Saturday, May 21, 2005

Not Eating Chocolate

My doctor having threatened me with anti-cholesterol medicine again, I'm back to monitoring what I eat. Since being so fussed about work, the past six months, I'd gained back about fifteen pounds. (I'm still fussed about work, but incurring coronary problems won't help matters any.)

My diet consists of eschewing refined sugar and saturated fat,* and going light on "white stuff" generally (white rice, white bread, potatos, pasta). It's simple, and it's worked -- of course, all diets work for me, if I follow them. The advantage to this one is that I seem to be able to stick to it for weeks at a time, and picturing hewing to it for the rest of my days doesn't depress me.

Which brings me to what I intended to post about. I'm experimenting with a new way of responding to cravings. The first thing to do, of course, is to see if I'm hungry, and if I am, to eat something. But that only stops them about half the time. So I've been watching what my mind really does, when I'm craving something, and, as usual, it's not exactly what I thought it did. What really happens -- and why it's so unpleasant -- is that I start battling the desire, trying to fight it down, trying to replace it with the desire to lose weight and be healthy. Pretty soon most of my consciousness gets drawn into the battle. And if I cave in, it's not so much because I want the treat so badly, as that I want my damn mind back, so I can pay attention to other things. I'm just tired of the fight. It doesn't seem worth it.

And actually, I think I'm right. It's not worth it. Having my mind snarled up like that for half of my waking life would lose me more years of life worth living than an early death by heart failure would. There's nothing stupid or weak about capitulating at that point. It's just sense.

But it has occurred to me lately, watching the battle royale escalating, that there's another way to play this game. I don't actually need to stop wanting chocolate. I just need to not eat it. So I've been trying, lately, to respond to a craving by welcoming it. Instead of trying to head myself off from thoughts of chocolate, or minimize how much I want it, I invite myself to dwell on it. Luxuriate in the fantasy of eating it: try to call to mind exactly how it tastes, exactly how my body responds -- the lift of euphoria, the jets of saliva, the way the different flavors (chocolate being such a marvellously complex set of tastes) greet the sides and the back of the tongue. The crunch of nuts between my teeth, the raking of the sweetness against my palate. The whole thing.

It helps to know, as I have learned from sitting Shamatha, that thoughts, including cravings, go away. They only stay because we're holding them in place, somehow (most often, by trying to make them go away.)

(Milarepa came back to his cave one day to find it infested with demons. He tried everything to make them go away -- physical violence, incantations, argument. Nothing worked. Finally he decided that they were just there to stay, and he invited them to sit down and have some tea, and join him in meditation. And at that, so the story goes, the demons vanished.)

So far I've been having good success with this. Of course, if you have much experience with dieting, you'll know that you're always finding solutions like this. They work for awhile and then suddenly they don't anymore. I just hope I'm mindful enough to watch what's really happening, when this stops working.

*Except my morning eggs. If it's a choice between death and my morning eggs, well -- come, seeling death! But actually eggs aren't that bad in the saturated-fat department; they just got a bad name because of the superstition that dietary cholesterol converts directly to blood cholesterol.

No comments: