Happiness Day 13

Chasing your shadow.

Today I’ve been caught up in the parallels between my approach to weight loss, and my current efforts to improve my life by feeling better.

I like my weight-loss approach because it cut out all my uncertainty and confusion, but also took me deep into my own motivations and feelings around eating.

I like it because it took something that was simply a struggle and showed me the cross-purposes in my own mind, hidden behind self-deception.

Most of all I liked it because it worked. That’s why I’m applying the same process and intensity to my goal of feeling better.

Reality is a shadow

Chasing your shadow means mistaking the effect for the cause, the symptom for the underlying disease. In the context of weight loss I learned to stop focusing on being overweight as an undesirable state, because it was really just the symptom or effect.

The real issue was my relationship with food. I even went so far as to say that being overweight was a healthy physical response to unhealthy eating habits.

I viewed my weight as always good, always a clear indicator of my relationship with food.

What was undesirable was not my weight but my approach to eating.

Reality is like your body weight

By analogy my experience of life is always a clear indicator of my relationship with God, my inner being, the spirit within me.

Because God is always reaching out to us. Our inner being is always pouring love and appreciation into us. And this spiritual reality would colour and infuse our whole existence and physical reality if we stopped turning away from it and clinging to unwanted things.

I’ve seen it today in my own mind: I may be feeling peace and happiness and appreciation, but then I reach for thoughts of worry and deadlines and “I need to get the kids dressed in the next twenty minutes or we’ll be late!”

What do I get out of it?

My relationship with food changed when I realised I didn’t like being overweight, but part of me quietly, determinedly, wanted to eat as an escape and distraction from unpleasant feelings.

Losing weight was always a struggle because I was wanting contradictory things and hiding the conflict from myself.

So by inference there must be something I want to get from feeling bad. I must want to focus on bad feeling thoughts even while I’m trying to focus on good feeling thoughts.

Why?

Well perhaps it’s because feeling bad, worried, and stressed gives the illusion of safety.

Feeling crappy all the time might be draining, but it’s much better than walking unawares into danger.

At least, in any given moment it’s much much better to feel worried and vigilant than to be caught by surprise and feel the sudden shock and terror or hurt or panic at being accused, threatened, ridiculed, or tricked by others.

In other words, thoughts that feel bad might help us approach situations with caution and self-protective guardedness.

But as a long term strategy the cost is too great. And since we create our reality it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I imagine letting go of that guardedness and protective cynicism I do indeed feel afraid of something worse. Better to get hit when you’re expecting it than to go down to a sucker-punch.

But it’s much much worse to go through life flinching at every imagined blow.

I think the way forward is to face the fear of being open and unsuspecting of harm, and not seek to avoid that fear by dampening my happiness.

It might be intimidating at first but it will also be a huge relief to own the fear directly rather than taking so many demoralising efforts to avoid it.

The Happiness Challenge

A couple of years ago I wrote a super-intense, psychologically-driven diet book.

The heart of the diet was making a commitment to only eat when you are genuinely hungry, and only eat enough to sate that need for physical nourishment.

The rest of the book was about understanding why this approach works, and finding clarity around our true motivations for eating.

If you commit to the rule of only eating for nourishment, then it immediately becomes clear how often we are eating for other reasons, typically as an escape from unpleasant emotions. Excessive body weight is then best understood as just a by-product or symptom of eating for these other reasons.

Isn’t happiness the same?

Today it hit me that my desire to feel good is very very similar to my approach to diet.

The underlying premise is that we are meant to feel good, and that we would naturally feel good if we weren’t doing something to interfere with this natural state.

Just like we would naturally arrive at a healthy body weight if we weren’t interfering with our appetite, using food and the experience of eating as an escape from feeling bad.

The most confronting moment in my diet journey was contemplating a future of never again using food as an escape. It was an incredibly daunting thought, but I gradually saw that it was the next logical step for me. And so I resigned myself to fundamentally changing how I related to food.

The same sense of a daunting, yet logical next step is now arising in the context of happiness. Because I know from experience that I can feel good simply by focusing on better-feeling thoughts like contentment and appreciation.

And I know in theory that my circumstances cannot prohibit me from finding better-feeling thoughts.

So the situation is simple: I can choose, if I will, to focus on better-feeling thoughts all of the time.

Making a commitment

It’s a bit like committing to get up early every morning and do some exercise.

The next logical step is that I commit myself to make better-feeling thoughts my rule, and view worse-feeling thoughts as exceptional, accidental setbacks.

Without this commitment I’m liable to continue haphazardly feeling good when I remember to, and making little overall change to my consistent emotional state.

At first it’s going to take some effort, because I’m accustomed to just letting my mind wander all over the place.

But to be honest I prefer an “all or nothing” approach over an incremental one.

If this process continues to mirror my diet journey I’ll likely break my commitment a number of times over the next few days and maybe weeks.

Yet each time I break it, I’ll reinforce my intention to stay on track.

Discovering what a happy life looks like

Part of what kept me so intensely motivated during my diet journey was that I had never really been in the “normal” weight range as an adult. I’d always been 10-20 kgs overweight.

So I was inspired by my desire and curiosity to experience life differently, to see what it was like to finally be in the normal BMI range.

Once I got there and maintained it for a year or so the inspiration ran out, and other demands like a new baby changed my eating habits.

The old resolve is hard to recapture, because I already accomplished that body weight goal. I’m not curious about it anymore.

But I am profoundly curious and inspired to see what life will look like when I am consistently happy and feeling good.

Happiness is harder to measure than body weight, but my experience has shown me that small improvements make a big difference.

I also have faith that how we feel is intrinsic to the creation of our reality and the shaping of our individual experience of life.

When you feel really good, bad or irritating or disappointing things cannot insert themselves into your reality anymore.

Feeling good….feels good!

Finally, it’s actually very sensible to learn how to feel good all the time, because feeling good feels good after all!

And on reflection it’s actually deeply silly that we spend so much time either fixating on things that feel bad, or simply letting our attention drift and gravitate into whatever old patterns we have already formed.

It feels bad to feel bad, so why do it if you don’t have to?

Weight loss and happiness

It’s been over a year since I published The Weight-Loss Paradox: an enlightened approach to body weight and diet.

I reread the book recently and what struck me was how intense it is. It’s like a concentrated dose of all the principles and ideas that helped me lose weight and change how I was eating.

Reading it again helped me get back in that mindset, and to appreciate what an intense period of reflection it was.

Ultimately any major behavioural change requires a lot of focus and energy. What made this approach work for me?

Above all it’s about clarity – clarity of purpose and clarity of method. It’s much easier to commit to a path when you know for certain that this path is the right one.

Looking back on it, I can’t say that it’s the definitive approach and I doubt that any approach to diet and weight loss will work if you can’t find it within yourself to focus and change.

It doesn’t matter how straight the path if you refuse to walk it.

In hindsight what I would most like to explore in greater depth is the relationship between our motivation to change, and the need to find sources of happiness other than eating.

I touched on it in the book, but my own motivation was already well established by that stage. For people who are reading, rather than writing, the book – is it really enough to just look for alternative sources of pleasure and enjoyment?

I think next time around I would make this question more central, because I don’t think it’s a coincidence that eating too much goes hand-in-hand with insufficient sources of happiness and enjoyment.

Many of us think we would be happy if we lost weight, but it’s likely the other way around: we would lose weight if we were happy.

And to achieve happiness we need something more than just a change to our eating habits.

What if we made happiness central to our lives, trusting that issues like body weight and lifestyle choices would gradually shift?

After all, over-eating and being overweight are not the happiest experiences in life. As I get deeper into positive-thinking it seems obvious that we overeat partly because we don’t know how to treat ourselves better.

A diet for the mind

I was pretty impressed with my approach to weight loss a couple of years ago, so much so that I wrote a book about it.

One aspect of the diet I remember well is the discipline that came naturally, once I understood they underlying problem. It wasn’t easy, and there was a definite progression to it, but at least it wasn’t arbitrary discipline, or discipline for its own sake.

I remember realising that if I wanted to lose weight I couldn’t afford to eat mindlessly anymore. I couldn’t eat and lie to myself about why I was eating.

In every instance I was either eating because I needed sustenance, or eating for some other motive like pleasure or escapism. Being honest with myself about the motive was the essence of discipline.

Positive thinking

I’m beginning to appreciate that the same kind of discipline is required for “positive thinking” work.

In parallel to the simple dichotomy of food that is either for sustenance or in excess of sustenance (and therefore contributing to weight gain), all thoughts can be categorised as either better-feeling or worse-feeling.

The thought of monitoring every single thought seemed excessively burdensome at first, but this sense of burden was, appropriately, indicative of a negative thought…

It turns out that monitoring every thought, paying attention to the thoughts I am thinking and the feelings that derive from them, is not easy but like a physical diet it instills a positive sense of control and direction.

If eating mindlessly perpetuates the status quo of body weight, so thinking mindlessly perpetuates an emotional set-point.

But if you only eat for sustenance, inevitably your body weight will return to normal. And if you only think thoughts that feel good, inevitably your emotional set-point will attain a net positive.

Promoting The Weight-Loss Paradox

If you have an idea you believe in, all you can do is trust that others will believe in it too, find it beneficial, and then it will succeed.

“Success” is just short-hand for your plans coming to fruition. My plan was to write a short book that describes how I used my skills in philosophy to lose weight.

It won’t help everyone, but I believe enough people will find it worthwhile, insightful, and refreshingly honest.

All I can do beyond that point is try to make people aware of it. I’ve never been big on marketing or social media, so bear with me.

My first step has been to create a Facebook page for the book, which you can find here:

I’ll keep it updated with key ideas and concepts from the book, and other thoughts that helped me arrive at the answers to the weight-loss problem.

My first non-fiction ebook!

When I tell people I’ve been writing a diet book they’re typically speechless.

I choose to interpret their reaction as one of awestruck silence.

Awestruck is incidentally how I felt when I came across the photograph that now adorns the cover of my new ebook, The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet.

I’m also pretty proud of the book itself. It’s not a long book at only 14,000 words, but it’s the culmination of several years of thinking about body weight and the psychology and ethics of eating.

But more than anything it reflects my own success in using my insights and reasoning as a philosopher to help me lose weight without trying. That is, I lost 20kg without feeling like I was trying to lose weight, and I did it in the firm conviction that if I truly understood the whole dynamic of eating and body weight it would change my mind, my relationship with food, and my whole life.

A quick shout-out to my former PhD supervisor Dr John Quilter: this probably isn’t the continuation of my work on free will, intellectualism and voluntarism you were expecting, but on the other hand I bet it’s the only diet book in existence that explicitly asserts “To know the good is to do the good!”

Like anything in life, this book won’t be for everyone. But if you or someone you know is thoroughly sick of the confusion and mixed-messages surrounding dieting and weight loss, or despondent and demotivated at the very thought of losing weight, my book may be exactly what you need.

I’ve been overweight for more than half my life, all my adult life until now. At my worst I was over 100kgs, right at the cusp of obesity according to my BMI (Body Mass Index). I’m now well into the normal range, and my weight stays consistently at or under 85kg.

In hindsight, I used to be someone who valued the enjoyment of eating so highly that I would never turn down good food unless I was physically incapable of eating it. I never understood people who could say no to a second helping of something delicious, or who could refuse a treat. I never even imagined I could be one of those people.

I finally found an approach to eating that makes sense, and I gradually changed my eating habits. I still enjoy food, and I still occasionally overeat. But most of the time my eating habits reflect my body’s actual needs in that moment. Isn’t that the ideal?

But for me the best part is that it’s not about weight anymore. In fact my weight loss really took off when I stopped thinking about it, and focused instead on the deeper motivations and dynamic that was driving my dysfunctional attitude to food.

In the end, being overweight was a symptom of that dysfunctional relationship with food. Weight loss is such a struggle because we expend most of our energy fighting a symptom instead of looking at the root cause.

The Weight-Loss Paradox: an Enlightened Approach to Body Weight and Diet is available exclusively on amazon kindle. If you don’t have a kindle, you can download a free kindle app that lets you read kindle ebooks on your PC or Mac, android or iOS devices. So you can buy the book at Amazon and then download it to the app on your preferred device.

Fake news, junk knowledge, and learning to reason again

My reason hurts. I’ve been neglecting it for too long and it’s now profoundly out of shape. But there is a way back to good rational fitness: you just have to start scrutinising every piece of information that comes your way to a pedantic degree.

My latest article on MercatorNet sets you on the path to avoiding junk knowledge, and learning to reason again:

Every piece of information you take in, and how you treat it, is your choice. The manufacturers of junk knowledge don’t have your best interests at heart. Either intentionally or through ignorance they are out to get you hooked on their product. And while good quality sources of knowledge do exist, it’s up to you to distinguish them from the junk.

It’s up to you because in reality you are a lone, isolated individual mind, with the ability to take in, scrutinise, and reject all the information and propositions that come your way. You don’t have to believe everything you read.

You can instead cultivate a healthy suspicion of every proposition that comes your way, first by learning to recognise that it is a proposition in the first place.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/sick-of-fake-news-how-about-a-junk-knowledge-diet

Revisiting the ideal diet

Back in October 2016 I did a follow-up on my diet. Four or so months on, my weight still hasn’t changed despite making no real effort to control intake or exercise.

I’m proud of this diet I’ve created, not only because it works so well, but because I created it by doing what I do best: analysing a problem, breaking it down to its most basic principles, and finding a radical solution informed by those insights.

Radical comes from radix, meaning root. So a radical solution is one that goes to the roots of the problem.

When it comes to being overweight, the root of the problem is excessive intake of food. People eat for many different reasons, but the only truly essential reason – the purpose of eating – is to sustain us physically.

Being overweight is typically the result of eating for reasons other than sustenance. Eating for pleasure, for escape from unpleasant feelings, for camaraderie, or just out of long-established habits. These behaviours distort our sense of hunger, loading it with emotional needs that go beyond the simple goal of having enough energy to live.

One rule

When we consistently overeat, we forget what it is like to feel genuine hunger. Between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and various snacks, our digestive systems are never really empty. We overeat at every opportunity.

What we really need is to calibrate our sense of hunger, emptiness and fullness. Calibrate it by going without food for a while. Eat nothing until you begin to feel physically tired, a bit shaky, a bit irritable, a bit weak.

That’s your new set-point of hunger.

When you feel that weakness, tiredness, failure to concentrate and irritability, you can eat something. You can eat one bite of something.

One bite is all you’ll need to stave off the hunger and replenish your energy.

Thus the one rule of my diet: only eat enough at any given time to stave off the symptoms of actual hunger.

Can I keep going?

So you’re feeling a little hungry, you’re starting to experience the physical symptoms, and you’re considering eating something.

Before you do that, ask yourself “Can I keep going?”

Often the answer is “Yes”. Our reserves are much greater than we think, especially if we are already overweight.

This doesn’t mean we should keep going to the point of exhaustion. No, the whole point is to sustain our energy levels throughout the day so we can maintain a sound performance in our daily activities.

If your daily activity is sitting at a computer, you probably don’t need much to sustain you. If your daily activity is working in a factory or digging ditches, you’re going to need a bit more.

You don’t want to reach a stage where you physically can’t function. But nor do you want to use the first sign of tiredness or boredom as an excuse to eat something.

Imagine your body is like a furnace. You want to keep it running efficiently by adding fuel as needed to maintain it at a constant temperature. You don’t want to overload it with too much fuel, nor do you want to wait until it nearly dies out before you add more fuel.

Your body will get the message

When you start to calibrate yourself according to the rule, you’ll find that your body responds positively to your new behaviour.

If you stop eating for entertainment, for escapism, to avoid waste, or to clean out the fridge of leftovers, your body will change.

There’s something powerful about declining food you would usually eat, declining it not because you’re stuffed full, not because you’re trying to force yourself to meet some arbitrary dietary regime, but because you recognise that your body doesn’t need it – and any other reason for eating is not good enough.

If you adhere to the rule, you’ll find that losing weight happens quickly and quietly.

The catch

Every diet has a catch, a hidden difficulty or challenge. In some diets you can eat whatever you want, but you have to carefully control portions. In other diets you can eat as much as you want of certain foods. These diets appeal to different aspects of our appetite and for some people they work.

The catch in my diet is that you’ll quickly discover the hidden emotional causes behind your normal eating habits. There are reasons why we eat more than we need to. The moment you decide to follow the rule of my diet, you’ll find yourself assailed by whatever fears and negative emotions usually motivate you to eat.

Perhaps you’ll experience an awful feeling of emptiness and pointlessness that you usually fill with food. Maybe you’ll discover you’re lonely, or bored, or depressed, or that you just don’t have enough sources of enjoyment in your life other than food.

It’s going to be painful. But at least you’ll know that it’s painful, why it’s painful, and that eating is not the answer. Even if you succumb to these feelings and overeat, you’ll do so knowing that you’re eating for emotional reasons, not real hunger.

Gradually you’ll learn to recategorise things. You’ll see that what you used to experience as “hunger” is actually boredom, fear, emptiness, sadness, or similar.

In this sense, my diet is more demanding than others. But at least the demands are clear.