Friday, May 29, 2015

The Compulsive Trap

Michael: May 29, 2015: 293 Pounds

I am a compulsive eater. I know this about myself. It's true, but it does not define me as a human being. What defines me as a human being is that I am a compulsive PERSON. Eating is just one of the things that I do compulsively. There's lots more.

The thing about being compulsive is that sometimes it works in your favor. One of the things that I do compulsively is write. Three or four hours every day, without ever missing. Missing would be compulsively incorrect, you see, and I would have to burn incense and do backflips to make up for it. And who wants to see a 295 pound man burning incense? But being a compulsive writer has its advantages--not the least of which, if one is an academic, are a long CV, tenure, promotion, and, if one has been especially naughty, opportunities to move into administrative positions.

I have long believed that the best definition of a "successful person" is, "someone who has learned to use their neuroses and extreme personality traits to their advantage." It follows logically that the best definition of a "successful leader" is "a person who has learned how to use everybody's neuroses and extreme personality traits to the advantage of the team." That's kind of what I go for as an academic administrator.

For a long time (we're talking 30 years here), I have thought that this is also the best way to lose weight. Five or six times since I graduated from high school, I have lost nearly all of my extra weight--60 to 80 pounds--by the relatively simple trick of replacing compulsive eating with compulsive dieting. Same general neurosis, different local manifestation.

But it worked. Sort of. When I was 19, I put myself on a 500-calorie-a-day diet and stuck to it rigidly for four months. The weight fell off, and the social rewards were immediate. Everybody praised me. Everybody wanted to be my friend. And this alone kept the weight off for, like, four or five months.

But the weight fell back on, as it had to, because I never actually learned how to eat non-compulsively. I just kept swinging from compulsive overeating to compulsive regulated eating. At I time when I was young enough to develop better mental habits, I tricked myself into thinking that I was developing better eating habits. In the process, I never learned how--or even tried to learn how--not to be compulsive.

And that kind of compulsive dieting has gotten harder and harder as the 19 year old boy has become a 48 year old man. My metabolism has changed. but, more importantly, my neural networks have solidified. Obsessive-complsive behavior is no longer a personality disorder; it is now the defining characteristic of my personality. The bathwater has become the baby. And as I think of how I am going lose weight again, all of my plans have a distinct aroma of obsession about them. Never do this. Always do that. Burn incense. Do backflips. And so on. I am caught in the compulsive trap.

This time it's going to be different. This time, I am going to conquer, not just weight, which is relatively easy, but also compulsive behavior, which gets me every time. Of course that means fundamentally changing who I am, but, hey, our reach must exceed our grasp, or what's a heaven for.

But, since I am taking this one day at a time (the way non-compulsive people seem to take things), I will start with a simple resolution: today I resolve to buy a two-pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. To show that I am not dieting compulsively, I will eat one of them in full view of the world. And to show that I am not eating compulsively, I will give the other one away.