That addictive tug showed itself to me clearly for the first time the last time I ate ice cream. It was Thanksgiving, two or three Novembers ago.
I rarely eat dairy and for years have avoided fiber-removed foods so I don’t remember why I tried a taste then. Everyone was eating pie and ice cream, passing them around the table. I was probably sipping scotch for dessert, or maybe eating fruit.
In any case, I tried a spoon of ice cream for my first time in years, probably Ben and Jerry’s, maybe Haagen Dazs.
Whatever brand or flavor it was, however it tasted, I immediately felt like I wanted more, like I could keep eating more. Not having eaten sweetened foods for a while, I hadn’t felt that compulsion in a while.
As much as I wanted to eat more, I knew in a moment that that feeling didn’t come from a sense that eating more would improve my life. A moment’s reflection told me I’d regret eating as much as it made me want to, which felt like as much as I could.
I didn’t consciously want more. I viscerally wanted more. The feeling felt like an automatic response to the sweetness. I’d momentarily enjoy sensing the sweetness, then forever regret losing control.
I also expected that the more I ate, the more I’d feel that compulsion. The goal of those foods is to make you want more. Sweet and fatty taste and feel pleasurable, but beyond the moment, they don’t make your life better.
I stopped eating it and haven’t eaten it since. I’ve made that feeling of want more my bellwether to ask, “will doing this improve my life?” As I’ve written before, “Want to eat more” and “tastes good” aren’t the same feeling.
For example, eating an apple, I find it tastes good and I want more. A second apple may taste the same as the first, and therefore taste good, but it’s harder to eat. That is, its want more goes away. Potato chips or Doritos, by comparison, don’t taste good after the first couple bites, but their want more doesn’t go away like apples’ does.
I kept hearing how much television improved since the Sopranos, with Lost, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, and who knows what shows now. I watched a few until I noticed writers kept choosing to write things that made me want to watch the next episode more than learn about life, people, or myself.
In other words, however entertaining in the moment, they were more about want more than tastes good. They’ll sacrifice meaning for making my life better.
TV shows and ice cream are different, but the feeling of compulsion to consume more is the same. It sounds like heroin. I’m not interested. Similar feelings come from sugar, comfort, and craving to fly to new places. The more people have of many of them, the more they want. The craving never stops. There’s always more to consume.
Contrast the feeling you get eating ice cream with the feeling you get exercising, challenging yourself, or eating slow food. Contrast how you feel after eating ice cream with how you feel after exercising. I don’t remember feeling like I’d improved my life after eating ice cream, but I do after exercising. Even if I injure myself exercising and feel pain, I’m glad I did it.
Recognize the feeling
I’ve learned to recognize that feeling of compulsion, of craving, of want more and, as with the ice cream at Thanksgiving, stop indulging in it. There’s no deprivation because, knowing what ice cream does for me from decades of eating it, I know I like the results that what I eat today brings more.
I know what TV brings and it doesn’t measure up to what I get from what I do instead.
The more I pull back from that addictive tug of want more, the more I see it. Besides food, drugs, and TV shows, it shows up in web pages, apps, games, nearly everything cell phones do and more. No wonder people take so many antidepressants despite lives of material pleasure.
Odd that I filled my life with more material pleasure after choosing to avoid things that bring material pleasure. Avoiding addiction like comfort, flying all over, comfort food, and so on increases emotional reward, relationships, and other long-term-rewarding activities.
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