29 January 2011

Temptation and Cognitive Dissonance Revisited, Part 2

Back to Part 1

This is where I admit, to everyone's shock, I'm sure, that I parallel this idea of abstinence from sugar and carbs with emotional health and "rules" of healthy living. We may think we know exactly what's "good for" ourselves or anyone else, but most of the time, though it may generally be true, it's not always exactly as we think it is, no matter how well a certain "pattern" or "habit" has worked for any one person or general group. Often, a productive habit or practice carries accompanying destructive ideas or aspects, and only as we remain open to better solutions do we parse those apart and identify the underlying truths and principles and learn to apply them more personally, with more surgical accuracy. A medication that saves one person's life might kill another. Sometimes, "temptation" might not be just a personal flaw and weakness but may actually be your body's or soul's cry for what it truly needs. Sometimes, a craving isn't just a weakness or addiction to resist but is a sign of something which you maybe haven't learned to satisfy or fulfill except in ways which bring accompanying harm, and a little education will help you satisfy that need in ways which are healthy, rather than ignoring it as if it's only a test of your resolve. You needn't abandon certain practices entirely but learn to refine and incorporate positive principles.

Incidentally, I think JIM-dandies talk in related terms about paying attention to messages your emotions or body send you as real needs to be met, and I actually agree on much of the principle. But the way reparatives use this to describe homosexuality as a craving for intimacy that really just needs to be met non-romantically and non-sexually, like a craving for nutrition which people try to meet by eating junk food...we'll probably agree to disagree on the prepackaged application of that principle. Confession: I don't think it's true, in general, even for people who believe it's true for themselves, even when they honestly don't insist it's necessarily true for anyone else. Maybe I'm skeptical because I've talked with many guys who used to subscribe to those theories but have since found explanations which make more sense and brought more lasting happiness and personal growth. But since I can't know for sure, I acknowledge that it's not my decision to make, and it may be true for some, so I don't make judgments on an individual basis. How could I? But this is all a tangent, since I'm not just equating this with homosexuality...

There are even extreme cases which defy general dietary guidelines entirely. In most cases, empty calories or junk food are simply not a healthful choice except in small amounts. But for a diabetic in shock, a candy bar may save them: concern for whether it has nutritional value goes out the window. Maybe some would be tempted to explain the life-saving sugar scenario as only true in cases where a person has an unusual illness, and ideally, if they were in a perfected body, they would never need such a thing. They might relate that to 'spirituality' or moral issues. And in that case, it's no wonder that when I've felt conflicted over religious beliefs and what I regarded as 'temptations', I've found it hugely attractive to want to see myself as a paragon of emotional health, thereby not in need of 'sin' to fulfill me. Even if I was compassionate towards those who 'sinned', if I were to 'sin', it would only reveal to myself and others that I was spiritually/emotionally diabetic. This is only one "exception" scenario.

Admittedly, in the vast majority of cases, a candy bar is not going to do anything positive for your health except maybe some minimal effects of substances in cocoa or peanuts or something not nearly making up for the sugar and empty calories, but if it's enjoyable to eat, and/or it will improve your mood (and therefore your interactions) when you're hungry and crabby and don't have anything else, and/or you're going to run for half an hour to burn it off, and it's not going to lead to a candy bar binge...perhaps you have bigger priorities in life to spend your self-improvement energy on? Or maybe it's really not a problem at all anyway, especially if you only eat one candy bar per month? Should you beat yourself up for eating a candy bar every month? Should you admit that maybe you shouldn't be eating candy bars ever, at all, and admit that you only do it because you're weak, or should you just enjoy it and know that you're not going to go on a binge of any sort anyway, so it's OK?

In addition to this, remember that every one of us needs sugar and carbs to survive and thrive. To cut them out entirely because they're linked with obesity or other health concerns might seem rational but is unhealthful. Sometimes, being overzealous in what was a fine and positive endeavor can create unintended, destructive consequences, particularly when you haven't understood the reasons for the thing about which you were so zealous, such as complete elimination of sugars and carbs. The physical body is full of balances, counterbalances, and apparent paradoxes which only make sense as we learn more about how it all works and is interrelated. This is why I don't poo-poo scientific health advice when it seems to flip-flop, but I do expect it will always evolve and change now and then as they discover that they usually were right all along, just in different cases and at different levels. I experienced a major paradigm shift in my own life when this idea clicked into place beautifully in relation to moral rules.

Athletes need carb boosts to sustain energy levels the rest of us don't need to sustain. Most of us would be eating far too much if we tried to match certain Olympic swimmers. Fortunately, over time, we've learned better and worse ways of obtaining carbs. We've identified interplay between nutritional components and cellular processes in increasing levels of complexity, and we're always learning more about good, better, and best dietary choices to obtain the unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and other dietary considerations each one of us needs for our body, activity level, and other physical needs. On an emotional/moral level, there are people everywhere who think they've identified what "healthy" carbs are, or they insist carbs are carbs, no such thing as "healthy" or "unhealthy" carbs, and it's how they're ingested that matters... There are conflicting ideas about what are healthful means of getting carbs we need...and most of us just sort it out the best we can.

Many years ago, I would have responded to such an argument as I've just put forth with acknowledgment that you can't equate physical health with spiritual and that they operate under different laws. Later, I would have said it might apply in some way but that we fortunately have an all-knowing nutritionist who has laid out the complete diet, and the best health is found in following that diet completely to keep it all in balance, and that's the great quest of this life. I'd have said that even a healthy reduction of sugar may well involve temptation to eat sweets, and that only after I'd resisted sugar intake for a long time did I lose the desire for it, and I was healthier for it and glad I'd done it, difficult as it was. And I still see reason in that moderate approach.

The problem is that I'm not convinced every dietary rule we have is given by an all-knowing 'nutritionist'. I believe 'truth' exists and is waiting to be understood, but I believe most rules are given by well-positioned observers or spokespeople who have identified trends and feel strongly about certain guidelines, but that the underlying principles of those are still being learned and discovered, so the application of them necessarily varies. The trick is to remain focused on improvement and open to truth. As long as the prescribed diet seems to be working, as it may for many or most, there's seemingly no need to question any aspect of it, and it becomes easy to think that those for whom it doesn't work just didn't do it right. But when your body starts to wither and wear beyond what others have described when they've assured you they "went through some of that, too," it's time to re-examine the diet or, at the very least, your specific application of it. Is there far more to the true, full diet than you have yet understood?

I believe the rules should be generally respected as the positive general guidelines they are but can and should be adapted as each individual gains understanding of his or her own life and situation. That seems like real obedience: seeking out and living by true/proven principles rather than clinging to arbitrary rules. I think looking beyond the stark rules to the reasons they work is necessary if we are to truly put a full effort into understanding our own health and the workings of our unique bodies with unique needs.

I also believe there's clear danger in poo-pooing counsel to reduce sugar, especially for some people with certain conditions for whom it could mean death to take in too much sugar, and those are probably more common than the people who would be detrimentally affected by reducing their sugar intake.

But if the nutritionist spokespeople told us all to cut all carbs and sugars from our diets, and to cut all fat from toddlers' diets because fat is bad, and to run 3 hours a day because running is good for you, you bet your sweet bippy it's OK to take that counsel with a grain of salt and acknowledge the underlying principles while moderating the actual implementation, without an ounce of guilt for not being 'healthy' enough to run 3 hours a day without taking in any carbs. Even if some people can do that, they're odd anomalies, not you, and that doesn't mean theirs is a strength, as it probably comes with some serious drawbacks.

I think we all can and should prioritize our 'dietary considerations', not letting that be an excuse for laziness or disregard but actually compelling us to a more engaged, informed, discerning, intelligent approach to our health. Depending on where we get our information, or how we prioritize, we'll each find different balances in different ways at different times, and that's OK because we can teach and balance each other. I think the more we increase our own health, the more we encourage those around us to do the same. And to my chagrin, maybe even the extreme zealots have a role to play in that balance, illustrating for the rest of us the consequences of their extreme decisions, so the rest of us don't have to.



jimf said...

> We may think we know exactly what's "good for" ourselves
> or anyone else, but most of the time, though it may
> generally be true, it's not always exactly as we think
> it is. . .

Dr. Melik: Well, he's fully recovered, except for a
few minor kinks.

Dr. Orva: Has he asked for anything special?

Dr. Melik: Yes, this morning for breakfast. he
requested something called "wheat germ", "organic honey",
and "Tiger's Milk".

Dr. Orva; Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances
that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak
or cream pies or hot fudge?

Dr. Orva: Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely
the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible. . .

Miles Monroe: Where am I anyhow? What happened to
everybody? Where are all my friends?

Dr. Orva: You must understand that everyone you knew
in the past has been dead nearly 200 years.

Miles Monroe: But they all ate organic rice! . . .
I wanna go back to sleep. If I don't get at least
300 years I'm grouchy all day. . .
I can't believe this. I go into the hospital for
a lousy operation, I lay in a Bird's-Eye wrapper
200 years, I wake up. . . I knew it was too good
to be true. I parked right near the hospital.

Dr. Orva: Here. Smoke this, and be sure you get
the smoke deep down into your lungs.

Miles Monroe: I don't smoke.

Dr. Orva: It's tobacco -- it's one of the healthiest
things for your body. Now go ahead, you need
all the strength you can get.

Miles Monroe: You know, I bought Polaroid at seven.
It's probably up millions by now.

-- Woody Allen, _Sleeper_

jimf said...

> . . .you bet your sweet bippy. . .

You've **got** to be too young for Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.

I guess this expression must be used in your family for sanitized
swearing. How cute. How late 60's.

I suppose the term "frak" (from _Battlestar Galactica_ --
a Mormon invention, you know: Kobol = Kolob, get it? ;-> )
might be a little to close to reality for comfort.

Now, in the short-lived science fiction TV series
_Firefly_ (created by Joss Whedon, of _Buffy the Vampire
Slayer_ fame), all the English-speaking characters swore in
Chinese ("Why settle for a simple "Crap!" when you can say
'Da-shiong bao-jah-shr duh la-doo-tze!' (Explosive
diarrhea of an elephant) instead?")

Original Mohomie said...

Not too young for re-runs. :-)