Friday, February 26, 2010

Is Moderation More Difficult than Deprivation?

The title of this post may at first seem ridiculous. How can moderation ever be more difficult than deprivation?

But I submit to you that we Americans as a society have a hard time with moderation.

We understand how to give things up entirely. We know how to diet. We know how to save money when we get laid off. We get that the best way to get over an addiction is to abstain entirely.

But when we've lost the weight or get a new high paying job, we become unsure of how to find balance.

I can have a box of chocolates next to me for a month and I will not eat a single chocolate. If I open the box to eat just one, suddenly the box disappears in two days. It's easier to give up chocolate because after a while, you forget how much you liked it. You adjust to a chocolate-free life. But eating just one chocolate a day? Requires a level of will-power that I'm not sure I have.

When I was an eco-nut, life was easier in a way. My life was defined by the environment and my environmental choices. I gave up heat. I gave up convenient frozen dinners. I gave up air conditioning. I gave up shopping.

And gradually, that just became my life. I forgot what life was like with air con. I forgot how convenient it was to just pick up a Trader Joe's salad.

Now I'm trying to find middle ground, and yet I often worry that I'm sliding too far back. I turn on the space heater, fully intending to turn it off in twenty minutes, and then ... I don't. Because it's so lovely and warm and I LOVE HEAT. I plan to cook, but then the conference call that was supposed to last twenty minutes lasts for an hour, and I've run out of cumin, and it's raining outside.

In a way it would be easier for me to say, you know what? Screw it? I can't find moderation, so I better just abstain. But I'm not sure that's the better answer. The healthier answer. The sustainable answer.

In the comments of the post on dieting that I linked to above, one woman talked about how she craves sugar. And how she was wondering if she could have cake to celebrate her PhD or if, knowing her cravings, she should forgo the cake. And another commenter pointed out that a life in which one cannot have cake to celebrate one's Ph effin D is a little sad.

And yet, somehow, cake in moderation is more difficult to achieve than it should be.


Eco Yogini said...

i completely agree. you have totally hit on something cultural here.

finding balance is MUCH more difficult.

But we can (we must). :)

Sam said...

I mentioned this on Kate's blog yesterday ( I find moderation very difficult. It is something I have to actively spend time working on. Like you said, deprivation is easy...because the goal is clearer: no heat = no heat. But how would one articulate moderation in a similar way? My personal criteria is a bit hazy but centers around me not being stressed. And not getting depressed. If I feel my jaw line tightening, I know to back off. If I feel my back hurting from being too stiff because, I saw a woman buy a crap load of plastic water bottles I tell myself to let it go. I'm working on a lifetime goal of loving myself completely and I think that moderation is definitely the key.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Perhaps that's why, historically, feasting has been so important? The kill comes in and then everyone eats till just stuffed. Then, it's gone. Because there's no fridge to save the leftovers. So - best to eat while the eatin's good.

Our current culture of excess everything has turned that model on it's head, requiring us to go against our entire communal social model if we want to be good for the environment and our waistlines.

Farmer's Daughter said...

This post made me think of part of the "Botany of Desire" documentary when Michael Pollan talks about how, in nature, sweetness is rare. We're hard-wired to crave sweetness and enjoy it when we find it, because it's a valuable source of calories and there wasn't much available. The same could be argued for fats. I think it's really hard to overcome those genes that make us crave sweetness and fat, when sweetness and fat are now everywhere and widely available.

The rest, convenience and comforts, I think are comparable. Especially in a busy lifestyle. I've already accepted that I'm going to have to let some of my nuttiness go, at least for a little while, when the baby arrives. I simply won't have time to worry about a lot of stuff beyond making it through each day. Like you, I'm hoping not to backslide too much!

Oldnovice said...

I accept that I'm a "binge-oriented" person in most areas of my life. I get on "kicks" and don't get off them until the "kick" burns out when I go through a period of abstinence and then binge again. It's keeping in line with the "feast of the kill" followed by periods of scarcity.

I can do "binge" periods of moderation, as well. It averages to moderation overall without trying to change who I am.

Katy said...

Yeah, I don't know what to say except.... I'm right there with you.

Lee said...

I gave up chocolate for a year, and it was surprisingly easy. I wouldn't want to do it again, but it wasn't as hard as you might think.

Now, however, I'm trying to find the chocolate balance and it is HARD. I eat too much of the stuff. I can't eat just one. So I know what you mean.

Where is balance anyway? I think that's the problem. We know where "full" is, and where "empty" is, but "half way" is a lot harder to judge.

Silver Pen said...

Balance is more nuanced than full or empty and it is a learned skill rather than an instinct. So if you have never been taught how to recognize balance you are trying to recreate civilization from scratch. I think we need to be a bit more like patent parent with ourselves and say 'nice try, next time try this.' I find that I can be incredibly mean to myself in my head when I mess up. But I would never say that to someone else.

Robj98168 said...

Finding balance is good. And so is cake. especially if it is in celebrations of a PH effin D. That is a milestone. Have a pierce of cake!

Ashley said...

Reminds me of something said on NPR the other day about how we only have so much willpower.

The example they used was with having the will to get yourself up early to go jogging. You use up so much willpower just getting yourself to even go jogging, you have none left to resist the McMeal afterward.

I was going to use an addiction metaphor, but that may be taking it too far. Suffice it to say, there are many instances after making a dramatic life change where "falling off the wagon" really means "falling off the wagon, down the steep hill, and into the creek."

Anna said...

You would enjoy this site:

Systematic moderation!