New Year's Weight Resolution to End All Resolutions

Trying to shed that holidays pound or five is an annual American ritual. That’s because the new year’s resolutions inspired by that extra blubber tend toward temporary fixes.

This year try a resolution that will permanently fix your weight control issues as well as bring about other constructive changes.

First, some perspective. Intelligent people take one of two approaches to unwanted fat. The quantitative approach counts every calorie taken in and burnt off and requires the discipline to keep the intake less than the outgo. The better approach, in my opinion, is the qualitative one. To calorie-counters that sounds like a copout. How can you get qualitative about something as quantifiable as calories? You either eat too much or you don’t.

I’ll agree that the quantitative approach works for those few who enjoy constant calculations and possess a profound understanding of the energy requirements of various types of metabolic processes, the calories contained in varying portions of every foods and the discipline of the star monk at a buddhist monastery.

For the rest of us the quantitative approach is a sure-fire path to discouragement, frustration and bouts of binge eating.

Trying to lose the extra calories picked up through overeating is like watching a pot boil. It’s an approach that produces alternating bouts of compulsiveness and frustration. More importantly, the quantitative approach doesn’t address the cause of the urge to overeat. Which is why so many of its disciples not only fail to lose weight, but continue to pack on more chub.

The desire to overeat is the product of imbalances — nutritional, cardiovascular, biochemical and emotional. These imbalances are the product of our impatient modern American lifestyle and the frustration that inevitably results from the compulsion to cheat time.

This is especially true of fast-trackers who set ambitious timetables and perpetually feel like they’ve fallen behind. When we’re feeling behind, we can’t take the time truly to engage ourselves in pursuits likely to gratify our emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs. Impatient and disengaged by our blur of tasks and chores, at the end of the day we often find ourselves craving the one source of gratification that’s quick, effortless and surefire — food.

Eating has become the default gratification of our age. It takes less time and effort than any other form of gratification. We can do it with zero effort and engagement. It’s cheaper than most other forms of entertainment. And if you’re willing to spend a little money, it provides the illusion of activity — going out to a restaurant — and the illusion of social interaction — chatting up the waiter and giving a fat tip. If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, it even provides the illusion of success and cultural refinement.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in food or dining out. It’s a legitimate main pleasure of life. The problem is that it has becomes the primary if not sole source of pleasure for too many. It’s no less than the deadly symptom of the rushed, emotionally disengaged life that so many lead in this age of instant broadband access to everything but true gratification.

There is only one way to make a permanent exit from this high-calorie, low-gratification twilight zone — a rebalancing of priorities.

The crucial first step is to take ourselves off the clock. That’s right — no longer can your top priority be meeting your unrealistic daily itinerary or that impossible career timeline. I know this goes against our subtle indoctrination from junior high as we hurtle down the greased path from top grades to top schools to top starting salaries to top name on the letterhead. But that also happens to be the path that begins with a spare tire and a double chin and ends in emotional exhaustion, a triple-bypass and a hip-replacement or two.

What is to replace the clock as our daily pole star? Two things — balance and engagement.

We’re essentially physical creatures who happen to have evolved emotional, intellectual and social needs. Before we can even address those evolved needs, we have to keep the physical machine in tune because it powers every one of our thoughts and urges and ambitions.

Some of us have deluded ourselves into believing that eating an occasional organic salad and saying no to that third martini is enough to keep ourselves humming along indefinitely as we consecrate our energies to our daily schedules and lifetime career plans.

The truth is that even a single week of eating without proper exercise and emotional engagement takes us a big step closer to premature failure in the most primal sense — a decrepit heap drained of all desire but to sit and eat ourselves to death.

The rebalancing required to solve the overeating problem is really a straightforward perspective shift. Instead of seeing food as the way to obtain easy and gratuitous gratification, we must condition ourselves to see food as one element of a well balanced day.

The typical urban professional blocks his days simply into sleep, work and free time. Unfortunately, most of that free time is spent eating and drinking. For example, happy hours with colleagues, followed by dinner, followed by TV or surfing the web while munching on cookies and sipping a beer or a latte. On the weekends there’s more eating with friends and family, with our without TVs and barbecue grills.

To put the eating into its proper place we must first recognize that what we think of as free time is actually time in which healthy organisms engage in physical activities. The key word is engage. The disengaged 20-minute trot on a treadmill or a stairmaster accompanied by a few pumps of the old weight machine isn’t engagement — it’s more of the same kind of rushed disengagement that produces a craving for real gratification and leads to binge eating in pursuit of gratification.

There is no balance without engagement. Going through the motions of physical engagement is no different than going through the motions of a career. Both are no different than going through the motions of emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social activity. The more you try to do without being truly engaged in the name of keeping up with that master intinerary, the less you find true gratification. Bogus activity leads to even more reliance on the erstwhile gratification of food.

The sad truth is that no one has the energy to burn off the huge calories shoveled into that tired body by a soul craving the gratification that should have come from true physical, emotional, spiritual, social or intellectual engagement. In other words, by taking the time to do things you enjoy in an enjoyable, non-rushed fashion. Even eating.

All this boils down to a rather simple New Year’s resolution: Today I will take myself off the clock and seek balance and true engagement in each and every thing I do.

Remind yourself daily of the importance of balance and engagement and your overeating problem will be just another bad memory by next new year.