It’s not just the behaviour itself that’s the problem. It’s a mindset, a double-bind that teaches you two competing lessons:
1. exercise self-control (over everything ranging from appetite to biology) and
2. indulge. (Drink green tea all week – then go on a Saturday night bender. Use those coupons – then blow the savings on a fish foot spa).
Excess or repress? Have both. Bottle your desires till they burst their bounds. And then feed them till you’re sick.
Of course this relates to more than our physical appetites – but that’s as good as place as any to start. Once I step out of bed, I’m barraged with arguments telling me who I am. Let’s take food.
Bleary-eyed, I reach for breakfast and find I’ve run out. So I pull my trackies on and head to the supermarket. Mistake. I just wanted a yoghurt – but standing in the aisle, I’m faced with a dilemma of existential proportions. Normal – or greek? Large or small? Half-fat or full? Flavoured – or plain? Pro-biotic? Organic? Fairtrade? Own brand? All around me, adults are blinking, dazed by choice. I’m tempted to climb under the sliced ham and start rocking.
Yoghurtless, I seek sanctuary in the Saturday papers. Oh look. Nigella Lawson has lost weight. Alanis Morissette and Demi Lovato are interviewed about their struggles with eating disorders.There’s a feature on Christmas cooking. Seven-page ads for booze and turkey. But it’s not just the tabloids. From reward (‘eat up and I’ll give you some ice-cream’) to threat (‘think of the starving children’), even in our homes food is weighed with cultural significance.
And it’s part of a wider cycle. Sex, drink, stuff. Christmas is about pressies and pubs. But give it as month and abstinence reigns…until we crack and the process starts afresh.
We’re all hungry. Thirsty. Needy. Filled with enormous longings. But just because the world can’t satisfy them, doesn’t mean they can’t be met. We can be filled, sated and stilled. How? I’ll let Augustine put it better than I can:
‘you have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless – till they rest in you.’