Some Things I've Learned
Monday, November 28, 2011
I am not known for being a person who does well with the whole “moderation” thing. I tend to go a bit overboard on things. I had an interesting conversation last week with my academic mentor, who cautioned me about “overload paralysis.” In short, he worried that I have too many interests and that I tend to take on too much stuff at once. “Just do one thing at a time,” he advised, “or you might not ever finish anything.”
It seemed like a particularly relevant piece of advice for Thanksgiving week. Anyone who read my blog a few weeks back knows that I had a plan to re-work my life and my behaviors. On top of the changes I wanted to make (more exercise, earlier rising, etc.), my wife (Hope2011) and I have adopted an entirely plant-based diet. We consume no animal products of any kind: no meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. And we also walked our first 5K. (We had to walk it: our doctor has instructed us that we are currently not to run unless it is to save our lives. I have back trouble and minor knee problems… he actually said, “Unless you need to escape a bear, I never want you to run.”) So, in the span of a few weeks, we’ve changed radically. And the eating part of the plan seems to be going quite well!
But what about the other parts of my plan? I slept in twice this week, despite my plan to get up early as a way to get more exercise and writing time. I did neither yoga nor Tai Chi last week. And I did no training or prep for the 5K. Despite the food success, I just didn’t really have positive feelings about my health and fitness this week. And I actually GAINED weight, despite the food changes. We might be a vegan household now, but we still feasted on Thanksgiving. That weight gain hit me hard.
On one hand, I just wanted to shrug my shoulders. “No big deal, right? You fall off the horse, and you get right back on. After all, a little bit of bad food isn’t going to kill you.” While that MIGHT be true, I don’t think that is the way I should be thinking about it. And this gets me back to my central problem: moderation.
I don’t really think that moderation is always the way that a problem should be handled. I will certainly grant you that some problems can be treated with moderation: if your household is financially struggling, you don’t have to suddenly stop all spending—you can prioritize, and adopt a more moderate strategy. On the other hand, if your house is on fire, moderation isn’t going to help. “I’ll try to put out a little bit of the fire, and see how it goes” just isn’t going to work. Sometimes, moderation kills. It really came home for me when, on Friday night, my family was sitting together, reading as a hockey game was on quietly in the background. We decided that we wanted something a little extra to eat, and that I would go out for it when the hockey game was over. We considered stepping away from out plant-based diet for just one night. I had a serious craving for chocolate, and it WAS the day after Thanksgiving, after all.
And then I realized something. If I made an excuse for that day, what would keep me from making the excuse again? And again? And then ramping it up… we’ve already said that the occasional bit of chocolate is okay, so why not the occasional doughnut? Or the occasional ice cream sandwich? Or the occasional barbecued pork sandwich? I knew that if I caved on that small thing, I would soon be back to eating the junk that got me to being an unhealthy hulking slab of manflesh in the first place.
Moderation might be fine for some people. But if your habits are so out-of-whack that they are putting your life in danger, then moderation isn’t going to save you. Sure, it might make you slightly healthier or live slightly longer. But slight changes aren’t my goal. My goal is a complete overhaul of my life, both physically and psychologically. I don’t want to be a little bit better; I want to be better in every way. For me, that means that I can’t take half-steps.
I have learned a few interesting things just in the first few weeks of this new plan, including:
• Being vegan doesn’t mean automatic weight-loss. You still have to watch how much you push into the hole in your face.
• It is easier to do something new if people you love are willing to join you. Hope2011 has been instrumental in keeping me on track (I just hope I have been a good support for her), and the fact that our son also is willing to join us in our eating plan (at least sometimes) has made a big difference!
• Bananas, applesauce, and avocados can serve as a good stand-in for eggs in most dishes.
• A 5k is A LOT harder than I expected!
• It is possible to hate something while you are doing it, but feel great about it after (and thanks to my lovely wife for that lesson).
• The social pressure to eat meat is huge… I never realized how bombarded we are with meat-based images in American culture until I tried to go without it again.
• Cravings CAN be ignored. And if you can ignore them or avoid them long enough, they eventually go away. It took two weeks, but I no longer crave chocolate. (I hope the doughnut cravings pass soon!)
To my American friends, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. And to everyone else out there, I hope your weight-loss journey is going well!