Tag Archives: Diet

Contemplating Intentionality and the Divided Subject

I’m not feeling great this morning.

Yesterday I was feeling over-tired and deflated. Then — this may be related — I lapsed in my self-control, and overdid it with food and drink. Around 5:00 pm, I began a binge. I ate way too many calories in too short a period at the end of the day: almost half the day’s calories (1305/2658) were between 7:45 pm and 9:30 pm. This process started with a shot of tequila, which was followed an hour later by half of a second shot (it would have been more but I spilled half of the second shot). Dinner was filling chicken and root veggies, and during dinner, I drank about 10 oz. of wine. Then I ate “dessert” right after dinner (it was, comparatively, a friendly dessert of watermelon, cheese, and 2 very small raw and organic chocolate truffles, but still, it was too much).

Of course, it’s almost a joke to call this “overdoing,” when I compare this kind of “binge” to the real binging I know I can do. I have years of experience with eating and drinking over 3700 calories per day. Many times have I downed massive hunks of meat with bread, chips, pasta, potatoes, and gooey cheese, stuffed myself with countless quantities of Oreos and ice cream, and swilled great vessels of booze. So compared to these times I have to admit that I remain comparatively “in control.”

But it’s like the apostle Paul says: “I know and am persuaded … that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. […] …whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:14 & 23). For me, I realize that yesterday my awareness was blunted. I lost the sense of being “intentional,” or using my “will” or “control” in eating and drinking. In this sense, my behavior did not proceed from “faith,” and hence, today I feel regret.

Every gain I have made in the past six months has come through being intentional. In my life, I moved away from a long period where either my behaviors lay almost entirely outside of “intention,” or they were the result of a war of conscious and unconscious intentions, and into a life where I suddenly felt in control. I had been experiencing my life as a series of blurry days where I didn’t consciously choose my behaviors. But I found will-power.

After yesterday, at first I worried that I’d lost it. I remember a time when I could not achieve my best intentions, or they were actively and rudely interrupted by my worst.

In his recent book on the apostle Paul, atheist philosopher Alain Badiou points out that the apostle Paul may have intuited this existential dilemma 2000 years ago (see Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism). Paul also regarded the subject as being a divided structure: our being is divided between an impulse towards death, which comes from something he called “flesh” (although this is for him not the physical body so much as it is our socio-historical being outside of Christ) and an impulse towards life from what he called “spirit” (which is for Paul the transcendent, God-given part of our being). As he puts it: “the intention [Gk: phronema] of the flesh is death, [but] the intention of the spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8:6, my translation; I owe my citation of this verse today to Badiou).

In secular terms, this idea suggests that a part of us inevitably fights against every ideal that we embrace. We tend to resist every force seeking to constrains us, and also every law that we ourselves make. This is what the psychoanalysts refer to as the divided subject. Freudian psychoanalysis sees the human psyche as divided into separate drives. Especially, the Freudians talk of two opposing forces: an inner “death drive,” (thanatos), which does battle with eros, our drive for life and connection. This is important to remember. I should never again be surprised to find myself at war with myself. Civilization (or religion, or academics, or athleticism, or any self-discipline) requires the repression and sublimation of unwelcome, anti-social, or self-destructive drives and desires. These will inevitably resurface and cause havoc, from time to time.

There’s a tension at the heart of all our efforts of bettering our selves. But we cannot resolve this tension by eliminating the divided intentionality of our being, any more than we can stop dreaming. We cannot overcome the fact that we have an unconscious mind. We also have many unconsciously transgressive behaviors. Because this is natural, it is necessary to be patient and loving with one’s self. I believe this love begins with simply acknowledging one’s behaviors. Admitting them allows them to be observed by one’s conscious mind. When we embrace what we do, confessing it to our selves, and even own it as our own real behavior, we begin to restore unity to our intentional being. And from there, perhaps we can let spirit reassert control over flesh.

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Keeping a Food Journal

The second in a series of posts on the tools and tricks I have relied on when losing weight.

food_diary_spreadsheet

My food journal, in spreadsheet format. (Click to enlarge).

Among weight loss tools, tricks, and tips, I have found that nothing else works like keeping a food journal.

Before you even begin to contemplate what dietary theory you plan to follow, you should know this. The best thing you can do to ensure your success is to write down every single thing that you eat. Everything. Keep. A. Food. Journal.

I have gone through two periods in my life (1996-1998 and 2009) where I lost a large amount of weight (30-40 lbs). In both instances, the most important weapon in my arsenal was my food journal.

When I keep a food diary, I attempt to record everything I eat, with unrelenting honesty. If I do this, then two things happen.

First, I am confronted clearly with the facts of my eating, and all excuses vanish. When I spend night after night eating candy before bed, that shows up in writing, where it can’t be denied. Its link to my waistline gets documented too, since I record the data from my Tanita Body Fat Percentage Scale in my food journal too.

Second, I am forced to become more conscious of what I eat. I learn to remember more clearly all the things I consume, and over time, my memory of my eating behavior improves. Learning to be honest about what I eat (and drink!) breeds a different kind of honesty, about what I want from food, my body, and my life. Being honest with myself in this way points me towards success.

There is a simple bottom line. One must own one’s own eating. The food journal helps you do that.

But don’t take my word for this! Scientists have noticed it too. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported for Time in July 2008, a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (Hollis, Gullion, Stevens, et al., “Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial,” AJPM 35:2 [2008] 118-126) found that there is one single factor that correlates highly with weight loss. You guessed it: keeping a food journal. Victor Stevens, one of the lead researchers, told Gupta that in their study of weight loss trials, “hands down, the most successful weight-loss method was keeping a record of what you eat.” Over a six month period, study participants who kept a journal lost TWICE the weight of non-diarists.

An effective diary contains a record of what you eat every day, from waking to sleeping. In it, you attempt to describe all the substances you consume, in whatever quantities you consume them. You record the items, the time of day, and, if necessary, additional information.

If you get serious, you will record the exact amounts (see the next post in this series), and all nutritional data.

I actually use an Excel spreadsheet to keep my food journal. I do this because it’s a stable and quick way to record data in a table. The sheet just goes on forever, and I can customize the look, and update my system as I need to. I use different “sheets” within the spreadsheet to record weight, or frequently utilized nutrition data, or data I calculate about recipes, etc.

Also, I like to take advantage of the spreadsheet’s ability to do math automatically. The spreadsheet file I keep needs input only on the list of items I consume, and then I add in the relevant information about grams of protein, fat, carbs, and alcohol. But then I have the sheet programmed with formulas, so that it then computes automatically the protein/carb ratio, total calories, percent of the protein, fat, carbs and alcohol, and even the number of “Zone blocks” this represents. More on all this stuff later. All this data data is extremely useful in the war against excess body fat.

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