Dieting Tips

Trying to reinvigorate my diet after letting it slide for a few months, I’m slowly remembering the key points.

Firstly, normal diets attempt to “cheat” in some way. They control quantities, but allow you to eat whatever type of food you like. Or they control the type of food, but let you eat as much as you like of those types. These diets avoid the pain of refusing to indulge your appetite.

Secondly, we like to indulge our appetite because it allows us to escape from painful, dull, or otherwise unpleasant experiences of reality. Escaping from such experiences means we do not address the underlying disquiet or suffering or lack of enthusiasm in our lives. It is important to recognise that flavours, mouthfeel, texture, temperature, rituals and even the physical activity of eating can all be used as a distraction from reality.

Thirdly, food is not intrinsically enjoyable. The experience of eating is something we create actively with our own minds. Enjoyment requires attention, energy, and a degree of complicity as we actively savour and relish the eating experience.

This approach to dieting is painful and powerful because it goes right to the heart of the problem: identifying eating as a means of escaping from unpleasant aspects of reality.

For most of us, being overweight is an expression of our escapism.

Yet such escapism is self-defeating. The physical and psychological suffering will come back to haunt us in the form of illness, shame, and more unpleasant experiences. Escapism simply defers the pain, and deferring the pain is painful in its own right.

The thought of never again escaping into food and eating can be terrifying, and raises the prospect of a life empty of the significant enjoyment provided by food. But as the third point identified, this enjoyment is actually provided by our own minds, not by the food itself. Food merely provides us with an opportunity to focus on something that is safely detached from the unpleasant and complex problems and feelings we are trying to escape from in the first place.

The truly painful thing is that we cannot imagine living without the constant escape provided by food.  The actual amount of food required for us to continue living is very small, relative to what we typically consume. And yet the thought of giving up eating-for-enjoyment terrifies us.

Most of us feel bad when we see our own overweight bodies in mirrors or photographs. And there’s a push in society to stop feeling “ashamed” of our bodies, and to reject the unrealistic ideals provided by media and marketing. We’re told to love ourselves as we are.

This is good advice, but if we are eating to escape then we are not loving ourselves as we are. I used to feel bad when I saw how overweight I was, but when I think about dieting and escapism, I begin to see the fat as representative of how frequently I am escaping into food. I start to see it not as some horrible imperfection or source of shame, but as letting myself down by avoiding the unpleasant realities or thoughts or feelings that motivate the escapism in the first place.

Dieting seems extraordinarily hard because we imagine ourselves having to endure the painful realities of life without our favoured escape. But those realities remain painful precisely because we keep trying to escape them. It’s less painful to eat than to acknowledge that we feel life is going nowhere. But it’s far, far healthier and more empowering to acknowledge such fears and feelings than to escape into the temporary distraction of food.

What do we wish to become: someone good at escaping, or someone able to face our fears? This diet is, after all, not really about dieting. It’s about facing the fears, the stagnation, the difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories* we’ve been trying to escape.

*Some people’s realities are more painful than others’, and I’m obviously not a doctor, not even in philosophy, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help when dealing with painful, traumatic, or otherwise difficult experiences.

 

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7 thoughts on “Dieting Tips


  1. Seriously though, you don’t need to feel bad about distracting yourself with food. Some problems are so large and persistent that distraction could be part of the solution. It is, to paraphrase, empowering to acknowledge such fears and feelings AND OCCASIONALLY escape into the temporary distraction of food.

    • In the same vein, it’s okay to feel bad at the realisation you’ve been using food to escape – ie. don’t feel bad about feeling bad.
      But yeah, I think you’re right. It’s a messy and difficult process, and expecting some kind of ideal, perfect solution just makes it harder.

    • I found I had trouble with diets that say you can eat a certain amount but no more. I think the success of some diets (like the no-carb style of diet) is that it shocks us into a different relationship with food temporarily. But I’m the first to admit my solutions are particular to me. I know people who can easily limit their intake.

  2. The escapism of over eating that results in excessive caloric intake can be counteracted by another form of escapism that results in caloric outflow. I believe they call it “exercise”. For some (like me) it’s relatively easier to face the fear of physical exhaustion than the fears that arise from our existential situation. Indulging both gives you twice the escapism while also mitigating against any potential shame that is often elicited when a mirror is present!

      • It’s also a bit of a rip-off! For instance, a chocolate doughnut could set you back about 10 laps of a sports field. When one adopts the dual-escapism model, as most exercise people do, the doughnut becomes so much less appealing.

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