Akrasia: it’s the word of the day. It may be a 25¢ word, but it’s a concept with which we’re all familiar. Essentially, it’s acting against one’s own best interest. We’re not talking here about the noble, altruistic deeds that purposefully put others’ needs before our own. Akrasia encompasses that irrational, confounding state of mind in which we wittingly throw caution, reason, and consequences to the wind in order to pursue a choice we understand will be bad for us. In other words, we know better. In fact, we know pretty much exactly what repercussions will befall us. That chocolate donut in our hand, for example, will undoubtedly cause our IBS to flare up – or have us bemoaning the paunch look later. Staying up late to watch one more episode of Breaking Bad will leave us comatose in tomorrow’s big meeting. Skipping yet another workout keeps us on track to lose all the gains we’ve built up the last few months. Stewing over the day’s stresses and playing out angry scenarios in our heads will keep our kids and partner at arm’s length and us up half the night with stomach pain.
The holidays are coming and with them the food. Maybe with Halloween come and gone, the season is already upon you in your social/work/family circles. Beyond the actual meals themselves, there are the umpteen parties, open houses, potlucks, lunches, brunches, happy hours, coffee hours, bake sales, soup suppers, and bazaars – as well as the continual conveyer belt of office/shop/home display of every sweet and savory (mostly sweet) treat known to humankind. As fun as it all is, the holidays can be a seasonal equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle – a festively decorated abyss where good intentions get swallowed along with the latest Martha Stewart recipe.
It’s probably the biggest thing that makes some people hesitate in going Primal. Sure, they appreciate the logic and sensibility of the Blueprint lifestyle. They value the chance to improve their health and effectively lose weight. They love the idea of having more energy. They salivate over the prospect of bacon. But then comes the proverbial wrench in the plan. “What about bread?” they ask. (Sometimes it’s diet soda, pasta, pancakes, pizza, Skittles, etc.; I’ve heard it all.) Against all powers of wisdom, self-interest, and rationality, how is it these isolated, deeply entrenched cravings hold such sway over our lifestyles – and diet decisions? Is a baguette really so enticing that it determines a person’s willingness to live a healthier, more vigorous existence? Is the de-grained life really not worth living?
It’s a common refrain I hear: “Oh, I’d love to go Primal, but I just couldn’t give up my breakfast cereal.” Okay. It’s got me thinking lately: what is it about the psychological power of (non-Primal) favorite foods?
Yes, they’re inextricably woven into nearly every aspect of our society. Dietary staple, cultural icon, sentimental fodder, patriotic symbol: it’s impossible to get away from them. However, just because they’re ubiquitous in our social environment doesn’t mean they deserve a place on your dinner plate. You know the multitude of reasons to quit grains. How about some strategies for kicking them to the curb?
As much as I condone, cajole and attempt to convince people to give up grains for the sake of their health, I’m not oblivious to the fact that dumping grains can be a tough and sometimes lonely slog. It’s not just the cultural thing either. For most people, physiological and habitual forces are the most demanding aspects. You’ve likely heard the term “carboholic” (used mostly in magazines and Oprah confessions for humorous, normalizing purposes), but there’s genuine truth there. Although I’m not equating the ravages of alcoholism and drug addiction with carb cravings, hard science has something to say about the physiological compulsion associated with dietary sugar and carbs (PDF).
Conquering carbs offers a whole constellation of rewards, not the least of which is a steady, brisk energy unlike most people have known before (well, maybe since the whirling age of 10 or so…). People tell me constantly that they can finally make it through the day without being down for the count every midafternoon. They enjoy enough vigor and vitality to weather a whole day’s worth of activity. The busyness of life becomes easier to handle: the energy demands of daily work or business travel, the mayhem and constant commotion of kids, a weekend’s worth of chores and errands, etc. A skipped meal doesn’t suddenly change the agenda to including procuring a bagel or other false pick-me-up. Nonetheless, for some folks, there’s a common, temporary but still bothersome bump in the road on the way to that Primal prize. Though it varies, it often means a couple weeks of mental fuzziness, fog and fatigue. Although your body might be off to the races, your brain can lag behind like a little brother in a stuffed snowsuit. It’s a game of “hey, wait up!” while the body’s mechanisms and metabolism align themselves. They call it “low carb flu,” and rest assured it’s just as temporary.
I just want to know if anyone who has been Primal for some time had any trouble with cognition in the first few weeks. I can hardly think straight, especially after eating, and I am also low on energy. Will this pass??? Besides that, my body feels great!”
Effective, healthy weight loss isn’t only due to the simplistic calories in, calories out paradigm. Nor is it solely reliant on diet and exercise. It’s everything – it’s all the various signals our body receives from the environment that affect how our genes express themselves and thrive. How we approach the subject matters, too. Our mood, our methods, our temperament. Our conscious decisions and our willpower. It’s setting good habits and expunging bad ones. Most of all, it comes down to keeping our genes happy by providing an environment that approximates evolutionary precedent.