What the fuck. I live in the most abundant age, and in the most abundant place, that this planet has ever known. As mentioned before, there are more choices in my life than I could ever, ever possibly imagine. And yet: I feel as though I don’t have enough. I can’t eat enough. I can’t consume enough. I can’t do enough. I can’t be enough. What the fuck is going on?
Someone once pointed out to me that we were raised in a culture in which our grandparents and parents suffered deprivation. I acknowledge this point. My father, for example, is an extraordinarily frugal man because of the frugal and tenuously stable environment in which he grew up. I’ve learned a lot from him, and I’m grateful for this experience. But my father feels more secure and content than practically every person I know. I think this “Great Depression” theory is a pretty poor explanation for my feelings of deprivation. If I really were feeling the pains of that time period, or of the giant monetary burdens I am shouldering during this century’s own clusterfuck of an economy, I might, instead of feeling deprived, be overjoyed at the abundance of cheap choices available to me. Indeed: it seems to me that those who lived through such frugal times do not quail at the abundance of our culture, but instead (I think) tend to happily proceed on minimal means and take advantage of whatever benefits come their way.
So, big deal. People are deprived all over the world. The problem really is is that we exist in a culture designed to make us want more. Choices are abundant, and we live in a sea of variety, such that every time we make a choice, we end up regretting the choice we did not make. I feel this pressure in a big way in deciding which graduate school to attend in the fall, and I feel this pressure in a more mundane way when choosing what foods to eat a buffet. And since this problem is more mundane, it effects more of my daily life. Still using the buffet for an example, I always try to get as much of it as possible, because if I don’t try every food then aren’t I being deprived of something I could otherwise have at minimal cost? Think about the PIES for god’s sake. Apple, blueberry, strawberry, mixed berry, pumpkin, banana cream, key lime, lemon meringue… jesus christ thank GOD I am paleo and I don’t have to make that kind of choice anymore. Even worse, this tyranny of choice doesn’t just apply to my taste buds but to my sense of nutrition: if I choose to go for the seaweed because of its iodine content, I am instead missing out on the lycopene in the tomatoes! Woe is me! How can I ever be healthy? How can I ever be satisfied? How can I ever meet all the needs society is insisting I have?
Commercials, advertisements, companies, even schools, universities, and governments… they depend on us feeling deprived. Its our deprivation that makes us consume their products and services. Don’t have enough education? The University of Phoenix is here for you! Too fat? Try my food! Too ugly? Try my eight billion dollar cosmetics industry! Chasing progress (but not perfection) is all well and good, but American culture positively pounds it into us. If you don’t have this new thing or that new fad or God knows what popular personality trait, then you’re just not cutting it. You need to be perfect to find happiness, to find a lover, to be complete. This sucks. Idiots.
This is present in all aspects of our lives, and in all forms of consumption, but it is particularly striking in food culture. What kills me the most is that…well, we have this abundance. We have established that this can lead to unhealthy thought patterns. Even worse, however, is that we are given feelings of inadequacy to go along with the deprivation. We see commercials and advertisements and friends with freakishly mutant genetics and start to develop a crazy idea: other people have what I want, but they don’t suffer negative consequences. That woman on the TV can eat chocolates and not have fat thighs! My friends can eat dairy without developing acne! My brother can eat pounds of ice cream a day without nary a negative side effect! Why am I so unique, and so deprived, and so incapable of having the same pleasures as everyone else? We are simultaneously bombarded with signals that scream: “you need more products and variety!” and signals that scream: “these people are perfect, why aren’t you?” and it tears at our souls, it really does.
Our culture of abundance is structured to make us feel deprived, and it is these exact feelings that give us patterns of disordered and binge eating (not always, of course, but often enough.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought, or had friends or clients share it with me: “I’m tired of eating what I’m supposed to eat. I’m tired of eating when I’m supposed to eat. I’m tired of following rules and having to watch myself so closely and censor all of my food choices.” Honestly, I hate this more than anything. I feel it intensely, and I acknowledge its power, but I still have a hard time getting over it. Why can my roommate eat five times a day? Why can she eat carbohydrates? Why can’t I? why can’t I? Why can’t I?
This is because there is SO MUCH out there telling us to eat more, tempting us, telling us its possible to eat these awful things without having negative consequences, and making us feel like our dietary choices (re: a paleo diet with regular meals) is a deprivation diet. Ugh.
What this says to me is that what we really need is psychological freedom.
We need to acknowledge that our feelings of deprivation are external in origin. And not only that, but they are deliberately instilled in us by consumer culture. How dare they? How dare we? What the fuck are we doing to ourselves? Is there a solution?
Well. There are a few. They’re not panaceas, but they do help, some.
First, acknowledging the power of this cultural machine is a big help. Once you acknowledge what kind of sway food culture has over you–whether it’s by advertising, by the abundance of choice (like me at a Taiwanese buffet!), by friends who eat conventional diets and seem to do just fine, or by people who pressure you to partake in unhealthy foods–you can fight it. You can see it coming and dodge. You can hide. You can use whatever strategies you have in your arsenal, from outright anger to, again, hiding from the media, to help alleviate the psychological pressures. One way in which I’ve really helped myself feel better is by moving away from America. Honest. And I don’t watch TV. So I am no longer ever confronted with images of beautiful, leggy, clear-skinned, elegant women all over advertisements. I don’t spend time wishing I were them. Another way you can do this is to make a point of never, ever watching commercials. Every time they come on the TV, put it on mute and open up a book. Or stop perusing those horrific Self or Cosmo or Shape magazines. Pay attention to what they’re saying to you: the message is always “indulge, indulge, indulge,” because they already know, and are trying to cultivate, your feelings of guilt and deprivation. They’re not helping you, no matter how much they insist this is true. Instead, they are deliberately crafting their self help magazines to make you keep needing their help. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it all.
Another solution, though not an easy one, is to turn it around. Instead of feeling deprived because you can’t partake in this food culture, feel sorry for everyone involved in it. Your diet is right and your lifestyle is awesome and it’s actually (really, it is) quite sad that they don’t have a truly healthful, fulfilling diet. If you’d like, permit yourself to partake in this culture occasionally. Writing yourself off from it entirely might make you feel even more deprived, and you don’t want it to have this kind of power over you. Philosophies of asceticism are abstaining are dumb (*usually). Life is short. Instead, be the ruler of your own mind and your own body, and exist above popular ideas and consumer culture. Come down and mingle with it from time to time, show it who’s boss, and then head on back up to your lofty spot of awesome health. You are in control of your health and your diet (or at least most of the time!) and that is a completely badass, empowering fact. Every day you choose to follow the paleo lifestyle (or a similarly good one) because it is right and it feels right and it’s so good for your body. Fuck cookies! They taste good but they destroy your liver. You don’t need that shit. Your diet is not just tasty but is awesome for you, and I feel sorry for all the idiots out there who are deliberately ignorant of these facts.
Finally, I know that this is easier said than done. But I really, strongly believe that feelings of deprivation are huge components of disordered eating. They make us crave fulfillment and indulgence and immediate pleasure, and food can give us that. Especially when the exact thing we feel deprived of is, in fact, food. Try not to view your healthy diet and your progress away from bingeing or grazing behaviors not as a step into deprivation but a step forward into the light of psychological freedom. Without food on the mind, and without that desperate wishing and need so common to disordered eaters, we are free to feel all sorts of new positive emotions. This is perhaps the most wonderful and empowering fact of paleo dieting. It is a long and a hard road, sometimes, but increasing our awareness of what’s hampering that progress does nothing but compel us forward.
And, like I’ve said perhaps a million times, though a million is surely never enough: progress is the true goal.
Columbus (the idiot occasionally had one or two eloquent thoughts) once wrote:
“Following the light of the sun, we left the old world.”
Leave the ugliness of consumer culture behind. Transcend its call, and rise to a life of progress and holistic health. You’ve got the tools. All you need is a bit of attitude, a confident swagger, and a eye on continually building your self-love and progress.
And Stone Cold Steve Austin.Tweet