Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The right dose of Self-Denial

Saying no is hard, until it becomes too easy.

When I was a teenager, I had no problems with denying myself food. Food wasn't appealing to me, skinny was. What's interesting is I don't remember not eating on purpose to be skinny, I just remember not wanting to eat. Dinner suggestions never sounded appealing, most food never tasted good, and if I ate more than a few bites I felt sick to my stomach. I was what you might call "an appetizer-eater." I could be completely satisfied by a small order of queso and some tortillas, or the free bread rolls at Italian restaurants, or an order of fries. It was stupid for me to ever order a meal out, because I barely ate any of it. I always needed to go halvsies - or even quartersies - with someone else. I survived on Dr. Pepper, Sour Skittles, and chips and crackers.

What I would as an adult now identify as a mild form of an eating disorder, was then just seen as bad habits and poor choices by my parents. My mother was baffled by the fact I was never hungry. I fully maintain that I was emotionally and psychologically innocent of purposefully starving myself. I ate when I was truly hungry; it was just rare that I was hungry. I didn't make myself go without food for long periods of time as punishment, or throw up what I did manage to eat, but my dietary habits were certainly disorderly. It was wonderful feeling light, but not lightheaded. It felt good to feel empty inside. It was something I had control over, in my desired to be an independent teenager.

Like many other people, my story changed when I went to college. Over the course of those 4 years, food started becoming my comforter, rather than my enemy. I was still making seriously bad choices, but I was eating more regularly and sometimes stuffing myself, on a bad day. A broken heart, lots of late nights, and stress do terrible things to your relationship with food. And your relationships with people - but that's another story for another day. We ate whatever we wanted, because we were young and invincible, and it was cheap. When I graduated, I immediately entered into a long-term serious relationship. I felt comfortable with that relationship and therefore my body image, and I stopped being so self-conscious about things like weight. That long-term, serious relationship ended in marriage, and an extra 20 lbs later, and I'm back to denying myself food... yet again. This time, the bad stuff.

This week I've been contemplating Self-Denial quite a bit. It is that time... Lent is approaching and soon Facebook will be flooded with everyone announcing what they plan to "give up" for six weeks, whether it's a part of their organized religion or not. What martyrs we are: giving up TV, makeup,  porn, sugar, carbs, etc; pats on the back everyone! (I'll just drop the bomb now: I will be "giving up" Facebook like a true repentant, personal usage - not business, probably a few weeks early just so I can avoid everyone else's announcements. It's time we took a little break, Facebook and me, especially because Facebook is all selfishness and self-promotion.)

I think Self-Denial in itself can become a fixation (see eating disorders), and can lead to unhealthy priorities. At first, it's rough saying no to cheese or soda, but little by little you feel empowered. It's interesting that we feel empowered by saying "no" to ourselves, when really we have complete control over what we do all the time to begin with. Still, we see each act of willpower as a little victory. It's like we win a little war every time we resist an Oreo cookie. I feel the need to brag to someone when all I had for lunch was raw green peppers and celery. Yes, I feel part rabbit, but also part superhero. But my fear is always that I will end up like the Comte from Chocolat, who fasts for weeks because his wife has left him, and then becomes embittered, angry, and vengeful, and ends up like this:

(oh, ignore the Russian dialogue at the end, this was the only clip I could find)

(Yep, if I'm not careful, chocolate will be my downfall.)

In all seriousness, what I'm trying to do differently this year is find the balance. I want to eat healthily, but not feel like I'm "missing out" every time we order at a restaurant with friends. I want to grow to where I appreciate and enjoy healthier choices, rather than selecting them just because I know they are right for me. I want to be able to have a little candy here and there, or bake some cookies, or (gasp!) drink a soda when the mood strikes me, all in moderation. But before we get to that point, I do have to reestablish willpower and control over my choices: mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

I'm searching for the right dose of self-denial in my life. The one I can maintain long-term, without negative affects. And not just until Lent has passed.

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