Is flexibility the key to long-term pleasure (and losing 5 pounds)?


A few years ago, I was in the unfortunate position of having gained about 15 pounds of fat. I had been living in Portland for about 6 months and my workout program was…minimalist while my Portland food-cart indulging program was…maximalist? Not sure if that’s a word, but you get the point.

Anyway, I moved back in with my parents in the Boston-area at the time, without a real job, and realized I needed to get in shape.

Fortunately for me, I had just finished the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and thought his slow carb diet looked doable.

The diet is actually pretty strict. Simple, but strict. It’s a variation of a low-carb diet where you can eat beans and legumes. 6 days per week, you eat strictly, and 1 day per week, you have a cheat day.

Because I didn’t have a job and had a maximum amount of free time, I stuck with it. I lost the 15 pounds of fat and put on some muscle to boot.

I was very strict. I didn’t go out with friends if I thought I would be tempted to break my diet.

Though I liked the results, the lifestyle didn’t feel sustainable. The pressure to do the diet 100% was too great, so I felt like I shouldn’t do it at all.

Alas, I’m now in the position again where I’m approximately 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be.

Epicurus, despite his modern reputation as a foodie, actually adhered to a very simple diet of barley and water. He didn’t eat meat, didn’t drink, and would find other simple foods incredibly luxurious.

In a letter to a friend, he even wrote:

Send me a pot of cheese, so that I may have a feast when I care to.

I am thrilled with pleasure in the body, when I live on bread and water, and I spit upon luxurious pleasures not for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow them.

In the spirit of Epicurean month, I have been eating a fairly boring diet (though nutritious): for breakfast, a half-dozen scrambled eggs, for dinner, a rotisseries chicken and some salad, and for dessert, a Fuji apple (the best kind of apple, not other opinion will be tolerated).

This is far more luxurious than what Epicurus subsisted on, but my primary goal here was to eliminate the junk food and other carbs I’ve been eating. I want to see if I can still enjoy the act of eating without the junk.

Unlike the time I was on the slow-carb diet, however, I’m not able to be completely strict with this diet. I can’t go to a friend’s party or restaurant and ask if they can rustle up a rotisserie chicken and some salad. Well, I could, but soon I would find myself banned from restaurants and friendless.

So I’ve been flexible. When I’m out socializing, I don’t worry about the diet. I eat what I want and I have a good time.

If this has been a few years ago, I would have felt angry with myself and abandoned the diet completely and maybe a few months later vow to start the diet again and be even more vigilant against the temptation of tortilla chips and guacamole. My days would have been plagued with guilt and self-loathing.

But so far, I don’t feel guilty at all. Because pleasure is my goal for this month, I’ve decided that self-loathing should be a feeling I try to avoid.

So the days after my friends’ parties or nights out at restaurants, I just return to my weird chicken, egg, and salad diet and I feel fine. In fact, I feel great because I indulged a little a bit, and great because I can return to a healthy meal.

I’ve also adopted this flexible attitude towards exercise. Like my dieting experience, I’ve been hard on myself when I set out to complete a difficult workout program and I don’t follow through.

For my Epicurean month, however, I’ve vowed simply to do some form of exercise every day. Out of the 7 days I’ve completed so far, I’ve exercised on six of them. Two weight training sessions, three 5-mile runs, and one 5-minute kettlebell session. The kettlebell session was a substitute for a weight lifting session because I just didn’t want to go to the gym. I also missed one day of exercise.

With this flexible mindset, I’ve been able to decrease short-term displeasure (self-loathing, upset stomach from junk food, feeling slothful), and have been able to increase long-term pleasure (being more fit overall).

Perhaps being flexible in the pursuits that we know are good for us, is ultimately, a very Epicurean approach to life.

Bonus: I’ve dropped 5 pounds in one week. Perhaps Epicurean flexibility is also good for weight loss.