Chinese music always sets me free
Sound good to me
When all my dime dancin' is through
I run to you
--Steely Dan, "Aja," from the album of the same name (1977)
So, a few final thoughts:
I suppose one could look at my current intense focus on this whole health regimen thing and wonder about obsessive-compulsive disorder. But as the instructor of my health class over at my HMO is fond of saying, folks like me have ingrained all sorts of counterproductive food and health habits over years and decades of reinforcement; it's only logical that it would take an equal amount of effort to deprogram all those behaviors and replace them with healthier ones. Besides, as a foodie I was already spending tons of time thinking about food anyway, so, nu, like this is so different?
The plain fact of the matter is that "will power" alone--i.e. reliance solely on conscious commitment to be healthier--can only take one so far in behavioral change. It doesn't address the behaviors deeply ingrained at an unconscious level. The unconscious is a very patient part of the human psyche. Conscious attention wavers due to all sorts of circumstances (fatigue, stress, distraction, etc.), and the unconscious just waits for those moments of inattention and then swoops in and takes over.
Have you ever started off driving to a certain place, gotten distracted by a conversation with your passenger, and then suddenly realized your brain had gone on autopilot and you have just made the turn-off to your workplace, instead of continuing on to the movie theater or wherever you intended to go? You turned just a slight bit of your attention away, and unconscious habit just slid on into the driver's seat. If even a lively conversation is enough distraction for this to happen, just think how easily the unconscious can pull a fast one on the much more challenging commitment of sticking to a "diet."
But of course, even though commitment is insufficient in itself, IMO it is most definitely a necessary foundation. It takes major commitment to put in the full amount of work necessary to change behaviors that affect every phase of one's life. Especially in a society in which virtually every social, familial, business, celebratory, and even religious occasion revolves around food in one way or another, and so much of that food involves quantities and qualities that are hazardous to those of us with metabolisms geared to gain weight easily and lose it only grudgingly.
Another bugaboo I had to deal with as a lover of food, as well as a battle-scarred veteran of the dieting wars, was the dreaded specter of deprivation--that I might never again be "allowed" to eat the foods I had grown to love in the ways to which I had grown accustomed. To battle this specter, I found it useful to remember one of those silly little motivational quips that float around the Internet: "Yes, you can have it all ... you just can't have it all right now." I can still enjoy rich and fatty foods of all sorts--I just can't eat them in huge quantities every single day anymore.
And in fact, I had to admit to myself that even I was beginning to actually get bored with that unending influx of the rich stuff. I really was doing it more out of force of habit than anything else. I appreciate those rich, calorie-dense foods a whole lot more now that they're a special treat rather than the daily usual. And I'm also now much more choosy about those special treats--if I'm going to allow myself one of my occasional preplanned splurges, I sure as hell ain't gonna waste it on a lowly fast food burger and fries.
Ultimately, I keep on coming back to that concept of balance. Balance still doesn't seem to get a whole lot of respect in modern Western culture--certainly there are exceptions, but so much in our culture still seems more geared towards endless optimistic expansion onward and upward forever--bigger better faster richer grow grow grow the one with the most stuff wins. Again this is a raging overgeneralization, but balance seems to have much more tradition and standing in Eastern cultures, where the yin/yang harmony of the Tao touches on everything from spirituality to breakfast.
And so, I find my love of Asian culture and food coming back around again to support me now, as I seek to heal my body, and through that my mind and spirit. Just as those self-confessed masters of cynicism, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, admitted in a rare moment of musical candor, I find that all my dime-dancing about outrageous excess is through. And look what I wind up coming home to, and how well I get fed and taken care of when I get there!
Many thanks to all of you who have offered your kind words of support during this blog. I'll be poking my head in for the remainder of the evening until I turn in ... and then tomorrow is Tuesday, and I'm back to my HMO class once again. Another week, another weigh in. And so it goes, again.