Stoicism: Day 12 – The Stoics Would Not Instagram their Meals

Yesterday I practiced negative visualization on my drive to work.  I thought about the death of loved ones, how I could be living in poverty, how I could have some incurable and painful illness, and how I could be alone and without any friends or companionship.

The rest of the work day went pretty well after that.

My ice bath was particularly cold. It has been pretty chilly here in DC for the past week so I’m wondering if the water in the pipes was colder than usual. My toes were and fingers were extra chilly and painful.

I shivered for an hour or so after my bath, and then I felt very calm and peaceful. I was in a good mood for the rest of the evening.

Because of the ice bath and negative visualization, yesterday turned out to be a pretty good day.

Plus, it was Friday.

I wonder if a master Stoic would feel like every day is Friday. That would be awesome.

One area where I did have a bit of difficulty was with eating, specifically, adhering to the Slow Carb Diet which I kicked off the same day I started taking ice baths.

Yesterday evening I kept having craving for all sort of junk food/carbs. I wanted pasta, chips and salsa, chocolate, pizza, and all sorts of crap I can’t eat until my cheat day.

When you’re on a diet,  you miss the foods you’re not allowed to have, foods that you normally eat with only moderate appreciation when you’re not on a diet.

When you’re able to have them again, they taste wonderful.

Over the past few years, amateur food photography has become a popular hobby. Smartphones with Instagram  capability have led to an unprecedented rise in food porn. If I look on my Facebook feed, on any given day I will have at least 3-4 pictures of fancy restaurant meals or delicious looking home-made fares. They look delicious and make me want to ditch my diet.

The problem arises when your food standards start escalating. You’ll start avoiding burger joints that don’t serve sweet potato fries, or only drinking certain types of wine, or becoming one of those people that will send their food back for the simple reason for seemingly subjective and random reasons.

While I don’t think I’m a complete food snob, I’m not immune to the effects of eating delicious and high quality foods.

For example, when I traveled to Greece during my semester abroad, I became addicted to the Greek Salads there. They were super delicious. The ingredients were fresh, there was always a whole block of feta cheese on top, and the olive oil was amazing.

When I returned to the states, I couldn’t stomach any Greek salads here! I don’t even bother trying to get a good one here anymore.

This also happened when I went to Beirut for a week. All the food there was excellent, especially the hummus. Their mediocre hummus was better than anything I could get here in the US.

Now, whenever I eat Sabra hummus, I can’t help but comparing it to Lebanese hummus and my enjoyment decreases.

This is a textbook case of hedonic adaptation.

The Stoics wisely recognized that this would happen and it would disturb your tranquility. They suggested that you reverse your hedonic adaptation by fasting and eating only the plainest meals.

Let the pallet be a real one, and the coarse cloak; let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough for our needs. – Seneca

If you feel like you’re constantly running out of good restaurants to go to or you feel bored with your normal meals, instead of trying to search for the next best thing, go without all your normal foods for a few days. Or maybe all food. Intermittent fasting is popular right now and is a good character building exercises. I did it for 4.5 days (for reasons unrelated to reversing hedonic adaptation).

If you get to the point where you can enjoy the most plain and simple foods, your options for pleasure become much greater.

For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of Pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away. Even prison fare is more generous; and those who have been set apart for capital punishment are not so meanly fed by the man who is to execute them. Therefore, what a noble soul must one have, to descend of one’s own free will to a diet which even those who have been sentenced to death have not to fear! This is indeed forestalling the spearthrusts of Fortune.

How liberating is it to be able to enjoy any kind of food? Not only will you enjoy fancy mac and cheese dishes at hipster New American restaurants, you will enjoy boring things like plain oatmeal and Bud Light and rice cakes.

But don’t get a big head. You are hardly “better” than anyone else for occasionally depriving yourself of tasty foods.

There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day.

 You can feel pride that you’re doing it voluntarily though.

But you may credit yourself with this item, —that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practise our strokes on the “dummy”; let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich  with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden. 

The next time you Instagram your sweet potato fries, consider going without them for a month. You might like them better.