If you've had enough, have you done enough?

This is the seventh in a series of eight posts detailing concepts and attitudes for sustainable personal change. As one would expect of someone maintaining a 155-pound loss for more than 20 years, my examples have to do with food and weight, but their point is to illustrate how anyone can achieve and maintain healthy change. Today’s concept: “If you’ve had enough, have you done enough?”

I’m a big fan of the Albert Brooks movie “Defending Your Life.” Its conceit is that after we die, we go to a way station where we, duh, defend the lives we’ve just led against the measure of having overcome fear. Characters who are found to have achieved that goal advance the next existence, and those who aren’t are sent back to Earth for another try.

I toyed with using Brooks’s tableau up in either of the previous two pieces, which are about finding a working spirituality. His bending of “heaven” and “hell” into “forward” and “try again” are intriguing, as is the notion that overcoming fear is the foundation of growth. 

But it’s a bauble, relatively, that arises here: The less-developed souls are prone to ask, “is that a lot?” as if one’s experience matters only in relation to others’. Not seldomly, I also encounter the standard of “a lot” when I discuss the actions I’ve taken over 25 years to redirect my path. As in, “wow, that’s a lot.”

I concede that I had to change some central assumptions, and enact the changes that followed from them, as opposed to, say, going on a diet for a few weeks — which seemed easier but yielded no significant difference in the long run. That’s why “a lot” is a useless measure.

For any challenge, the better standard — really the only one — has to be, “Is it enough?”

Consider a cancer patient, told she should engage in radiation, chemotherapy, lifestyle and diet changes, and put portions of her life on hold. She would be well justified to think, “that’s a lot,” but given the stakes, doesn’t she have to worry more about whether it’s sufficient? 

That’s a calculation that will change over time, in both directions. Especially willing to change after I left nine weeks of eating-disorder rehab in 1991, I adopted a passel of disciplines that many would characterize as “a lot.” Many of them were suggested, some I adopted because I thought they might be good ideas. 

Among them:

* No refined sugar, no refined grain (aka “flour). No popcorn, no nuts, no sugarless candy, no sugarless gum, no dried fruit.

* Letting a nutritionist (further) define the boundaries of which substances are OK for me, proportions, and frequency, among other guidelines.

* Weighing and measuring what I eat, most the time. This includes carrying my next meal, or meals, even to family events where there’ll be tons of food. (Or, maybe, *especially* at family events where there’ll be tons of food.

* Taking a cup and scale into restaurants, or assessing an appropriate portion before starting and putting the excess aside. Or, just eating out a lot less often.

* Treat the measures like they’re important, so that 4.1 is not “about the same” as 4.0.

* Taking care to buy middling-sized fruit instead of hunting for the biggest of the bin.

* Eating by the clock, instead of when I’m hungry. For me, “hungry” is not a reliable signal.

* Eating nothing in between.

* Not eating while standing up.

* Not eating in front of the television.

* Not eating while driving.

Even this is not a complete list, but it’s worth noting that it has expanded or contracted over time — he last three are gone, for example. I grew tired of their rigor, and so far at least, nothing horrible has happened when I let them go. 

I have tried letting go of others, too, sometimes more than once. When I agreed to weigh and measure, I assumed I’d do it for a while, “readjust my eye,” and then be free of the tools. But ever time I tried, I found that I ate more than I would have. Not every time, but over time — and in the meantime, there’d be the infernal conversation in my head: Too much? Not enough? Should I have more? Can I have more? As a result, I consider weasuring a path not to slavery but to freedom, because I can shut off the hamster wheel in my head.

I’ve found it’s OK to give away any discipline, as long as I remain willing to put it back if the results I seek begin to wane. It really can’t matter if, taken together, they seem “a lot” — even if they *do* seem that way, or even if they *are* that way. Those might be facts worthy of acknowledgement, but they can’t matter.

When one has a persistent, health- and quality-of-live-affecting condition, what has to matter is the results. 

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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