I was viciously against having to eat healthy yesterday. If you’d spoken the word willpower to me, I’d have envisioned long walks on short piers for you (while I absconded with your clothes). Seriously, I didn’t want to hear it–not one more admonition from myself or anyone else about eating right. I had major do-right fatigue.
Then, one intervening minute later, I was nearly hostile for celery. I mean, I’d have sparred you for the last stalk. And I genuinely wanted it, not out of obligation or guilt. Feelings are so fickle.
Clearly we can’t follow our feelings if we’re going to eat well. Feelings are exactly what most threaten us in the battle against abundant junk food–a modern Goliath. So, rely on feelings we can’t, but get our feelings to cooperate when at all humanly possible? I’m for that, oh yes, please. So when my feelings start at, “Pass the gallon of ice cream, and go away,” then end at, “Give me celery, or I’ll die, right here,” I greatly value what happens in between. It’s worth sharing, because it totally works.
Here’s a confession first: I love ice cream and chocolate and cake. (I realize that’s like saying, “Puppies are cute” or “Vacations are nice.”) I know you can hear me smiling even as I speak the word: sugar. My fellow addicts and I get high just reading the word. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Pass the insulin. But who cares right now? Sugar!
Two tiny choices, however, switched me over to wanting the celery more than the junk–without faking or forcing it. That was it. Two.
Tiny Choice One: Read anything about nutrition
It sounds vague? Let me rethink. Yup, that’s exactly what I meant. Read anything.
You think I kid. But this has to be doable in my moment of temptation, and stat, or it’s ice cream, here I come. So, when I’m struggling to respect my body, I read anything at all about the power of food, for good or for evil–preferably a food I have on hand so I can eat it (good) or trash it (evil) immediately.
This time, I googled “nutritional properties of celery,” because my husband is downing it like candy, so it’s around (like stalks and stalks and stalks in coolers of ice water, around). I skimmed only the first few celery links that popped up. The heavens opened, angels sang and celery descended on a unicorn galloping down a rainbow. Well, no, but the shift in my motivational atmosphere felt that dramatic.
I can hear someone resisting now (there’s always one in every crowd). Therefore, I will grant you this concession, Resistor: You can’t believe everything you read on the internet. And if I didn’t have a pretty deep foundation of study to build on, maybe I wouldn’t start by randomly opening the internet and pointing to a sentence, hoping it would enlighten and inspire me nutritionally. But, then again, I probably would.
Most of us aren’t looking to take the Hippocratic Oath; we’re not aiming for the title of dietitian or physician. We won’t be advising each other. The vast majority of us are looking to simply inspire ourselves to do the thing we already know to do–eat better. Reading for even a minute about what nature-made food can do for the body (or what lab-created foods steal from it) has almost never failed to motivate me.
The power of food as medicine is fascinating, wonderful, stunning. I’ve lived it long and hard (as one who turned to it for help when modern medicine couldn’t assist me), so I can testify. Good food might not be as fast acting as a magic (bullet) pill, but it’s certainly a deeper, more genuine healing with only positive side-effects.
Taking a quick dose of education in a weak moment focuses my mind on the positive thing I truly want to do deep (DEEP) down and stops me from obsessing over the harmful thing I’m about to do (did someone say cake?). It also puts right in front of my face the very tangible reward(s) for choosing well. And choosing well overall is composed of each one of these tiny choose-well moments.
As for celery, then, I was instantly swayed by learning that celery has a compound shown in studies to relax the lining of the arteries, thereby helping to lower blood pressure. Who doesn’t want to preserve their one and only heart?
For the skeptics, let’s just say this celery factoid turned out to be hooey-balooey. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll eat celery and, ooh, I might lose too much water weight (it’s a diuretic). Scary. Better be careful of that internet trickery. But, if it makes you feel better, check a cred or two on a website (or whether they’re trying to sell you something expensive, but that doesn’t necessary discredit them). Maybe verify information against several sources, but don’t get so hung up that you won’t even start. It’s better to grab handy information than none at all, which I clearly wouldn’t say on every topic. However, I hypothesize that there aren’t a lot of malicious or deceptive attempts flying around out there to hustle you into eating more celery (just guessing). It doesn’t seem there’d be much stake in it.
Anyway, in the end, you may or may not remember exactly how celery does what and why for your body. No worries. You’ll totally remember that celery does powerful things, and in your moment of need, it just may have tamed your tempter.
If you want to go deeper, Jillian Michaels has a remarkable genius for balanced nutrition. I can also recommend the book F-Factor Diet by Tanya Zuckerbrot if you want to know how the body uses carbohydrates. She and I disagree a wee bit on whether some foods are healthy, but by the end you’ll have a user-friendly understanding of how and why your body stores fat. This book is especially stellar if you’re trying to break free from the carbs-are-bad mental cage. Because, really, if anyone suggests to you that an apple is a poor food choice (anywhere outside the Garden of Eden), you might suggest to them that they’re from la la land. Come on.
Tiny Choice Two: Remember the difference between dopamine (being controlled) and serotonin (being in control)
Doctors, experts and know-it-all’s, don’t slay me here (and please plug your ears if you take your technical terms overly seriously). I’m going to use my pedestrian language to attempt inspiration, not thorough education, regarding two brain chemicals.
Here ‘tis. Dopamine is the roller coaster high after a quick hit of intense pleasure (not always a bad thing, mind you, so long as you realize coasters always have to come down, too). Serotonin is the sustainable, calm joy of floating on relaxing and steady waters.
At its oversimplified, simplest simplification, the addicted body craves dopamine. Think smartphone dings or Facebook “likes,” for example. The more (dopamine) dings we get, the more (dopamine) dings we want in order to stay happy (think picking up your phone to check it even when it hasn’t dinged yet). But what a chore and disappointment it is in the end, addicts of any kind know, to be controlled by any kind of external (ding) crutch. Giving up power to indulge a substance or experience is a never-ending chase. Sugar is one such substance that seduces you into the dopamine game, with it as captain.
Controlling oneself by choosing wise and healthy things, however, with a nod to delayed gratification and less external stimulation is like swimming in a serene sea of (serotonin) peace. It’s well-being isn’t fleeting like dopamine’s. It’s a companion you may have to work a little harder to get to the party, but once there, it sticks around and supports your life dreams like no other. It’s a source of good sleep, emotional stability, supreme presence in the moment, looking good, heightened memory, increased productivity and other tangible rewards. It’s the feel good without the feel bad interspersed. It’s a happiness that’s more enduring and less interrupted by the escalating need for a quick fix to function.
I want serotonin. I don’t want to live in a prison of my own shortsighted, momentarily gratified making. I don’t want to stare out at life through metal bars held apparently immovable by a controlling substance when the door isn’t even actually locked. It’s my choice, and I want to live free. To do so, it takes fighting the good fight against food that controls the brain, replacing it with food that feeds and refines the brain.
Therefore, sugar, I hereby declare my manifesto: I’ll have you when I have you, but you won’t have me. I’m the boss here. I refuse to let my will and self-determination be crowded out by a cupcake. With God as my witness and help, I am stronger than you, beautiful, lying cupcake. And I choose to pick up this banner again as many times as I drop it (because it’s not how many times you fall, but…).
I expertly illustrated my own point recently by not showing an ice cream cake who’s boss, eating a piece approximately the size of my face, give or take. I crashed hard to the point of hardly functioning. We’ll lose a battle here and there, because we’re human. But we can win the war, because it doesn’t take perfection to allow serotonin to dominate if we step up the majority of the time.
If you’re like me, you crave what you shouldn’t when life treats you like you wish it wouldn’t. In those moments, I need an instant lifeline that convinces me to care about myself over a false high. Read (anything). Remember (prison).
God speed, and good luck. If I know sugar at all, I know we’ll need it.
With Hope and Heart in Hand,
Presented by Writers Block Prose, LLC