Monday, June 29, 2015

Diet Akrasia



I’ve been really struggling with my diet lately. Well, no. That’s not exactly true. Saying I’m “struggling” would suggest I’m putting up a fight, but lately it seems I’ve been surrendering the moment a craving for junk food hits. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I’m struggling to muster the strength to even try to struggle. The nearly 40 lbs I’ve gained in the past couple of months indicates that I’m clearly not struggling hard enough.

The good news is, I’m still 75 lbs lighter than I was when I started my diet last June. The bad news is, last week that number was 80 lbs. And the week before that it was 85, and so on, for a couple of months now. That’s 5 lbs per week I’m gaining. If my math is correct, after accounting for the calories necessary just to maintain my current weight, I must be consuming roughly 6000 calories per day to be gaining at that rate. That’s the caloric equivalent of roughly three dozen chicken soft tacos from Taco Bell. I’m not actually eating 36 soft tacos per day, of course, because obviously I need to leave room for donuts.

Some of you are probably thinking, "How hard can it be to just not eat junk food? Just don't buy it." Try to understand, it is just as hard for me to not eat a donut when the compulsion hits as it is for a smoker to just not light up a cigarette or an alcoholic to just not take a drink when their cravings come. I suffer–in the truest sense of the word–from binge eating disorder. And it really sucks. (see my previous post about it here).  

Sometimes the weight loss fire ignites and I feel like I have superhuman willpower for weeks or even months at a time, but it invariably gets snuffed out. And right now I'm feeling decidedly snuffed. I have yet to determine the components of the Greek fire that sets me ablaze from time to time, but I desperately wish I could master the alchemy. Sometimes pleas for support on Facebook will do the trick, sometimes it’s an article I happen to stumble upon online, or a video of a random dieter’s remarkable journey. But just because something sparks me once doesn’t guarantee it’ll work a second time.

For the record, my wife Traci is and always has been unbelievably supportive as I’ve battled with my weight (and sundry demons), and her very existence, along with Annika’s, makes me want to keep trying, but I’m afraid even the resplendent, radiant power of love is often no match for the despotic forces of disordered eating.

I’ve always found comfort in knowing I’m not alone in my struggles. The Apostle Paul was fairly upfront about his inner conflicts, and I think he speaks for all of us in Romans 7:15 when he laments, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” If you can slog your way through the viscous syntactic quagmire known as the King James Version, you’ll find Paul expressing deep frustration at the fact that he keeps doing the things he knows he shouldn’t do and wondering why he doesn’t do the things he knows he should do. Right there with you, Paul. I feel that.

The struggle Paul describes is known to philosophers as akrasia. It’s a Greek word that refers to the state of mind in which we act against our better judgment through weakness of will. Ancient philosophers and prophets struggled to understand why we would ever do something to ourselves that would threaten our own best interests. It’s seems so simple; just always do what is truly best for yourself and avoid that which will cause you harm. Yet we sabotage our own best interests pretty much every day. We find ourselves doing lots of things we know we shouldn’t do and we can’t seem to bring ourselves to do the things we know we should do. That’s akrasia for you.

So to liken Paul’s words unto myself, why do I keep eating cheeseburgers and cookies and donuts (a.k.a. “lunch”) when I know they’ll make me feel disgusting and will inevitably lead to weight gain? Why don’t I eat more fruits and veggies when I know they will make me feel lighter and healthier? Why don’t I exercise regularly when I know it will make me feel stronger and happier?

Why? Because I’ve got me a bad case of diet akrasia, that's why. I know with a sure knowledge that eating a donut will fill me with equal parts fat and remorse, but the moment the temptation hits all I can think about is how it will scratch an itch that cannot be scratched any other way. And even though it’s what I hate, "that do I." You may not share my specific struggles with food, but I’m guessing most of you have your own little akrasia thing going on, so maybe let’s all just cut each other some slack when we catch each other doing unreasonably stupid, self-destructive stuff. Apparently that’s just how we all roll.

I’m offering no solutions here, by the way. This is venting, pure and simple, but admittedly written with a glimmer of hope that the act of introspection itself might give me a fresh perspective as I search for kindling to get my fire burning bright again.


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