You Can Have Anything You Want… by Dana Carpender

You bought it, you paid for it, it’s yours.

Your life, I mean. No, I’m not talking theologically; let’s not get into issues of divine creation and salvation and such; we’re here to talk diet and health. I’m talking about the indisputable truth that 90% of the time, our lives, good or bad, are largely the result of the choices we make. Yes, your genetics play a role. Yes, your upbringing influences you. Yes, the tides of history can intervene, and wash away all trace of the life you carefully created for yourself – ask anyone in a war torn land. Still, and always, our choices, our actions, are the single most powerful influence we have on creating our lives, for good or ill.

Yet people often like to deny their own influence over their lives. How often have I heard, “I’d do anything to lose this weight!,” only to be told, when I suggest a low carbohydrate diet, “Oh, I couldn’t give up sugar!” or “I can’t stop eating potatoes!” I have little patience with “can’t” and “couldn’t.” I much prefer, “It’s not worth it to me,” or an honest, “I don’t want to.” I have no problem with people choosing to eat stuff I wouldn’t touch, I just get a little bent out of shape when they complain about the results as if they’re out of their hands.

But people do, all the time. Indeed, they do their level best to ignore any connection between eating badly and feeling unwell. I was amused by a quick conversation with a waitress at a Bob Evan’s restaurant a few years back. That Nice Boy I Married and I had finished our steak, salad, and vegetables, and she came by and asked didn’t we want some dessert? I said, “No, thanks, I don’t do sugar.” “You don’t eat sugar?” came the usual incredulous reply. “Why not?!” “Because it makes me fat, tired and cranky,” I said, smiling. “But…” she said, “It tastes so good!” Is that classic, or what?

It’s quite common for folks who are changing their way of eating to feel sorry for themselves, like victims of a cruel fate. I want you to exchange that feeling for a feeling of power: power over your health, over your happiness, over your life. Total power? No. I can’t make myself taller, give myself a longer waist or a smaller rib cage, or – apparently – even become fashionably skinny. But I can, and I do, rein in my body’s tendency to gain weight to a dangerous degree. I can, and have, gotten rid of nasty energy and mood swings, and the seeming “neurosis” that went with them. (In the very first nutrition book I ever read, I found a list of 45 symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia – low blood sugar caused by eating too much sugar – and was startled to find that it read like a list of my “emotional” problems.) I have reached the age of 50 with few wrinkles. I am physically powerful all out of proportion for a small, middle aged woman. I can run up a flight of stairs or climb a long, steep hill or dance for hours without becoming winded. And I genuinely believe that I have a fighting chance of avoiding the heart disease and cancer which run in my family, and enjoying a healthy old age, God willing and the crick don’t rise. This much power over my life is mine, and I get that power by choosing, by making conscious choices.

Maddeningly, it’s not just a matter of choosing once. That would be so easy, wouldn’t it? “Okay, I choose to eat a healthy diet.” That’s it. For the rest of your life, nothing but tasty, healthy, low carb food would appear in front of you.

As if. No, damn it, it’s not just a matter of choosing to eat healthy. It’s a matter of choosing and choosing and choosing and choosing and CHOOSING, over and over again, every day, practically every hour, for the rest of your life. It’s a matter of choosing the best thing available from the limited selection at the mini-mart when you’re starving, of choosing to pass up yet another birthday cake at the office, of choosing not to give in to the path of least resistance and just grab a sandwich this time, of choosing to soothe yourself with a hot bath or a phone call to a friend, instead of a candy bar. And it goes on, I’m sorry to say, forever.

Arrgh.

There are two things I can tell you that soften this knowledge. One is that making intelligent nutritional choices gets far easier over time. Part of that is familiarity – you know what you do and don’t eat, and you’ve built up a repertoire of favorite choices, menu picks, recipes. Part of it is that tastes, believe it or not, really do change. I’ve had the experience several times now of deciding to have an Indulgence, and discovering that the formerly favorite food just doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as I’d remembered. (This especially happens with sweets, most of which taste way too sweet and bland to me now.) Part of it is just plain getting used to it. And quite a lot of it is seeing the benefits – weight loss, energy, emotional stability, mental clarity, improved health – and understanding that this, this wonderful feeling of just plain wellness, is the reward you’ve been choosing in place of the junk.

The other somewhat comforting thing I can tell you about this need to choose is that it is not so only where nutrition and health are concerned, but for your whole darned life. You can choose to get up and go to work today, or you can choose to not get paid, and possibly lose your job. You can choose to slog through cleaning the kitchen, or you can choose to live with grime, smells, and bugs. You can choose to put a leash on your tongue and temper, and be kind and polite to those around you, or you can choose to be exceedingly unpopular. You can choose spend your money wisely, and eventually be wealthier, or you can choose to run up your credit cards, and make little financial headway. You can choose to get to bed at a decent hour, or you can choose to stay up for the Late Show, and feel tired in the morning.

We all know these things, and most of us choose, most of the time, to do the thing that will result in the greatest happiness for the long run. Why do we feel that our nutritional choices should somehow be different? And why do so many people, after years and years of bad nutritional choices, assume that ill health just sort of happened to them?

Food is just one of the many areas of your life where wise choices will reward you greatly. And I’m here to assure you that the reward will, indeed, be very great, and far more immediate than most.

You can have anything you want; you just can’t have everything you want. Choose wisely!

© Copyright 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the very choosy author. 

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