Saturday, 26 April 2014

Pain or pleasure what's your poison?

Before you read anything look at this picture which one is pain and which is pleasure?

Depending on your upbringing and reference points the answer is obvious isn't it?

I went to an independent grammar school that had recently ceased being a catholic girl's school.  My teachers were an odd combination of residual nuns and militant left-wing feminists.

All pleasure was sin, and redemption could only be found in....
1. religion
2. the sports field
3. application to the point of obsession

Pleasure was the devil, the route of all ills and the wastrel's route to a meaningless life.

Pain was an angel that brought success be it hours of running on the sports fields or all day and all night revision sessions to achieve the elusive top grades that would open the door to Oxbridge and a future that would embrace constant challenge and mental vigour.

It is this,above all else, that drives my search for balance in everything. The above delivers success, but it definitely does not bring happiness. Since by default any feelings of contentment and well-being are suspiciously close to pleasure, which is the road to dereliction.

I've always actively sought out the company of those who see this picture the other way round.  Those for whom pain is the devil and pleasure their angel.  Long before L'Oreal told them they were worth it, whilst students, they were thousands of pounds overdrawn due to bulging wardrobes and fresh-cut flower deliveries every week.  At work they nipped out for facials in the morning, enjoyed long lunches and often didn't quite make it back into the office.

But they were always full of charm and laughter and were such a joy to be around that they rose to the top with out any backstabbing and politics.

Everyone know someone like this, they dance through life in a haze of guilt-free happiness and well-being with an utter conviction that is spell-binding.

This blog was meant to be about weight loss and exercise, and the pain and pleasure principle is one of the keys of finding balance and health through emotional equilibrium.

Have you ever opened a packet of biscuits/crisps/ chocolates/ loaf of bread/bottle of wine and started by thinking, 'I don't really need to eat this, but it is perfectly normal to have a biscuit with my tea'?  The first leads to a second (all very normal) the second leads to half the pack, now we are moving away from normal into knowingly eating too much and at this stage, rather than do the obvious thing and just stop, we reach for the rest of the packet, forcing them down by means of some kind of 'punishment' for having gone too far.

I wonder if it this is the Northern European/North American protestant work ethic gone mad.  Deep down we expect to have to pay for pleasure and so we punish ourselves by our own hand.

This week I have been following the Thermic Plan (4 meals of 500 calories, all protein, vegetable and complex carb based) A typical day would be;
8am breakfast 3 eggs, apple and flat white coffee x2
midday Whole grain and seed roll, packet of ham, bag of mixed veg (broccoli, carrots, beans), mini pack of hummus.
mid afternoon packet of Almonds and cup of tea
Dinner Chicken, brown rice, salad, decaff coffee small bar of dark chocolate

It's boringly easy to follow since you are never hungry so you never think about food. After two days my slightly snug clothes were already feeling better and I was well on my way to getting ready for bikinis in the South of France.

But then I got a package in the post which included a free Chocolixir from Godiva.  For anyone who hasn't tried one, it may be best never to know.  Imagine a perfect dark chocolate turned into a milkshake topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate sauce...

I knew this would be my nemesis as it is pure shameless pleasure and something the nuns would find particularly sinful (chocolate spread was an earned reward awarded at tea times on Fridays only).  It was an irresistible temptation that would wholly remove me from the straight and narrow.

But resistance was futile, this was something special and it was free.

Pain, pleasure and guilt kicking in again, I'm not good at taking 'free' things, when this goodwill is thrown my way I feel obliged to repay the favour, so of course I bought a bar of Godiva chocolate whilst picking up my freebie.

By 4pm that day I had polished off both the milkshake and the family sized bar, halfway through the bar I was past pleasure and into penance.

Because I have rationalised the process, I just went for a run with the dogs this morning and am back on my Thermic yellow brick road.  But back in the old days when the scales wavered between 14 and 15 stone, this once incident could have been enough to tip me over the edge to a Summer of secret hordes of food and tent dresses.

Does this behaviour ring bells with anyone? Are there areas of your life where this applies outside just food? I'd love to hear, especially if you have found ways of dealing with it.


  1. What a brilliantly academic post, written in an understandable way.
    Biscuits and chocolate and puddings just don't interest me, I'm pathetic , I only love healthy foods but 30 years of dieting and weight loss/gain x 45 lbs three times over - idiot - means that I can't have too many of them, I've totally messed up my body.
    I'd indulge in larger portions of brown rice, quinoa and avocados if only I could.
    But my family have terrible weight/health problems ( for one, no one bar me has their original knees or walks without a stick past 45) so somewhere somehow I chose this difficult /against nature path for my genetics route for a reason for a little bit more than vanity - through I have to say I love looking in a mirror and no longer crying and going to bed rather than going out.

    1. knees are one hell of a motivation, even a short time around some one with knee pain is a learning experience. whatever you are doing, you seem to be on top of it! I know what you mean about the not going out, I think back to years and years of just sitting in my room too embarrassed to get dressed up and go out. My nickname at the local boys school varied from Big Bertha to Melons and others in between, my sheer size made me feel so conspicuous and I tended to gravitate to small skinny girls so making the difference even more apparent.

  2. Firstly for me the devil is pain and I would never lose weight on 4 x 500 cal meals, whenever I have counted calories it has to be around the 1,000 mark. I don't like to talk about food really, especially as I haven't lost a pound for the wedding!

    1. Try to up the protein, in the Thermic Plan it's not the calories, but where they come from (most simply just cut out sugar and wheat pretty much anything else goes). You do need to exercise though, about 500 calories a day. So an hour in total, I break down to 3 x 20 minutes when I am working.

  3. Hi Alexandra,
    I saw the devil as pain and the angel as pleasure. I like being happy. It is my nature to see things as full rather than empty and I look for the good in everything. I think it goes back to my not very brilliant childhood and making myself happy as no one else was going to. Food wise I have had a lifetime of feeling sooo very bad around food (again that bloody childhood). I read a brilliant book about ten years ago called "Overcoming Overeating" and it taught me how to eat like a normal person rather than the disordered eating that I was brought up with. Now I aim to eat whatever I want as long as I am properly hungry and stop as soon as I am satisfied. This removes guilt and I see all food as just food. All equal. I do eat really "healthily" by nature though. Loads of protein, fruit, veg, salad etc but treats no longer have any hold over me and I never overeat them much any more.

    I have never tried that chocolate though so I shall have to get some.

    By the way, in answer to your question.....I am a Cancerian. x

    1. It's funny, I have had countless conversations with friends about 'What is normal eating?'. It is so dependent on the individual. I like the phrase 'disordered eating', most of us know when we are falling into that and it is here that it starts to go wrong. Generally for me, this starts with not having the right kind of food in the fridge and 'making do' that is when the rot sets in.

    2. I agree , I buy all the foods I love and always have them in the house. Even if I don't eat them I know they are there. Normal eating to me is eating whatever I want (again as long as I am truly hungry and stopping when satisfied). This is body led calorie control. I generally only end up eating about 1500 cals per day (if that) but I have enjoyed every single one ( and I eat choc and sweets and cake if I want). I don't count calories though I just did it once to see how many I was actually eating.

  4. I identify with this, but it is alcohol not biscuits, it's never just one glass, whatever my intentions.

    1. Hopefully you have it under control enough that it is not a real problem. I keep a stash of those small bottles of wines and champagnes, you get the taste and the experience of drinking a bottle, but it's about two and a half glasses at the most. It works out pretty cheap in the long run too.

  5. After a life of total discipline that did not spare me from any real pain, I am all for pleasure. I balance paying off the mortgage with vacations and nice handbags. I eat well most of the time but have chocolate every day and croissants most days. When my jeans are too tight, I ease off the butter or up the exercise. Life is too short to deny oneself all the time. Great post!

  6. I totally relate to this. I'm my own worse enemy when it comes to dieting. "Just this one...and then I'll be good". I'm now in the spot where I have to loose 15 pounds and am furious for letting myself get to this point. When I lost 20 pounds, I promised myself I would begin a diet again, if I put on five pounds. That didn't happen and now I'm looking at 15 pounds. If I dint get very focused I'll be back to the 20 pounds. Thought provoking post. Enjoy you're weekend.

  7. I don't know if anyone else feels the some, but I have noticed that the thinner, and fitter I am, the less interested in eating I become. The minute I gain a few pounds, my appetite for food increases. Sometimes hunger feels just as satisfying as eating chocolate! Exercise is the only factor that evens it all out for me.

    1. Do you know what, I think I would have to agree with you on that. Just thought about it and yes, if I am in the zone and have lost some weight and am exercising and feeling good then I tend to eat less and be more focused on my goal. But, if I get on the scales and it shows a gain then that throws me completely, even if my clothes still fit the same. I think the answer for me is to avoid the scales as they should not be allowed to determine how I feel about my day or my body.


I would love to hear from you and quite happy for some lively debate so feel free to say what you think! ....