I often get the question why I “deprive” myself by not eating certain things. Or why I make it myself “so difficult” when it comes to eating. Why I am “so hard” on myself. I even heard things like “it can’t be that bad”, with “it” referring to corn, soy, soda, cereal or even pizza (they have vegetables on them, you know).
Every Human Action Has an Opportunity Cost
They are, however, putting the metaphorical cart before the horse. In a semantic war of words, deprivation has come to mean something entirely different from what it meant to express. After all, we incur the cost of having to forego other alternatives all the time. Opportunity costs are inherent in every human action. It is one of those laws of life. We can’t imagine it to be any different. Framed differently, if I’m depriving myself of eating a bagel, others are depriving themselves of healthy nutrients.
In essence, it is a false-consensus bias. We tend to overestimate the degree to which our own beliefs are shared by other people. If our associations to eating pizza are overwhelmingly positive, we assume that other people hold the same associations. Hence, the other deprives himself when he chooses not to eat the pizza.
Yet I am not really choosing for healthy foods, let’s say, avocados, grass-fed meat, or wild-caught salmon, but what those products mean to me. I choose not to eat wheat, corn, or soy, not because of their appearance or taste, but because of their outcomes. The difference is not in preferring one product over another, but in preferring one outcome over another. So I’m not really depriving myself of wheat, but rather of any meaning that I attribute to wheat. And that meaning, in my case, is overwhelmingly negative. It equals pain.
Do You Associate Pain or Pleasure to Unhealthy Foods?
Many forget this. What such products actually mean to them is instant gratification. Their beliefs associate more pleasure than pain to unhealthy foods. People even have a psychological disposition to considering unhealthy food as tastier, an observation psychologists call the “unhealthy = tasty intuition”. Biochemically, by taking foods such as pizza, donuts, and bread, you activate the reward centers in the brain, propelling neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and beta endorphin. And every time this process occurs anew, your associations about, for instance, pizza are reinforced.
Besides distorted neurological signals, your blood sugar rises sharply after eating such foods. Naturally, your body tends to increase blood sugar in the body when it experiences a fight-or-flight response, i.e., when it endures stress. It reinforces the association of pleasure, since such a fight-or-flight response heightens the senses, makes you more alert, and creates stronger emotions (after all, you have to be razor sharp when being attacked by a lion during the Stone Age).
Thus, to consume unhealthy foods equals preferring a quick hit and momentary happiness over sustained energy and health. It is what Mark Spitznagel, “Austrian” investor, would call li instead of shi, hyperbolic discounting instead of the roundabout route, being the grasshopper instead of the ant.
The Most Important Law of Life
It is a challenge, I admit. In any walk of life, we have to choose between immediate pleasure or a future (but uncertain) abundance. And given that we, human beings, tend to discount the present against the future “hyperbolically” (we crave for the now), doesn’t make it any easier.
Few ever had the opportunity to experience the extremes I lived. I experienced the joy of a perfect day. I also experienced the pain of illness. Yet most people have always lingered in between. They never felt really outstanding nor really ill. But if you would have felt as I did that very first day, you too would do anything to get that feeling on a consistent basis.
I have decided to no longer choose such immediate satisfaction. I now choose health, energy, and focus. I don’t eat avocados because they are green, a “fruit”, or healthy in any abstract sense, but because they mean vigor and life to me. I’ve came to see them as a means, my beloved companions, in reaching the goals in my life and becoming spiritually fulfilled, not as an end that controls my life.
“Everything Is Unhealthy Nowadays!”
Not being able to control every aspect of your life or your body, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care at all. This form of nihilism is a bad excuse for not adopting healthy habits. If persons uttering such statements would be consistent, they would have to live outdoors in the field. Never being a 100% sure that your ceiling won’t collapse on top of you when you’re at sleep, doesn’t imply that you don’t try anything reasonably in your circle of influence to reduce such a possibility.
I believe this nihilism belongs to the same category as people crying out loudly: “Everything gives you cancer today!” What you try is to lower your exposure to negative black swans (e.g., cancer), not to increase it just because you can never eliminate your entire exposure all together.
Is Your Body a Future Asset or Liability?
There is also a monetary aspect. Not nourishing your body is a future liability on your balance sheet. It is like building up debt, due for payment on an unknown future date. A public health care system tries to bypass this problem by socializing the costs. But it’s not just the cost of health care. It is also your reduced productivity and fulfillment.
Tumbling into the trap of preferring the immediate comes at a severe cost. It is a counterproductive habit. A habit that will lead to a suffering of the consequences in the long run, mostly the pain of regret. And, as Jim Rohn says, “discipline weighs ounces, regret weighs tonnes.” Do not regret your bad habits when it’s already to late, when you’ve stumbled upon something we call the inevitable; but endure the discipline of a good habit now. Just getting slightly off course every day, can set you up for permanent disaster.
Do your own research and act on your own judgment. Don’t be careless and go through life with a ho-hum attitude. Indifference is a tragic disease. It is a mystery why some people are touched and driven and others careless and indifferent. But if you want to be healthy, then you can’t afford to be careless about yourself and your temple, the human body.