The other day I was reading US Weekly — I haven’t missed an issue since the big Brad/Jen break-up; I wish I were kidding, but I’m not — and came across an article about the Olsen twins. It seems that the one with the eating disorder is starting to lose weight again, and the expert nutritionist who the good folks at US Weekly hired to comment on the situation noted that stress will cause you to either under-eat or over-eat, depending on your vice. As I read this I realized I had found at least a superficial answer to the following question, which had been plaguing me for quite some time:
Why — why?!!! — do I eat a pack of Chewy Chips Ahoy a day? (Before reading the article I thought the only answer was: because they’re just so yummy and scrumdiddlyumptious.)
As I’ve pondered this question, I’ve gained a little insight into the relationship between the spirit and the flesh. First, let’s assume that for the most part the spirt and the flesh have mutually exclusive desires: the flesh really, really wants those Chew Chips Ahoy, and the spirit really, really doesn’t want to have to buy two plane tickets whenever I fly alone (a day that I estimate is but 3 or 4 packages away). Conventional wisdom, then, would tell us that the spirit and the flesh would have it out, and that whichever side wants its goal more would prevail. I don’t think it happens like this, though; in fact, I think it’s extremely rare for the spirit and the flesh to have a knock-down drag-out winner-take-all brawl; if it did happen like this, I think for most of us the spirit would win much more than it actually does.
Here’s how I think it goes down: Given that the spirit and the flesh desire mutually exclusive things, at any particular moment one side is being satisfied and the other is being denied. The side that is being denied is raising a ruckus over the fact that it’s getting the shaft, while the side that is being satisfied is happy and content; this typically leads to the dissatisfied side gaining ascendancy over the satisfied side until they eventually switch places, and so on. One is always the lazy, self-satisfied champ, the other the scrappy, hungry contender.
Back to my example: let’s say I haven’t had any Chewy Chips Ahoy for a while. My spirit is happy about this; it knows that abstaining from those morsels of heavenbread is good for me. Because my spirit is in the catbird seat, it’s not making its presence known. It’s relaxed and content, and eventually becomes complacent; it doesn’t know how good it has it, and it loses the ability to comprehend just how nice it is not to feel like a glutton. Meanwhile, the flesh is throwing a code-red five-alarm tantrum. The flesh wants — needs — some Chewy Chips Ahoy. Nowsville. Yesterday. He can imagine how sweet it would be to inhale a whole package, and he flashes this image over and over again onto the screen of my mind. The spirit’s time in command has caused it to forget just how guilty and weak it felt the last time it gave in to gluttony; he thinks, “How bad can it be?” The flesh is driving him crazy with his incessant carping. He relents.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” sighs the flesh contentedly. Suddenly the spirit is wide awake, racked by guilt. How could he have let this happen? What about all those plans to diet and lose weight? He begins to work himself up into quite a dither; he wants to feel dignified and disciplined and in control. As he preaches from his soap box on the importance of moderation and self-control, the flesh looks at him with heavy eyelids and a happy grin. His stomach is full, and he’s not really listening. “Okay, spirit, blah blah blah. I need a nap.” And so on.
I assume that the majority of us are committed to the victory of the spirit over the flesh. I believe that this victory will never be achieved until we recognize the cycle I’ve just described and find a way to exit it. I’m not sure exactly how do pull off the “exit” part. I’m pretty sure that recognizing the cycle is the first step, though. Any thoughts?