Well, I think that there are definitely two kinds of people in the world: those for whom Western food holds a sometimes seemingly irresistible allure and those for whom it doesn’t.
People in the latter category? Most of the paleo gurus it seems. Folks like Stephan Guyenet and Chris Kresser, both of whom recommend (and appear to follow) a low-reward, simple paleo diet. And from the paleo archives, there’s KGH, who says we should just “say no to the cake.”
Also in this category are seemingly successful (weight-wise anyways) bloggers who occasionally make fun of their struggling peers. Having maintained a 125-pound weight loss years ago as a more-or-less exercise bulemic (until my mom passed away and I succumbed to old patterns), I think they’d be wise to show a little more compassion … they might need it down the road. But that’s just me.
People in the former category? If the obesity rate in the Western world is any clue, it’s a whole lotta folks.
Willpower anyone? And now there’s the unnamed Paleo Plan reader who writes:
My only real obstacle [with paleo] is my obsession with orally fixating myself with food. I love good, healthy food and know how good I feel when eating just as described the Paleo way… it’s just my willpower.
The Paleo Plan response matches my experience, which is pretty much: if you stop eating these things, your desire for them will lessen. And then it concludes (emphasis mine):
Just TRY IT. Have some self control and try Paleo for a good, solid two weeks where you don’t let yourself cave to your cravings. You can do it. See what happens when you have satisfying foods that keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. See what happens when you have enough respect for yourself and your health to NOT eat shit instead of healthy foods.
Seriously, even if that IS it, I’m not exactly sure how this kind of response is helpful.
One thought I’ve had, having struggled with this for decades, is that learning how to avoid the siren call of crappy food may be like learning to ride a bike. It’s hard. And people who can do it easily may be inspirational, and may show you that it’s doable, but they are NOT really going to be that helpful in helping YOU learn how.
I mean, imagine writing a blog post telling someone how to ride a bike. “Just TRY it. Hop on the seat, push forward, keep your balance and pedal. How hard is that?”
Or maybe it’s like learning to downhill ski. When you first give it a try, you aren’t able to do double-black, mogul-filled slopes initially. You start on the bunny slope, and you fall. A lot. And that’s how you get better. In fact, some folks in addiction think that the idea of 100% abstinence is unrealistic and deters folks from more meaningful functional recovery. So maybe having willpower slips are just the clues you need to keep tweaking what you’re doing.
Got respect? The reality is that people often do things that don’t appear to “respect” themselves or their health. They stay in bad marriages or bad jobs. They smoke or drink too much. They don’t get enough sleep and get too much TV or Internet time.
People do these things for all sorts or reasons. And in the case of overeating or eating the wrong things, some of these might include internal or external cues and/or learned behavior and/or stressful lives.
This tweet from BJ Fogg resonated with me today:
The bottom line is that when it’s easy, it’s easy. And when it’s hard, it’s hard. The real trick is to learn what to do when it’s hard. And sometimes just knowing the right — or “respectful” thing is not enough. If it was, we wouldn’t be struggling.
You’re still on the hook. Now, that said, Chris Kresser is exactly right when he says that “no one is coming to save you. You’ve got to do the work yourself.” Kresser is promoting a cognitive behavioral therapy program by Dr. Dan Lippman called the Health Switch. I sometimes tire of these slick marketing promos (“act in the next 6 minutes and we’ll throw in two ginsu knives!”), but if I had all the answers I’d be done. So I need to look to see what others can offer.
I think that success is going to come to those who want to eat in a healthy way most of the time. For those of us who want to eat in a less than healthy way too often, good nutrition and exercise is a start, but it may not be enough. On the other hand, while I agree with the concept of innate intelligence and the mind/body connection, I don’t believe a purely intuitive eating approach is it either (you cannot just intuit that you need specific micronutrients for good brain function).
I think paleo can take care of the latter (assuming you go for some of the icky stuff like offal and shellfish), but it isn’t a panacea. If willpower is an issue, you need more than nutrition and exercise.
I don’t know anything about Lippman’s program but for $67 I may go ahead and kick the tires. But I also like this online Acceptance & Commitment Training program and it’s free! It’s based on the idea that our brain sees internal negative thoughts as the same kind of threat as we used to see the tiger. And for those of us who’ve learned we can defeat the tiger, I mean manage stress, with food, that’s a big problem. What we need to do is to give the mind a different way to deal.
Easier said than done, but that’s really it in a nutshell I think.
Slow and steady wins the race. When I think of where I could be right now (read: pushing goal) had I not yo-yo’d starting at Christmas, I get frustrated. But then I realize that my goal here is not a certain number of pounds lost but to actually get to the place where I want to eat the way I want to eat … for good.
And I remember that slow progress is still progress. Here’s to persistence!
Photo credit: Adam Rose