I love how effortless my life is

My life is easy

My life is effortless

My life is fun

My life is enjoyable

My life is complete ease

My life is complete flow

As I write and think these thoughts I start to feel better and better. But I don’t worry about how I feel anymore. I know these are good thoughts that will feel good as I practice them.

I also know I can loosen my resistance and not contradict them with other thoughts.

This is an exercise. I don’t have to argue with myself over how much I do or can or should love my life. I don’t look evidence and ideas to support these thoughts. Because that comes later, comes automatically, with practice.

Just like my diet, I know what works now. If I just think these kinds of thoughts often enough and don’t contradict them with other thoughts, I’ll become these thoughts soon enough.

Likewise, I know that if I eat the right amount of food and don’t overeat, my body weight will come into balance.

The struggle and the obfuscation all lies in our complicated patterns, like eating to escape from bad feelings, or like finding security in playing the victim.

These are the habits that stop us from doing simple things like eating as much as we need, and thinking good thoughts.

My life is easy, if I let it be. But I can’t let it be if I’ve only practiced thoughts of fear and difficulty and despond.

But my life is easy. I love the ease. My whole life is full of ease. I love having such an easy life…

When failure is not a setback

Valentine’s day, and with a new baby we celebrated at home with an assortment of nice foods: cheeses, pâté, dips, and so on.

I ate more than I think I should have, and I’m regretful for not adhering to my diet. I’m still overweight of course, but while eating I “forgot” and just enjoyed the food, with the excuse of it being a special occasion.

I remember this happening last time. I mentioned in my book that I came up with one simple rule to follow…and immediately broke it.

I broke it many times back then. And that doesn’t sound good. I don’t feel good about failing to follow my rule now either.

And yet failure is not a setback. Observing myself honestly during this failure reinforces the lessons I’m learning.

Because now I can see for myself that yes, I did enjoy the food, but that enjoyment was so brief and fleeting and now I feel bored and empty.

I feel physically full, and it doesn’t feel good. I don’t need the energy for anything, so why did I eat that much? I enjoyed the food but surely there’s more for me to enjoy?

Failure is not a setback because it only demonstrates the truth of our situation. You can break the rules as often as you like, but it will only provide more evidence that overeating is a very meagre short-term source of happiness.

Just-a-taste strategy

I skip breakfast because I can’t stand the thought of it in the mornings.

I skip lunch because I don’t need it, and I’ve found that if I do eat some lunch I don’t need any dinner.

I cook dinner for my wife and kids most nights, and I tend to enjoy it more when I’m a little hungry myself!

So that leaves dinner as my main meal. We all sit down together and eat the food I’ve prepared.

But now that I’m mindful of not overeating, what should I do if I find I can keep going without eating?

I’ve tried skipping dinner but that doesn’t seem right. The point of this diet is to find balance and there’s nothing balanced about fasting.

Even intermittent fasting is too arbitrary for my preference.

No, for me the solution is to eat some dinner. Try some of the delicious food I’ve made and share this time together with my family….but do so with a ridiculously small portion.

If I’ve made pizza, taste just enough to appreciate the flavour and the texture. It doesn’t take much at all. If I’ve made pasta, a spoonful of the sauce would be enough.

If this sounds too severe, that’s fine. But for me it doesn’t make sense to eat a large portion of food just for the enjoyment. If you can enjoy a tiny amount you will savour it more. Repeat performances in the form of larger servings take us back into “eating for pleasure” territory.

So in the name of balance my solution is to eat just enough to sample the food and join with my family in eating it, but nowhere near enough to turn it into a pleasure-seeking activity through overeating.

It is not easy at first. But the whole point is to bring our eating habits and bodyweight back into balance. That can’t be accomplished if we are, while overweight, allowing ourselves to overeat for the sake of pleasure.

I’ve done it before, and I will do it again. However tantalising the food may be, I am placing greater value on finding a more enriching life that does not depend so heavily on the pleasure of eating.

To look at it from a different perspective: what pleasures and joys and fulfilment have I neglected to find in my life, preferring instead the more easily accessible pleasure of eating to excess? What needs have gone unmet or unacknowledged because I have found immediate distraction in large quantities of tasty food?

That’s a question I can’t begin to answer on a full stomach.

Finding the flow

Imagine the human being like a complex, vastly intelligent and finely balanced machine.

When it works smoothly it is magnificent and flows without effort.

But when something goes wrong it grinds and tears at itself and makes horrible noises.

The human being is not really a machine but it does flow with impeccable smoothness and ease, and it does grind and tear and make horrible disturbances when something goes wrong.

I’ve been interested in religions, philosophies and other teachings that address on the one hand the perfect state of flow we all innately desire, and on the other hand the “something” that went wrong with us to disturb this flow.

Through my studies and my searching I’ve slowly merged and converged these many explanations into a core set of principles.

Flow is natural

Flow is our natural state of being. Natural means “from birth” (natal) and denotes what belongs to us innately (in-born), our essence.

Flow is ordered

Our natural state of being is ordered, it participates in an order that is expressed through all things, all being. When we participate in the state of flow we feel connected to the greater pattern, the chorus, the flow of all existence.

Flow is empowering

When we connect with this state of flow we remove resistance from our immediate experience. This may feel like handing over control to something greater than ourselves, and at the same time we feel as if our physical self operates on a kind of intelligent auto-pilot.

This is empowering because it demonstrates in real time the ease of non-resistance. The power is in the freedom from effort, the timing, the sense of being guided, the sense of being able to sit back and relax rather than micromanage. Going with the flow, within the flow, rather than fighting our way through life.

Resistance disrupts the flow

Resistance occurs whenever something grabs our attention and pulls us out of the flow.

The primary source of resistance is our belief in negative consequences or outcomes. When we think something bad may happen the flow is disrupted in us, and we experience the disruption as fear in various degrees and forms.

Most of us accrue a number of fears in early life, typically learning them from other people and our own experiences.

Layers of resistance

We tell ourselves complicated stories and enact patterns of behaviour in an effort to manage our fear.

Flow is replaced by our own efforts and struggles to control resistance. But typically we just create more resistance.

For example, we begin to crave things that we believe will make up for the problems caused by our fears. Fear and craving dominate our motives when we are no longer in a state of flow.

Flow is fearless

In a state of flow there is no belief in bad outcomes or consequences.

A state of flow can only come when we believe nothing bad can happen.

The moment we think there’s something “important” at stake, we are pulled into micromanagement and a focusing of attention that disrupts the flow.

Flow is freedom

Daoist, Neo-Confucian, and Zen Buddhist literature has some great resources on the psychology of this flow state.

In particular one of the more famous samurai wrote about this state, and received illuminating teachings on it from a renowned monk contemporary.

In the context of fighting, the mind must not “stop” at anything: not thoughts of losing nor thoughts of winning, not fear of being cut with the sword, nor thoughts of using some particular technique.

In a life and death struggle, these people believed the state of flow to be of greatest significance and value. Surely we, in our easy modern lives can find it too?

Addiction as self-medication

My approach to diet involves recognising that I tend to overeat for two reasons: insufficient sources of pleasure and enjoyment in life, and as an escape from negative emotions.

In my case, what I thought was hunger was actually an impulse to distract myself from negative emotions.

The causes of negative emotion are different for all of us. That’s why I urge people to consider professional help and mental health support.

Like other forms of “addiction”, overeating can be a way of soothing and distracting from negative emotions. Studies into obesity have shown that for many, both the overeating and the weight gain can provide an unconscious solution to the problem of traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, and assault.

That’s why conventional diets don’t work for everyone. There’s an inner, often unconscious, struggle between the desire to lose weight for health and aesthetic and social reasons, and the desire to escape from very painful emotions or memories.

Have some compassion for yourself in this process. First, because you may be seeking to change behaviours that have been in place for years or decades. Second, because although self-medication with food or other substances tends to have negative side-effects in the long term, it’s also typically a case of doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances.

All things being equal, I doubt anyone prefers to be overweight. But all things are not equal. We work them out piece by piece over time, and compassion and understanding are not only deserved but essential.

When do you “need” to eat?

I ate very little yesterday and this morning only had a coffee. By 10AM I was feeling lightheaded and dizzy – a common side-effect of fasting.

When I first developed my diet, lightheadedness was a sign that I needed to eat something to keep going.

But since then my circumstances have changed quite a bit, and I’ve changed too. So when I started to feel dizzy I didn’t immediately eat something.

Tiredness and fatigue are not purely physical. My mood has improved a lot in the past year, and I no longer feel as fatigued as I used to. Plus my life is far more active and busy than it was back then

What I’m getting at is that my circumstances, and my subjective sense of needing to eat something to keep going have both changed. I need to recalibrate.

This morning I decided to eat something because I was worried about driving while feeling dizzy.

It worked. The dizziness went away and I kept going, taking a trip to the beach with my daughter.

It will take more time for me to fine-tune this sense of when I need to eat.

In the meantime I decided to eat a small serving of dinner tonight with my family. My reasoning is that – as I mention in my book – eating serves a communal, social purpose. Also, it was never my intention to eat as little as possible or to fast to the point of dizziness.

Besides, when I first worked out this approach to diet I was much more overweight, on the verge of obese. This time around I’m only slightly overweight, and the difference between what I need to eat and how much I’ve been overeating is less stark.

The factors may be innumerable, but that’s why I love the approach of working things out myself, with both generalisable principles and personal circumstances in mind.

What does it mean to be rich?

I love using etymology to inform my philosophy as I ask and answer questions like: what does it mean to be rich?

Full credit for all etymological resources to the magnificent website etymonline.com

Rich comes from Old English rice “strong, powerful; great, mighty; of high rank,” in later Old English “wealthy,” and was influenced in Middle English by Old French riche “wealthy, magnificent, sumptuous”.

So the high-ranking elites in Old English society were powerful and mighty and also wealthy. What we think of as rich most directly links to the wealthy component.

So what is wealthy?

Wealthy is the adjectival form of wealth, which means “happiness,” also “prosperity in abundance of possessions or riches,” from Middle English wele “well-being” (see weal(n.1)) on analogy of health.

Now we have a bunch of new words to track down:

Happiness, prosperity, weal, and abundance of possessions and riches.

Starting with riches, which, you might have guessed, is a bit of a dead end since it takes us back to rich.

In fact riches means “valued possessions, money, property,” c. 1200, modified from richesse (12c.), a singular form misunderstood as a plural, from Old French richesse, richece “wealth, opulence, splendor, magnificence,” from riche (see rich(adj.)).

What about possessions? Possessions are things that you have or hold, believed to stem from a root word that means “having power, able”.

Abundance means “copious quantity or supply,” mid-14c., from Old French abondance and directly from Latin abundantia “fullness, plenty,” abstract noun from abundant-, past participle stem of abundans “overflowing, full,” present participle of abundare “to overflow” (see abound).

So abundance of possessions and riches basically means having or holding so many things, especially the kinds of nice things high-ranking people have, that they are metaphorically overflowing.

But that’s not necessarily what we mean when we say “I want to be rich”. There’s more nuance needed, though in some respect it can simply mean “I want to be like one of those high-ranking elites!”

Let’s keep going.

Weal isn’t used much these days. It means “well-being,” from Old English wela “wealth,” in late Old English also “welfare, well-being,” from West Germanic *welon-, from PIE root *wel- (2) “to wish, will” (see will (v.)).

Will means “to wish, desire; be willing; be used to; be about to”. A fascinating word that predates our contemporary notion of free will, and appears to combine intentionality (he wills it) with behavioural commentary (he will do it).

What makes it even more fascinating is that well as in well-being comes from the same root as will.

Well means “in a satisfactory manner,” which makes sense if we take satisfactory to mean as desired or as willed.

Well is satisfactory because it matches what I will. And well-being therefore means being as I will.

So let’s add weal, meaning “being as I will” to our understanding of wealth. Wealth doesn’t just mean having so many things that they are metaphorically overflowing. It also means things being as you will or desire them to be.

Let’s keep going.

Prosperity is traditionally regarded as from Old Latin pro spere “according to expectation, according to one’s hope,” from pro “for” + ablative of spes “hope,” which sounds a lot like things being as one wills.

Finally, happiness, from happy means lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune”.

Etymonline notes that: From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.”

And just for the sake of completeness, hap was a purely positive conception of luck. “chance, a person’s luck, fortune, fate;”.

So going back to where we started, Rich referred to a class of people who, amongst other things, were wealthy.

Wealth turned out to refer to a number of concepts, most predominantly the idea of things being according to one’s will.

Happiness has come to mean the emotion once associated with being favoured by fortune.

And abundance of possessions clarifies the overflowing of material things, presumably desirable things, which most people associate with wealth anyway.

If I had to summarise, I would say that the underlying historically-informed meaning of wealth is about the fulfilment of desires, which for most people includes material possessions and is commonly believed to rely on fortune or good luck.

I would argue that the word rich retains additional implications apart from wealth that touch on things like status and power. Perhaps that’s why we have the phrase rich and famous but not wealthy and famous.

Crazy wealthy Asians doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Do you need to eat to feel better?

I’ve just made two delicious pizzas for my family, but there’s a problem: I don’t need to eat anything to keep going right now.

So these delicious, hot, wonderful pizzas…I’m not ready to eat them.

I’m not thrilled about this, but if I want to get into the normal BMI range I shouldn’t overeat, and by my definition eating when I can otherwise keep going is overeating.

They smell really good…

But what’s actually so bad about this situation? The food smells good. It probably tastes good. It would be pleasant to eat it.

So what?

Am I so lacking pleasures in life that I would rather ignore my body’s guidance than find something else to do?

Am I trying to hide from feelings of boredom, loneliness or dissatisfaction by gorging on tasty food?

Or do I feel like I’ve been on duty all day and dinner is supposed to be my time to relax!

I think that’s a big part of it. It’s not so much the food but the context. The time of day, the lull in activities, the proximity to bedtime for the kids and me, the promise of winding down.

But there’s something funny about that: if I look forward to the evening “wind down”, I’m implicitly excusing being wound up in the rest of the time.

I don’t like being wound up and tense and on high alert. Having the wind-down time seems like a reprieve…but wouldn’t it be better not to get so tense in the first place?

Maybe taking away the solace and comfortable escape of overeating at dinner time will help me find a way to stay chilled all the time?

I’m going to give it a try, because I respect my approach to diet and the signals my body is giving me. If I don’t need more food to keep going, then I won’t eat more food.

I already feel clearer with this decision and the stress of losing the escapist comfort is fading. I don’t need to eat to feel better.

What motivates your diet?

About three weeks ago my BMI was 26.59. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.

Today my BMI is 25.68. I’ve been focusing on my eating habits and motives for about ten days, and from past experience I’d expect to refine my process more over the coming week.

I won’t put a timetable on it, but while I’m preoccupied with my own motives and sensations around eating, I’m eating more to keep going with other aspects of life and less for escapism and pleasure and therefore it won’t be long before I’m back in the normal range for BMI.

Where I go from there is an open question. I tend not to focus on weight or aesthetic goals, because I really like the idea of seeing how my body and mind respond to a balanced and…let’s say philosophically satisfying…approach to eating.

If I eat only to give me the energy I need to keep going, what will I look and feel like? Not just because I’m consuming fewer calories but because I’m no longer using food to manage my emotional state. I’ve walked that path before, but I have to admit I’ve never gone right to the end.

To me that is an exciting and intriguing question. I’m curious to see what happens. Will I have to make myself eat more to have enough energy? Will I become someone who forgets to eat because I’m so engrossed in other activities? Will I find even more refined and satisfying sources of pleasure and fulfilment?

These questions are, for me at least, far more motivating than weight-loss goals and physical aesthetics these days.