I had a conversation yesterday with some friends about extreme measures that people go to to effect change in their lives, particularly in dieting. Extreme diet examples are practically never ending, and include going all-out, no-cheat-day paleo, subsisting entirely on liquids, or going vegan. To the vast majority of people, these things are crazy, and rightfully so – switching over to them can interrupt your life in profound ways, in ways that might make you less happy than you were before. Then why do we often feel like the only way to get to be the most awesome version of ourselves is to follow those plans? Why must we give things up entirely, no buts, in order to feel like we’re doing the “right” thing?
Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are plenty of instances where giving things up entirely is completely appropriate. For instance, I see absolutely no reason for the consumption of soft drinks, and honestly believe that no one should drink them. To me, they are a giant source of empty calories (and chemicals), and should be avoided entirely. But some people love them, and absolutely do not want to give them up, and I get that (to a certain extent). Many people feel the same way about alcohol as I do about soft drinks, and I get that too, even if I don’t practice it myself. I feel similarly about certain aspects of the Whole 30 diet – while the amount of stuff you have to give up for 30 days is extreme, it’s only 30 days. If you struggle with your eating habits overall, I think proving to yourself that you can keep up a strict diet for a month can do wonders for your overall success. You realize that making excuses for “holidays” “cheat days” and “special occasions” is your downfall in the beginning, and getting through those first temptations can propel you a long ways towards your goal.
The thing about giving up soft drinks or going on a strict diet for 30 days, though, is that both are a pretty minor deal. Yes, if you’re addicted to Diet Coke giving up soft drinks seems like a huge deal for you, but it’s nothing like giving up all processed foods for the rest of time. Or switching to drinking green juices for the rest of time. And it’s those latter examples, examples of extreme asceticism, where I just can’t get on board. The problem is I can’t stop feeling like I would be a better all-around person if I was able to hold myself to those extreme standards. Why is that?
I think one contributing factor is how amazing feats of dieting are featured in the media. Think of the wealth of examples – stories about crazy diets celebrities go on to get in shape for movies, articles in fitness magazines featuring people who lost a bunch of weight by eating 1,000 calories a day and working out all the time, TV shows like The Biggest Loser where you literally watch people work out for hours and hours a day…and the list doesn’t end. But you can’t blame the media for everything (try as we might) and I think there’s a second, important factor. I think we all believe that there is a formula for being a super human. I think we think that if we followed some of these crazy plans, it’s absolutely possible to cheat hurting, aging, death. And at the end of the day, I think that’s a completely wrong way of thinking. All of those things are coming for us, and while we can certainly slow them down, there’s no formula for eliminating them completely. And we shouldn’t be projecting those hopes onto these crazy dieting schemes.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a little slow, pudgy, and generally unhealthy, so as you can probably tell from the subject matter fo this post, dieting has been on my mind. While I’m determined to cut back on the unhealthy components of my diet, at the end of the day, the happiness I derive from eating a good meal in the company of good friends is much, much more than the pleasure I get from never feeling fat in my jeans. As a result, I won’t be giving up big dinners with friends on Saturday nights or the occasional slice of cake. What I will be giving up on is feeling defeated every time I start craving frozen yogurt. Forcing myself to eat “clean” 24/7 will not make me a super human, but balancing feeling healthy with a vibrant social life will make me super happy. And I think I heard somewhere that healthy happiness leads to a long life…
I hope everyone has a wonderful Wednesday!