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.

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.

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.

Revisiting my approach to diet

I’ve gained weight in the past few months, and to me this is a visible indicator that my relationship with food has changed.

My environment has changed, and my inner world has changed too. I’m happier than ever, but I’ve also let go of some hobbies and interests that used to bring me pleasure.

So my overall balance of happiness needs some recalibrating.

This time around it’s immediately clear that my diet changes my perception of eating from “entertainment” to a source of energy for my body.

I can eat whatever I want; but if I’m eating more than I need to keep going in all my other activities, I’m over-eating by definition. That will be reflected in my physical condition.

And of course there’s the question: why am I eating more than I need to keep going?

The answer is always either for the pleasure of it, or to escape unpleasant emotions.

The solution is to find more alternative sources of enjoyment and pleasure in life, and to allow myself to feel the unpleasant emotions rather than escaping into food.

That latter path may require professional support from a psychologist or counsellor.

I sometimes go jogging and I often practice a martial art. Both count as exercise, but they are also sources of pleasure that give me options other than eating to boost my happiness.

I can’t eat while I’m training, and training keeps me occupied and happy. But I haven’t been able to train for a month, and I’ve also let go of the pleasurable problem-solving aspect of training that had kept me mentally stimulated for years.

For me, at this stage in life, pleasure will come from moving towards my goals. That sense of purpose and direction (even if it’s just “enjoy life more”) puts eating into its rightful place as a support and enhancement of more important and pleasurable things in life.

Are you really a cynic?

I thought I was cynical, until I read the following chart courtesy of etymonline.com:

humor

As the table indicates, for me to be a cynic I must be exposing moral nakedness to the respectable for the sake of my own self-justification.

This is not what I thought cynicism was. It’s not what I do.

What I do is much more like privately expressing pessimism in the face of adversity for the sake of my own relief: sardonicism.

A cynic is someone who justifies their own actions by exposing the moral “nakedness” or hypocrisy of others. Like a drug addict who argues that “we’re all addicted to something”, or a thief who argues that “the rich cheat on their taxes”.

Sardonicism is instead like bitter laughter during hard times. Pessimism – expecting the worst – becomes a defense against adverse events.

Are you truly cynical, or sardonic?  The two are not mutually exclusive – I can use sardonic pessimism to cynically justify my actions, and use cynicism to justify being pessimistic. None of this is very positive, grounded as it is in defensive and negative perspectives of life. Like any defense, it may well be our least-bad response to danger and adversity, but it’s not good to live for long in a defensive state.

A response to adversity ought, ideally, to free us from adversity. Once we are free we can abandon the response. If we never abandon the response, it is either because we are unable to free ourselves – suggesting the response was futile – or because we anticipate recurrences – suggesting the response is only barely sufficient.

Unpacking sardonicism further: I use my expectation of the worst to provide relief when bad things happen. Adversity is easier to deal with when it falls short of one’s worst expectations. “Is that how hard you can hit me? I’m kinda disappointed.”

But pessimism is a self-inflicted injury designed to dull your sensitivity to disappointment, hurt, grief, and longing. Expecting the worst might limit your disappointment, but it also leaves you mired in a kind of desolation where nothing really good can happen. “Good” is not simply the absence of evil.

Time and energy devoted to pessimism could be better spent cultivating that which our pessimism seeks to defend: the full integrity of our own selves. Yet as a defense, pessimism doesn’t even try to avoid life’s blows, merely to soften them. Like bracing for impact, it hopes merely to not be taken by surprise.  Such a strategy makes sense only if we already believe that the evils in life are unavoidable, that we will be surprised unless we exert the constant vigilance of a pessimistic mind.  Pessimism is an attempt to take control of a hostile and adverse environment by adjusting one’s expectations to it.  It treats fear – the anticipation of evils – as one of life’s indelible characteristics.

That the world is full of evils is hard to deny. That these evils sometimes take us by surprise is also evident. To adopt pessimism in an attempt to at least forestall surprise makes sense, but is ultimately a terrible way to live. I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but time has exhausted my patience with pessimism.  Avoiding sorrow is not the same as pursuing happiness, and rejecting the pursuit of happiness for fear of increasing the risk of sorrow shows an incomplete understanding of happiness and sorrow, good and evil, in the first place.

I have arrived at a position in life where the greatest obstacle to my own happiness lies in my efforts to avoid suffering and sorrow. More importantly, the need for positive direction, for creativity, and an inspiring purpose demands that I put aside pessimism and attend, for once, to the makings of a pleased and happy frame of mind.