26 January 2011

Temptation and Cognitive Dissonance Revisited, Part 1

If you believe sugar is bad for you, based on observations and teachings that people who eat lots of sugar get fat, and there is a real problem in our nation with overconsumption of sugar, and you consequently conclude (not irrationally), that you must exert every effort to remove sugar from your diet, and you follow through, surely you have done a healthy thing. Maybe you've heard success stories from those who have cut sugar from their diets and felt so much better, had so much more energy, and experienced signs of improved health. Maybe you took it further and joined the ranks of those who eliminated sugars in all forms as much as possible, including natural or unrefined sugars.

You might even have heard people say not to go so far, that you're being extreme, but you decided they just can't hack what you can, or they're taking the easier road that doesn't require as much sacrifice and commitment, and your health will be that much better for the effort you're making beyond the bare minimum. Maybe you've heard of diets requiring reduction of carbs and incorporated those into your dietary restrictions as well. You don't do anything halfway. You're proving your dedication.

Over time, in such thorough dedication and self-denial for health's sake, when your body starts to tell you it needs carbohydrates to fuel basic biological functions on a cellular level by responding with self-preservation in the form of reduced energy or other symptoms, you might be surprised. Maybe you will crave sugar as you have never craved it before. You might even 'give in to temptation' and partake of some sugar, and suddenly, you're wrestling with a form of cognitive dissonance: you've done something you don't believe in doing, and your experience seems to conflict with your beliefs about it.

As far as you can tell, either the action or the belief must be wrong, being in apparent conflict.

In the face of this temptation and cognitive dissonance, you have a few possible responses:
  • It seems clear that to justify the action would be the easy way out, so you cling to the belief (in this binary mode of thinking) in order to make sure that you are not pandering to weakness or sacrificing truth to your appetites. The perception of the ease of abandoning the belief, rather than evidence of the belief itself, determines its veracity. You commit even more to fight the weakness you are facing. You don't partake of sugar in such moments of weakness. Surely the temptation will pass, and to back down now would be to undo everything you've done. Besides, there's meaning in the struggle, and you're not about to let a temptation change your beliefs (sugar = bad) but will maintain your course according to your beliefs. "Lift your behaviors to match your beliefs," you think. You decry scientific efforts to defend light-to-moderate sugar intake as pseudointellectuals pandering to a sweets-addicted society.
  • Same thoughts as above, except you binge on sugar and carbs when the craving gets strong, admit your mistake or weakness, and quickly re-commit to your anti-sugar, anti-carb diet, again an affirmation of your beliefs. You engage in an intense cycle of self-denial and binging, perpetuated by emotional triggers and unmet dietary needs.
  • You decide this whole anti-sugar thing is too hard and start eating every gorpy, syrupy, heart-assaulting dessert you see, abandoning any concern for health. Nevermind the belief: this is easier.
  • Your indiscretion didn't kill you or create any ill effects. You feel stable now, and have more energy since eating a moderate amount of sugar or carbs, and the craving is gone. You decide that maybe a little here and a little there never hurt anyone, or maybe it's just not worth putting yourself through the stress of resisting the temptation to eat sugar. Maybe you find you feel happier worrying less about it but still eating in moderation, and you don't care about the judgemental looks from the anorexic girls at the table next to you. Let them punish themselves: you have more important concerns in life, and more important matters of self-improvement to pour your energy into, than worrying about a little sugar you can work off at the gym. You might occasionally overdo it, which isn't helping your health any, but you're not about to snarf a whole cake by yourself or anything.
  • You look into the matter more. You discover that our understanding of how sugar works, how carbohydrates in general work, and how other nutritional factors interplay with those is always evolving, expanding, and becoming more complex or nuanced. You learn about the differences between refined and naturally occurring sugars, learn about the need for carbs to fuel biological processes, learn that different bodies actually process foods differently, that some diets work for some people but not for others, and that we're increasingly learning how to tell which are which but don't yet have all of the answers on these things, so people need to adapt their decisions to their bodies' distinct needs. While we used to think sugar was OK, then we thought it was bad, we have increasingly realized there are far more principles underlying the matter, and while a general rule of thumb may work for most of the population, a decision that may be healthful for one person may be detrimental for another. And rarely can we simplify any food to one single component of it, like sugar, or carbs, and by stripping away a certain food to reduce one component, we may unknowingly also remove a needful component which we haven't been getting in other ways, whether or not we can. Ideally, you can greatly reduce sugar intake while maintaining necessary nutritional balance. But that takes a more complex understanding of nutrition than most people have.

Continue to Part 2


this blog author said...

I see where you are going with your "argument". still, I await the "outcome" about which you will write.

I STILL maintain you would make an EXCELLENT attorney.

(You are an amazing photographer- saw some of it on my recent trip to Idaho Falls.)

love and respect, always.

JonJon said...

Sugar gets me all hot and bothered.

Original Mohomie said...

JonJon, I'll give you some sugar...

tba, the exposition is published. It's a bit dry, I think, but with nuances probably able to be appreciated by more developed palates...ha, OK, just dry.

And thanks for the photography compliment. Glad you liked it!