Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sobering.

I've been running a 60 day food cleanup challenge for those of my clients who wanted to participate.  Everyone has been doing great, but some very interesting issues have been coming up.  One thing in particular that I find compelling is that people are mourning the loss of their taste for bad food habits. One client expressed his sadness that he's lost his taste for many of the junk foods he used to love.  Another lamented her newfound inability to have more than one serving of alcohol at a sitting.  When I asked them why they missed these things, they both gave more or less the same reasons:  they missed the social component of having these things.  One missed the pleasure the food would give him.  One missed trying out all kinds of different wines and the fact that she and her friends would get together and drink "really good stuff."

The psychology of food and drink is absolutely fascinating to me (it is for this reason that I'll be getting my master's degree and subsequent PhD in Health Psychology starting this month).  We form very odd relationships with our food.  It's our friend, our enemy, our therapist, our reward, our punishment, our go-to activity when we're bored.  We get defensive about it, attached to it, protective of it.  It brings us pleasure and pain.  It conjures up images of our childhood and of happy and not-so-happy times.  We forge and break friendships over it.  It is a powerful force, indeed. 

But should food and drink have this kind of power over us?  Should our ability to socialize be contingent on the presence of fries, chips, sweets, and/or alcohol?  And should our ability to conquer our dependence on these substances (which are all addictive in their own way) be something to be bummed about?

Angry cake is angry.


In thinking about these things, here's some food for thought (<-- see what I did there?):

1)  Are there other social things you can do that don't involve alcohol or junk food?  Is it possible to be social without these crutches?
                Case in point:  I went to the University of Wisconsin/Madison for my undergrad.  It was, at least at the time, one of Playboy Magazine's Top Party Schools.  I went to plenty of parties and had a very active social life.  I've lived in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Italy.  I have a sort of reputation as "that chick who knows everyone," and I sing in bars on a regular basis with heavy metal bands.  I've always been the first one on the dance floor and the one everyone else would point to and say, "I'll have what she's having."  Now, here's the kicker:  I've never had more than a few sips of alcohol (I've just never really had any interest in the stuff), tried a drug, smoked a cigarette, or anything of the sort.  So I can say that absolutely and without a doubt that yes, it is very easy to be social without alcohol.  I know I'm an odd duck.  It may be a different way of thinking for most people, but then again, so is healthy eating.  You just have to learn to be comfortable in your own body without it, and not care what anyone else thinks about your choices.  And that, in and of itself, is an important road to travel.

2)  What are some healthier, non-food or beverage things that you enjoy, that give you pleasure, that make you smile?  Do more of these. 

3) Are the side effects of your bad habits worth it?  And are your newfound healthy habits worth sacrificing?

4)  No one expects perfection.  Nor should you strive for it.  You don't need to quit drinking alcohol completely or give up all your favorite foods in favor of kale salads forever.  A basic rule of thumb is 90% lovely, 10% evil.  Indulge in your vices, but limit it to one evil meal per week, or a very small amount of your vice foods a few times per week.  You will not be depriving yourself, although it is pretty likely that you won't get as much pleasure from those things any more after a while, and might lose a fair amount of your tolerance for them.  And, honestly, that really isn't such a bad thing.  You're gaining a healthier body and releasing your dependence on junk foods and drinks.  You are likely inspiring others to get healthier, as well.  And there's nothing to regret about that.

In the meantime, find pleasure in healthy foods such as vibrantly-colored vegetables, juicy fresh fruit, healthy fats, and lean proteins.  They are delicious, nutritious, and filling, and can give you just as much satisfaction (if not more) as their not-so-healthy counterparts.  Change your mind, and your body will follow.  There's nothing wrong with having pleasure in what you eat and drink, or to have social times around food events.  But food and drink will not solve your problems (and might compound them), will not fix what ails you, and will not replace your losses.  Furthermore, your friendships will not suffer from your not indulging in dessert or alcohol (and if they do, you need new friends).  If you *need* alcohol or food in order to socialize or relax, you may need to take a step back and figure out what is really going on, or possibly speak to a professional. 

Food is awesome.  But it should never be in charge of your life.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

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