Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A follow-up to self care

Okay. Don't judge me. But, I am currently reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I saw the movie and didn't love it, because there seemed to be a lot missing, a lot that didn't make sense - much of which is perfectly clear in the book. Stop laughing Alex, because I am actually enjoying reading it.

After writing my post about the line between self-care and indulgence, I read this passage in the book that I thought was really interesting:

"For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too -- the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Bud's for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You're Worth It! You've Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I AM gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to "You Deserve a Break Today" would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That's why I'm planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife."

I think there are a few interesting points here...First of all, restriction with a subsequent binge. We hear about this in reference to eating disorders and yo-yo diets...Skip lunch, then eat a massive dinner. This is the very reason we encouraged the overweight teens we worked with as part of the adolescent weight loss study to never skip a meal. When you skip, you tend to be hungrier and overeat at your next meal for a net of more calories than if you had eaten two small-ish meals. So then you've eaten more calories, but you feel like you've had less, because you restricted, and so then you think - well, then I deserve some dessert, too. And before you know it, whatever reasonable calorie goal you had set for yourself is blown. And then comes the guilt. (Oh guilt. How you have haunted my life.)

But all this clearly applies not just to how we eat, but the way we shop, or sleep, or the way we relax. (Well, the way I "relax.") - For example - during the week, I feel "far too busy" to watch a TV show, most of the time. But then I end up squandering the entirety of my first day off watching 5 hours of TV in a row, and then I feel guilty for "wasting" a whole day. Or, I don't get enough sleep and then feel hazy when I sleep in on Saturday.

I also find it interesting that other cultures do not exist this way. Maybe this is why Europe doesn't have the obesity problem America has - because they have a more consistent confidence that they do deserve breaks and do deserve some pleasures in life. There isn't the same need for a reactionary binge, and with no binge, there's no need for the guilt that brings the cycle back around to restricting again as penance.

Essentially, I think we need more balance. Over-eating, or over-sleeping, or over-TV-watching might all just be a quest for achieving balance that was lacking elsewhere. By budgeting time in our day-to-day lives for a variety of pursuits (including something pleasurable!), then we may just find that we don't need to binge (on whatever it is we are binging on) come the weekend. And we may find that there is time for those real self-care activities - such as sleeping well, eating well, and exercising - after all.

(However, I make no promises that I will be able to follow this philosophy myself once the hectic school year begins again...)


  1. Love this. First, I adore "Eat, Pray, Love" (book, not movie) and support you in reading it. :) It does seem like balance is both self-care and enjoyment in general. The key, I think, is to bring enjoyment and pleasure into activities and moments that typically get ignored. This might be making fresh meals instead of microwaved frozen meals, savoring a nice glass of wine instead of downing a bottle, or just taking a moment to look up at the sky instead of burying your face in your smartphone. If we can find beauty in things that are generally overlooked, I think that would significantly contribute to a better sense of well-being.

  2. You are so right. It's just as much of an attitude as anything else!...Taking a moment to savor something, rather than just gulping it down. Using your time waiting for the subway to meditate a little. And just changing your perspective to appreciate the things and moments that are already there can make life seem a lot less hectic and a lot more pleasurable. :)

  3. First off, I'm going to write a response book from the male perspective called "Fart, Sex, Meat." You can complain about the title when we move into the giant mansion I have purchased from the proceeds.

    Second, maybe "continental Europe" is a better statement, since the British Isles have a similar obesity epidemic to the US. What I found interesting, too, was that the Germans eat more calories per day than their pudgy Limey counterparts, yet weigh an average 14lb less!

  4. Honey, you are so behind the times

    Also, the Germans are just burning off calories left and right with their uptight attitudes. (zing)