Thursday, June 11, 2015

Philosophizing Lunch: How I Tricked Myself Into Better Eating Habits

I've written about the notion of a fragmentary or momentary self before, but those writings were very theoretical in their approach. Today, I want to talk about something very practical: how the idea of a fragmentary self has helped me trick myself into better eating habits.

As of a few months ago, this is how a typical day went for me as far as eating goes.

I'd wake up at 6:30 to get ready for the day feeling absolutely no hunger whatsoever. I'd get myself dressed, get my daughter ready, and briefly consider packing something for lunch. Then I'd decide that packing a lunch sounded like a pain and that I could just eat something when I came home at noon or 1. It would be fine.

I'd drop my daughter off at daycare, get to work, teach for four hours and never feel hungry. I'd finish my office hours and plan to head home to get something to eat. At this point, one of several things would happen.

In many cases, I'd have students who still wanted to talk to me or papers that needed to be graded, and I'd decide to just stay a few extra hours in my office. Since now I have no food and am suddenly starving, I'd walk down to the campus cafeteria and end up ordering some friend chicken strips or a slice of pizza.

In some cases, I'd start to head home but decide that I should go to the gym or run some errand or any other number of things and end up not making it back to my house (and food) until 4 or 5.

There's no time for slicing!
In almost all cases, whenever I managed to make it back home, I was very, very hungry and in no position to really make any choices about what I was eating. Instead, I'd just ransack the refrigerator and eat whatever I could find. I've done a pretty good job of getting true "junk" food out of my house, so I was eating nutritious stuff, but I wasn't making choices that ensured I was eating a variety of nutritious things. At that point, I was just eating whatever was the fastest food available.

Then, at 6 or 7, I'd eat whatever I'd made for dinner with my family and start the whole cycle over the next day.

I wasn't happy with the way this was going. My energy levels and mood were affected by these bad habits. I knew that I needed to do something different, but I didn't know how to make myself make better choices.

Then I remembered talking to my students about annotation skills (stick with me, I promise I have a point). We were talking about how taking notes in their books or on articles was kind of a pain. It makes reading take longer, and it can often feel kind of pointless. I started telling them to think about annotating their work as a gift to their future selves. They're doing work now so that a week or month from now, their future selves can come back to this text, see the notes, and have to do less work. Their future selves deserve a break because their future selves are going to be bogged down with new expectations and tasks. Pay it forward, I'd tell them, and take some burden off of that future you.

Like this, only less shiny.
A lot of my students really seemed to respond to this framework. I saw better note-taking skills and better comprehension of the material.

Then I realized I could do the same thing with my problem. It's the Field of Dreams approach to lunch: If I bring it, I will eat it.

When I woke up in the morning, my current self was not hungry and so had no interest in packing lunch. My current self was acting with complete disregard to my future self and how hungry she would be later in the day. My current self was also completely ignoring the myriad of interruptions that might later occur (because everything looked fine to current-me) and just how much that might add difficulty to my future self's ability to get herself some food.

I'm not a selfish person. If I had a friend who I saw every afternoon struggling to make her schedule fit around getting food, I'd gladly take three minutes out of my morning to toss some grapes and hummus in a cooler for her. So why couldn't I do the same when that person was me?

Because I wasn't thinking about my neglect as a selfish act. After all, the only person who was being harmed by my poor choices was me.

But being able to separate out current-me and future-me made me realize that isn't completely true. That fleeting moment of self sabotage was really impacting a lot more. When I was frantic and hungry, I was also cranky and scatterbrained. I forgot things more often and felt irritated, and that impacted other people: my family, my students, random strangers.

By framing the needs of my future self as a problem my present self could alleviate, I found a concrete way to motivate myself to take simple actions I wouldn't otherwise have taken.

And past-me, present-me, and future-me are all better for it.

Photos: Skånska Matupplevelser, Pete,

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie WhitenerJune 22, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I love this. I make my lunch for the next day while I am cooking dinner. I figure I have some time while whatever is being fixed, and I am in the the kitchen anyway. Then I don't have to worry about it in the morning when inevitably I am running behind. It is so true though the thought of "If I bring it, I will eat it."