Last week marked the 4-year anniversary of the inception of my dietary transformation. It’s hard for me to believe that 4 whole years have passed and, while my new eating habits have since become second nature, I’m as surprised as anyone that I made such a drastic life change. Sometimes I wonder whether I truly remodeled my belief system, or if this was my existing ideology all along, waiting patiently for the right time and place to manifest. Either way, my commitment to the program is as strong as ever and I do not envision myself regressing. To honor my 4-year-old quest, I am dedicating this piece to examine what could have possibly motivated me to make such a dramatic transformation and why I have stuck with it.
So, in true internet-age fashion, I did a Google search and came up with some interesting insight.
According to Royale Scuderi, author of Productive Life Concepts, there are 6 different types of motivation: Incentive, Achievement, Power, Growth, Social & Fear. All of these types of motivation could very well have contributed to my desire to make a change. For example, wanting to regain my health could have easily been attributed to Achievement (“the drive for competency”), Growth (“the need for self-improvement”), Social (“a desire to belong or be accepted”), etc. However, there is one type of motivation description that clearly stands out to me as the most significant, as I believe it helped me initiate AND sustain meaningful change. That type of motivation is Fear (“involving consequences”).
Motivation by fear carries negative connotation, but (in my case) I actually feel that it is sensible, effective and sustainable. I feared, and continue to fear, the consequences of abusing my body with food. The prevalence of news reports on the current obesity epidemic, rampant diabetes rates, incidence of heart disease and cancer are impossible to ignore. And it’s frightening to me that these diseases are attributable to lifestyle factors, most notably what we eat. Therefore, my ongoing desire to be as healthy as possible is fueled by the consequences of these largely preventable chronic diseases. I’m reasonable enough to know I’m not 100% immune to disease by virtue of clean eating, but my attempts to thwart disease by remaining fiercely loyal to my dietary principles seems both reasonable and appropriate.
As an aside, this topic reminds me of how critical others can be when trying to relate to what I eat. When invited by others to dinner, I’m often asked “what can you eat?” I’m always thrown by this question, because the actual answer is “everything”. What I choose to eat, however, is a different story entirely. Most people ask me this question to accommodate me, which I appreciate. But there are others who do so rhetorically, as they remain highly cynical about my dietary ideology. As an example, I do not eat dairy products. I do this primarily because I do not feel that dairy is good for my health, and secondarily because I don’t feel that humans are systematically designed to be eating the breast milk of another animal species. Needless to say, I am making these decisions in spite of taste. Of course I think ice cream tastes good. If ice cream was good for my health and I felt I was designed to put it in my body, I would eat it every day. Alas, some people like to criticize me for avoiding dairy, since I am not medically diagnosed as “lactose intolerant”. What they fail to realize or consider, however, is that I am “atherosclerosis intolerant”, “heart disease intolerant” and “cancer intolerant”, among other things.
To me, fear of preventable consequence is absolutely reasonable and justified. I believe this to be a part of our basic human instinct. After all, some people choose to avoid certain activities. Look at sky diving, for example. You don’t see too many people lining up to do that. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing. I’m sure most people would agree that sky diving would be fun to do, but it’s dangerous and strikes fear in people. There is good reason why people should avoid sky diving if they are not comfortable with the risks that it poses. This is precisely how I feel about eating junk food. It may be fun, but there are dangerous consequences involved. To this end, I find it ironic that we laud others who engage in fearful activities. It’s seems that we view this behavior as a celebration of the passion for living, regardless of whether we would choose to engage in same. For example, millions of people tune in to auto racing on television to watch drivers speed around a track at up to 200 miles an hour and often crash into one another. Although we may never get behind the wheel of a race car ourselves, we are somehow impressed with and/or amused by these drivers who seemingly cheat death. Conceptually, I see little difference between the potential consequences of automobile racing and habitual fast-food consumption. Risk is risk, bottom line. And if we are motivated to behave a certain way out of legitimate fear of consequence, so be it. I believe this type of motivation to be valid and beneficial.
Just to make something absolutely clear, I am well aware that I’m not the only one who fears disease. I am sure that NO ONE wishes themselves to be stricken by chronic and debilitating illness. I just believe that education and awareness around the cause of disease is lacking, which contributes to the myriad societal health epidemics we face. We can all undoubtedly afford to make better choices when it comes to eating. Lastly, this is NOT a promotion for my diet as a “one-size-fits-all” solution for every man, woman and child. The reason my diet works for me is because I am continually motivated to preserve my own long-term self interests, with the primary goals of nourishing my body and fending off disease. Taste is important as well, but plays a secondary supporting role in what I eat. This has been at the forefront of my mind every time I have eaten a meal over the past 4 years and it has been the key to my personal long-term success. I suppose that it is motivation by fear, but I prefer to think of it as common sense.