The Paleo Experiment (2): Retraining the Appetite

By March 4, 2011No Comments

Update: Dateline NBC recently put together a great introduction to the Paleo lifestyle here (first 6 minutes).

I guess I should disclose from the outset that my wife and I weren’t your usual dieters.  In the almost eight years we have married, we have never owned a scale.  This means that the only times we have even had a clue about how much we weighed were the times we went to the doctor. Our goal in the diet wasn’t to lose weight.  I was interested in something else, and that is the subject of today’s post.

I’ve always been a “meat and potatoes” kind of a guy.  Well, actually, more of a “meat and rice” kind of a guy (I’m half Filipino).  Throw in something cheesy and I’m set.  One Christmas, Melissa and I decided that instead of eating traditional holiday food, we would eat our favorite foods.  I had a steak, Jasmine rice, and macaroni and cheese.

It. was. perfect.

I also have quite a sweet tooth.  Once when I was in high school, I was over at a friend’s house, and his mom had just made cookies.  She put a plate of them on the table and made the mistake of saying, “eat as many as you want.”

I ate the whole plate.

I have more self-awareness these days, but no less of a hunger for cookies.

I’ve also never liked vegetables.  My parents once had me sit at the table until I finished my green beans.  When they went to the other room, I stuffed the green beans down the floor vents.  (My son has inherited my disinclination towards veggies, so I will be watching the vents.)

I always thought I was a healthy eater until I started meeting with a personal trainer.  He made me keep a food log, and he would circle all my cheeses, starches and refined sugars and say, “crap. crap. crap.”

I improved my eating habits mainly to get him off my back.  But there wasn’t really a desire to change.  After all, I wanted to enjoy food.  Life is too short, I reasoned, not to eat snicker-doodles.  Amen?

So when I decided to go Paleo, the main question in my mind was this: can my appetite be retrained to want what is healthy?  Or is it simply about discipline: denying my desires and choosing what is better?

Can hunger be rewired, or is health mainly a matter of self-denial?

Now as a Christian, I believe that human beings are more than just bodies: we are bodies and souls.  I further believe that body and soul are inextricably linked.  So this question resonates with me on a far deeper level.

Because I find that so many times my problem is not that I can’t do what I want.  The problem is: I want things that are bad for me.  I have an appetite for selfishness, laziness, and pride.

Can my soul’s appetites be retrained?  Or is it mainly about self-denial?

Question: What do you think?  Is health – whether physical or spiritual – mainly a matter of retraining the appetite or a matter of self-discipline?

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  • Scott says:

    both. i think you have to have discipline to retrain. Discipline doesn’t mean making yourself do something you don’t want and/or need to do. It’s continuing WHEN you don’t want to do something.

  • Holly says:

    I’ll say both too. Take exercising for example. When I first started running it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, making it through, and then dreading the entire 24 hour interval between the next bout. Yet I knew that I wanted to do it and I was working toward a goal. So in the beginning it was about discipline and stickwithitness. As the discipline became more and more a regular part of my life, however, I began to crave exercise. It’s gotten to the point where it’s just a regular part of my day and if a couple days crowd it out, it is something that I miss. In effect, my body is retrained.

  • dave says:

    oh man. tough question.

    i’d have to say both, because i think one requires the other. at first, i even had trouble differentiating the two.

    just like you said that the body and soul are linked, i think that discipline and retraining are also linked. i think that retraining one’s self often takes some kind of drive or motivation. for example, i also HATED most vegetables as a child (constantly trying to make a case for french fries as my daily serving of veggies) and i even continue to struggle with some particular greens even today, but as i got older, there was more and more of a willingness to try to eat vegetables. to try and be “better.” i didn’t necessarily feel this way because i wanted to eat healthier, but because i wanted to make my parents happier and also to get their praise and acceptance for doing so. so in this way, wanting to better myself didn’t necessarily spring from wanting to be healthy for myself, but to “please” my parents whom i love. i don’t exactly know if this serves as an effective illustration for us as Jesus-followers to do some of the things we do to please Jesus, but i can definitely see a connection. so i think that initially, there needs to be a reason that’s worthy and significant enough for us to want to be better and when that happens, we attempt to retrain ourselves to to change.

    enter discipline. i think that once we have found the motivation to want to change and attempt to better ourselves for whatever reason, we need to find the discipline to continue. i see discipline as the “cardio” to our minds–the endurance, if you will. how hard will we train ourselves to last? again, i think that depends on what motivates us. what is the force that will push us to endure? also, when we are “young” both physically and mentally (and spiritually), we often have a harder time channeling this discipline. i feel like as we get older in every facet of life, we understand more of what is vital and as the days go by, we learn to prioritize what is “better” for us a little bit better.

    when approaching the whole body and soul subject. i get a little bit tripped up. i don’t think that it is necessarily a biological imperative for humans to be healthy (physically), but i do think that we are drawn towards wanting to be better in other, more spiritual and metaphysical aspects of ourselves. and maybe the reasons for wanting to be better factors directly into what that driving force for change really is. and that force, that “raisons d’etre” (reason for being) effects how effectively and meaningfully we commit ourselves to our retraining and discipline methods.

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