Monday, July 18

Back in the Saddle

I've undergone some momentous change since last visiting the topic of raw veganism: Youngest child graduated; I've undertaken another master's degree, which required some profound and life-changing introspection; and I've rebooted my counseling career -- which waited patiently by the wayside during my years raising seven kids, writing books, and living and working overseas. And while I was overly involved in these other endeavors, I may have backslid a bit on weight loss and health.

But I've also learned some jaw-dropping (or, as you'll understand in a moment, jaw-snapping) things about why I cram bad, unhealthy food into my face. Therapy -- whether from the receiving or the giving end -- entails getting very, very serious about my own issues. I've had to come to terms with how I'd like to interact with the difficult people in my family of origin. I've also had to let go of toxic people (and consequently, found time to reconnect with important people who bring me joy).

A recent conversation with a friend who's lost 90-some pounds, and kept it off, brought it all home. The two of us come from very similar families of origin: We're oldest children with a hypercritical, unkind, destructive parent who demeaned and belittled us throughout our lives. That parent also managed to triangulate us out of relationships with our siblings and our other parent. We have each spent our childhoods and adult lives being excluded from sibling gatherings and family events, and when we are included, have found ourselves being "othered" in our own families.

It didn't take a lot of that exclusion and belittling for us to find a cure: Numb the pain with sugar. It's the fastest, surest way to stop hurting. Cake. Cookie. Pie. Bread. Ice cream. Pasta. ANYTHING to make it STOP.

This was a long conversation, but the conclusion was profound. We've both spent a lifetime stuffing food down our gullets as a quick physical fix for emotional pain.

* * *

Addicted to Learning!
In my research for a book I'm writing, I stumbled across a fascinating paper1 on the discrepancy between our behavior and our self-interest. Addiction -- whether to drugs, or sex, or candy -- usually harms our self interest. And yet, we keep engaging in these self-harming behaviors. Why?

The author, George Loewenstein, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon, theorizes that there are "visceral factors" at work in addictions. The word "viscera" (Latin for "guts") seems particularly appropriate when describing the physiological effects of addiction. Loewenstein proposes that the visceral factors, the gut-wrenching motivators of self-harming behavior, include "drive states" (hunger, thirst, lust, exhaustion, discomfort), moods, emotions, pain, and craving. Visceral factors are impacted by our senses and by our feelings about "relative desirability" (whether one thing [a cookie] is more desirable than another thing [smaller jeans]) in the moment of choosing.

But here's the key: We may intellectually believe, for example, that daily exercise results in good health. But when the alarm clock tells us to get up and go to the gym, there are two phenomena that override that intellectual belief, and cause us to hate ourselves every day we miss our goals:

1: Immediate pleasure is far more valued than long-term pleasure.
2: We greatly devalue visceral factors (exhaustion, pain, etc.) that might occur in the future, that did occur in the past, or that occurred to other people.

Those two phenomena explain impulsivity, lack of self-control, harmful addictions, lack of motivation, and the quality of our decision-making.

The solution -- and this is painful to accept -- is maturity. Mature people are able to hold on to the long-term goal in the moment, and they're able to realistically weigh the value of future factors against present factors.

It all circles around, though. I've been writing about maturity and growing ourselves up, even when we think we're already full grown, through my publishing project at the Aiki Training Institute. If following this blog has been fun, you may enjoy the psychological side of this venture even more. 

And not to worry...I'll keep posting here, as well. The health benefits of making my personal journey sorta public are worth the effort!

1Loewenstein, G. (1996). Out of control: Visceral influences on behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 65(3), 272–292. doi:10.1006/obhd.1996.0028