Saturday, 27 November 2010

Treats, temptations and cravings

Following some of the advice Deanne Jade gives in her courses on eating disorders and obesity, I've changed a lot of things in my diet and patterns of eating.  I try to eat little and often, have more protein, and don't worry so much about eating before exercising (well, I wouldn't eat a steak, but then I never liked steak anyway!).

However, one thing Deanne emphasised over and over was how much of an effect something incredibly basic has: habit!  That's why she focuses so many exercises on change, because if we can become more flexible in any area of our life, that acceptance of change will also help us fight bad habits.

This question of habit, though, is a tough nut to crack.  Despite having made some huge changes to the more conscious areas of my food routines, the bit I'm finding really difficult is the question of habits around treats!

After a hard day, I love to sit on the sofa and indulge in some tasty chocolate.  But rather than just having one piece, and even though I've just eaten dinner, my habit is to have quite a few treats.  I find it reasonably easy to control my eating at other times, but I guess there's a sense of "I've had a hard day, I deserve something nice!"

The problem, though, is summed up very nicely in this delightful card from the Oracle of Shadows and Light: Carnivorous Greenhouse.  The price of giving in to a little temptation is that my desire gets out of control.  Very reminiscent of "Little Shop of Horrors" ;-D  Instead of being eaten by carnivorous plants, though, it's me doing the eating.  Or, I sometimes think of it as being devoured by my own bad habits.

I try to eat "good" chocolate - dark and without too much stuff added.  After all, I agree with Andrea of Amazing Body Now, that one of the problems in modern society is the number of chemicals in our food.  Not just that, I read a while back that if we actually prepared all the food we ate (even cookies and sweets) we would lose weight.  I'm not sure if the person who wrote that was thinking of chemicals that you wouldn't put into home prepared food, or the fact that it takes a lot longer to shop for ingredients and bake cookies from scratch than it does to just buy cookies, or the fact that smelling baking cookies may already satisfy part of your desire.  There are probably aspects of all three at work.

I admit, though, that I buy cookies ready-made rather than baking my own - who has time, right?  And that's probably a big part of the problem right there - I don't feel like I have time for a lot of things.  How many people in our modern societies feel that life is hectic and there's always more to do than time in the day?  And how does that affect our sense of satisfaction with life?  Chocolate is so satisfying...

Anyhow, I decided to draw a card from the Oracle of Shadows and Light asking, what do I need to balance the energy of these two aspects - Candy Cane Angel (feeling I deserve a treat) and Carnivorous Greenhouse (the price of temptation)?

Seemingly surprising, given my reading earlier this week, the card I drew was Angel of Alchemy.  In the earlier reading this card figured in the position of "Now is not the time for...", but I often see this position more as "Now is not YET the time for..."  Nevertheless, I'm not going to suddenly start believing in miracles, so I decided to dig a little deeper into the symbolism.

Alchemy was originally a system attempting to turn base metals to gold and create an elixir of longevity.  However, many nowadays, following Jung, see it more as a philosophy for self-actualization.  One important aspect of this highlighted particularly in the Thoth Tarot is the need to join opposites, such as masculine and feminine energies  So the energy of the Angel of Alchemy is a perfect match for what is needed to unite two opposing forces (and an interesting match to the Chariot in another reading last weekend).

According to Jung, this form of alchemy was a psychological process of digging into the darkness of the unconscious, unearthing opposites to what was acknowledged in daily life, and gradually integrating these aspects into consciousness. 

The message I get here, then, is that I need to do more work on the roots of my issues around treats, to unearth where these started, and how they've grown and developed over the years.  Once again (drat) it's not about a quick fix.

Deanne Jade recommends an interesting exercise, which could be done alone though it's certainly facilitated by having someone who can ask questions, listen and reflect.  She calls it the lifeline.  On the x axis you put the years of your life, from birth to the present.  On the y axis you put your approximate weight, be it in lbs, kilos, dress sizes, a combination of these, or just a measure like "too thin, thin, normal, fat, too fat".  Then you mark on particular events and situations in your life and track them against your weight.  For example, when you started menstruating (for women), when you were bullied at school, when your parents divorced, when you got interested in sex, when you had kids.  These are fairly generic situations or events, but everyone will have their own important life moments, not all specifically related to food or weight.

When I did this I found it fascinating to see the patterns that emerged, and the events that I remembered and which seemed relevant in retrospect.  And it isn't a one-off thing, you can add to the lifeline as you notice different things.  Around the question of treats, for instance, I realised last night that my TV/sofa/treat pattern started before I was a teen.  My mother was very into "healthy" food - we never had white bread in the house, and only had desserts for birthdays or dinner parties.  So, once I started getting pocket money I would buy chocolate and eat it while I was unsupervised in the living room.  An aspect of rebellion as well as pleasure, an assertion of my difference from my mother!

So, dear reader, what are your temptations and treats?  What unhelpful habits do you have around food?  And can you think when these first started?

Images from the Oracle of Shadows and Light by Lucy Cavendish and Jasmine Becket-Griffith, published by Blue Angel.

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