I know many may say no, but I for one certainly did take things too far at one point in my life.
Here’s a story to kind of put excessive attention to healthy eating into perspective:
Let’s say I create a special program, or write a book all about the benefits of watching less TV. It wouldn’t be a hard sell to convince anyone that watching less TV could be a good idea. I can easily throw some stats together correlating hours spent watching TV to obesity, metabolic syndrome, poor grades, divorce rates, lower income, credit card debt, cancer and a whole host of other things that can give you the hebee-jebees.
Due to the “science” I detailed in the book you decide to give it a try and cut back from 3 hours a day to just 30 minutes. At first it’s tough but not impossible. You soon find you no longer miss what’s happening on a few of the shows you used to watch and you can get the highlights from the baseball game in a 3 minute highlight real.
Instead of watching TV you call up some friends and go rock climbing. On other nights, you start to finish some projects up at work and do other tasks you’ve been putting off for a while. You start loosing weight, you feel stronger and you’re more productive than ever before. Friends and family applaud the changes you’ve made and they start asking for advice.You feel great and life is good.
Life is good…but it could be better. So if watching less TV was good then you decide to cut it out from your life all together. So out goes the Sunday football game you watch with your friends and you even refuse to watch a quick episode of C.S.I Miami on Hulu.
Just as before, you’re getting results, but they are slightly less rewarding and they are coming at a higher cost. You miss your weekly football game and hanging with your friends. But hey, you just took up flying lessons and sacrifices must be made. Even though you’re best buddy is having a massive 40th birthday bash you refuse to go because the party is at a sports bar and there’s a million televisions there.
You congratulate yourself on being strong and disciplined to resist watching TV. You have a new found confidence and strength flowing that you never knew you had.
For some reason, friends and family however are not quite as supportive. Where as before they applauded your efforts now they start thinking you may be a little crazy to go to great lengths to avoid TV. But hey, they’re the “mindless zombies” who are “addicted” to the TV and you’re smarter and tougher than that.
You’re on a high and you want to take things further still. As luck would have it, someone else decided to cash in on the less-TV fad and publishes their own book, but this one is different. This one is all about how the evil isn’t just TV, but all things with screens! So now going to the movies is out. As is using a computer, tablet PC, and even a cell phone. In the book there is an example of a super vigilant mother who sold her car because it had a navigation screen on the dash board.
The book also paints a rosy image of a time before we used so many screens in daily life. More “science” comes in about how happy and healthy people were in the ancient screen-less utopia and then TV was invented and the whole world has been going to hell ever since.
You’re super proud of the fact that you haven’t watched TV for over a month now. In fact, you start to see yourself in a new light. You’re now a stronger, more disciplined individual who takes life by the horns and lives by your own terms. It just so happens that those terms came from a book and Internet website.
There is even a name for someone who doesn’t watch TV, a “non-watcher”, as they call them. You take on this image and it becomes a new identity for you. It’s an identity you wear proudly and you proclaim your alliance to the non-watchers “club” whenever you get the chance.
By belonging to this club you feel a sense of kinship with other’s who share your beliefs. You and your non-watcher friends are smart and strong. You congratulate yourselves about how you broke free of your addiction and you talk about how great the world would be without any TV. You do your best to spread the word to your friends and family who are still mindlessly addicted to TV. Even though you’re passionate about sharing your new lifestyle you can’t help but feel a little smug about it. You’ve got this sense that you’re somehow smarter and stronger than the masses who still have a TV at the centerpiece in their living room and you catch yourself looking down on those poor souls as if they haven’t woken up to some sort of obvious truth that’s right in front of their faces.
Of course abstaining from TV isn’t always a walk in the park. It requires constant vigilance and discipline in this screen-dominated society so it takes never ending effort. Plus there’s the temptations and desire to watch TV. Even though your desire to watch TV is far less than it was before, it just won’t completely disappear.
There’s a sequel to the adventure movies you loved as a kid that’s getting rave reviews. Oh how you’d love to see the next chapter in the story, but you can just wait for your fiends to see it and then ask them what happened.
That’s just as good right?
But you remain strong and after meeting with some of your non-watcher friends you form a strict and meticulous game plan on how to overcome your temptations.
On an off chance, you’re shopping at a department store and a TV with a perfume commercial catches your eye as you’re waiting to pay for some jeans. Before you know it you’re mesmerized by the beautiful woman on the screen and the special effects. One add leads to another and before you know it, you’ve been watching that damn TV for over 3 minutes! OH NO!
You call up your non-watcher friend (from your land line and screen-less phone) and ask them how to undo the “damage.” You can feel the electrons from the screen bouncing around in your head and effecting your thoughts. After all, your heart beat is higher, your anxiety level is skyrocketing and you have a head ache. You also have trouble concentrating so you’re sure you must have lost a few I.Q. points.
Your non-watcher friend has sympathy and tells you that you can recover by sitting in a dark room while thinking positive thoughts. The recommendation is to spend 50% more time in the room than you spent watching TV. To be on the safe side, you round up and decide to sit in the room for 10 minutes.
Afterward, you emerge feeling cleansed and calm. You have paid the price for your “sins” and it wasn’t really such a big deal. Your headache is gone, and you’re motivated to sit down with some Sudoku puzzles. You’re back to your old self!
“Whew” you say to yourself. “I’m never going to go through that again.” And you believe it…..until you go to a friends house for a bridal shower a week later.
Things are going great at the shower but then they start playing some home movies. Immediately your stress level shoots to the ceiling. You could leave, but it’s your best friend and this is a once in a lifetime event, what kind of friend would you be if you left?
At first you tell yourself that you can just look away from the screen. Yea that’s it! You can just keep looking at something else, but alas that doesn’t last long. Before you know it you’ve “given in” and start watching a video from your high school graduation.
It’s so hard to resist the temptation! Watching and sharing the experience with your best friends is just too much fun and enjoyable. Damn them! Don’t they know you’re on a a no-screen lifestyle? How could they do this to you?
Part of you is mad at them, but the other part is throwing in the towel and having fun. But then you remember something fantastic. You can make up for this evening. There is redemption! All you have to do is track your screen time and spend the appropriate amount of time in your dark room. OH JOY! You can watch and enjoy yourself just as long as you “pay for it later.”
With this in mind you toss your cares aside and indulge. You even go out for a movie later on that evening. It wasn’t a good movie and you really didn’t enjoy it, but hey, if you’re going to indulge you may as well go whole hog because the next day is when you get back on track.
The next morning you wake up and the flood of guilt hits you like a fully loaded cement truck. You really don’t feel like locking yourself into a dark room for the 3 hours you figured you needed. It’s such a nice day out and you want to go for a walk with the dog, but you must do what you must do. So you go into your dark room and even though you are feeling guilty you start to go to your mental happy place.
For good measure you stay in the room a little longer (your actually starting to enjoy it) but when you come out you feel a bit frazzled from sitting in the dark. You feel the need to relax and just let your mind be at peace.
You remember how much fun you had the other night, watching the home videos and your mind instantly wants to have that feeling again. It would be such a relief after sitting in that room. Besides you stayed in a little extra, so you have some screen time you could potentially spend guilt free.
Oh the relaxation of no longer resisting the temptation to watch TV and just sitting down to watch the Simpsons! It’s a free 30 minutes you can spend guilt free.
At the end of the episode you know you “need” to get up, but you figure what’s the harm in just one commercial? So you watch it, and then another and another. By the end of the 3rd commercial you’re “giving in” once again and you’re planning how much time you now need to spend in your dark room again.
The commercial break grows into the next show and you resolve to stop watching at the next commercial break. Then the next commercial. Then the next and the next. Before you know it you’ve watched another TV show. You’re racking up dark room time by the hour!
How did this happen? Why couldn’t you be strong and just not watch TV? You beat yourself up about how you have no self control and don’t deserve nice things in life. After all, no one wants to be friends with someone who just watches TV all the time. That goes double for finding a romantic relationship. After all, all of the experts have clearly laid out the evils of watching TV so therefor it’s clearly a bad thing to do. Since it’s a bad thing to do then you’re making bad choices when you watch and of course only bad people make bad choices. Therefore you’re undeserving of the simple joys of life as long as you watch TV.
You also start to envy your friends. They can watch TV and even use a computer at work all day long yet they are all fine. They all find love and success. They have careers and some are even wealthy and yet they still catch episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and use smart phones. Some of them even check their email 6-7 times a day!
It’s not fair! Why are you the one who is cursed with the life that goes down the tubes just because you can’t control yourself around TV? How come you’re the one struggling with self control when you’re best friend just doesn’t think about it? Is it you’re genetics? Why couldn’t you have been born during the screen-less utopia so you wouldn’t have to worry about avoiding a screen?!
You start to fall into a cycle of watching TV and using your dark room to recover. Sometimes you enjoy your dark room. It’s nice to have a place to escape and be alone to meditate or figure out your problems. You start to look into meditation and learn about those who recommend it on a daily basis. So while going to your dark room may help you recover from your screen watching sins it’s also proven to have some health benefits that you would hate to give up.
Even so, it would be nice to be able to do your meditation on your own power. It would be great if you didn’t have to do it on a daily basis and simply meditate whenever and whenever you wished.
Eventually the ups and downs start to become routine. The peaks and valleys also start to smooth out. Instead of having ups and downs on a daily basis, you can go a week or two without watching a screen. You convince yourself that you’re getting stronger, but after a few weeks you’re back to watching Sports Center on a daily basis.
Life is now, a bit more of a daily struggle. Some days the struggle is almost non-exist ant, but other days it’s all consuming. The days you avoid the TV are some of your best days of the week. However, watch just 30 minutes of TV and the whole day is ruined.
You know you’re not alone either. Thousands who also follow the no-screen lifestyle are also struggling. Some more than others. There are support groups, magazines, books and a whole industry is growing around helping people and their struggle with watching TV.
To find an answer to the struggle, scientists start to research the ordeal. They discover how watching TV can have similar effects in the brain as various narcotics and they find more connections between watching TV and various afflictions.
They also start discovering acute changes that happen within the brain when watching TV. Much to their amazement they also learn that some types of programing effects the brain differently. Not all TV programs are created equality! It turns out that educational shows don’t have nearly as much of a negative effect. In fact, you may even be fine to watch them from time to time.
This news is like manna from heaven! Guilt-free TV! You can watch what you like just as long as you watch specific programs and stay away from others.
As you turn back to the TV you feel a rush of freedom. You can watch TV again, you just have to find “good” programs. However, finding such programs proves to be a problem. A few minutes of searching through the TV guide shows that most of the shows are “bad” shows and the “good” ones are few and far between.
Sheesh! No wonder so many people are unhealthy! There are far too many junk programs out there.
At first you hardly watch any TV at all, but within a month you figure out when the good programs are on and you get in the habit of catching those shows.
As more and more people catch onto the benefits of watching the right programs, the media realize that this is an opportunity to cash in and produce more programs that fall under the category of being “good.” It’s all about catering to the “edu-watchers” which is the new term they use for someone who only watched educational programs.
As the options for good programing grows so does your TV time. Where as before you watched between 30 minutes to an hour a day now you’re back up to 2-3 hours at a time. While you enjoy the relief of being able to watch TV again, life is still not perfect. You’ve lost ground in your flying lessons and some of the benefits you enjoyed before are starting to diminish.
You’re not the only one either. Others are also expressing frustration about no longer gaining the benefits even though they are watching all of the good programs and abstaining from the bad ones.
Even though you’re watching some TV, you’re still needing to use your dark room for when you slip up and watch junk programs. You can’t explain why, but for some reason you’ve grown a never ending craving for mid-day soap operas and the Jerry Springer Show.
Things continue along this way for a while until yet another revolutionary book comes out that takes conventional TV watching ideals and turns them on their head. Instead of watching educational and informative programs that are supposed to be so good the recommendation is to watch trashy sit-coms!
It goes against what other’s have been taught but it does make a little sense. While a documentary on WW2 may last 2-3 hours, a single sitcom can go only 25-30 minutes. Plus the new TV diet calls for only watching brand new programs that are “fresh”. So that means you can only watch a single show one season at a time thus cutting down your potential TV time in half throughout the year.
Within a few months other experts are recommending more complex methods to the mix. Some of them recommend only watching TV programs that are funny, lending to the idea that laughter is good for stress relief and a whole host of other benefits.
Other still are adamant that you should only watch educational programs, but only ones about history, yet others are all about watching programs about modern day scientific discoveries.
Some TV diets recommend alternating your TV viewing where you watch a sitcom on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and then you watch a science show on Tuesday followed by a history show on Thursday and Friday. Sunday is a “cheat day” where you can watch anything you like.
There is even a new TV diet that’s gaining popularity in Hollywood where you cleanse yourself by watching nothing but car commercials for 2-3 hours a day for a week.
Theories and ideas are pouring into magazines and on the news. There are smart phone apps that track your viewing time, what you watched, how much you enjoyed the show and how to plan your viewing for the next week.
The only problem is, you’re not really getting any lasting benefits. As you skip from one program to another your viewing habits change just as radically.
You feel out of control and helpless. You don’t know who to believe or trust any more when it comes to a healthy TV viewing lifestyle.
Once in a while someone comes along and offers ideas such as “just watch less TV” or “make sure you only watch the shows you really enjoy.” The idea is to no longer follow any sort of strict viewing habits, but to simply watch TV when it suits you best. It’s not a lifestyle, a game plan or anything that gives you an identity. It’s just sitting down and watching some TV.
But the answers can’t be that simple. There’s too much science and expert advice on TV viewing lifestyle habits out there. It can’t be as simple as simply asking yourself if you would rather watch another episode of Family Guy or get started on cleaning up the house. Don’t they understand that watching TV is a very complex and difficult science? Every day ground breaking research is revealing the effects of different types of programing. You can’t just wing it and learn to enjoy TV in a responsible healthy way. After all, look at all of the folks who are addicted to TV. They are just winging it and they are in terrible shape!
Nope, you need a program. You need structure. You can’t trust yourself to make your own choices, you have to trust someone who knows nothing about you to decide what you should watch, how much you should watch and when you should watch it.
Is there are happy ending to the story here? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
To be honest, I’m not sure. At the current rate, our struggles are continuing at an ever faster pace. The more solutions and science we discover about how we “should” be eating the more complicated things get.
I’ve been able to find a great deal of freedom and flexibility not through using new science or rules, but to figure out the science and rules we can probably ignore. Even if a new program or rule works does that mean we really need to follow it? Do we really need to make healthy eating so complicated that it takes someone with 2 masters degrees and a PHD in nutrition to tell us what we should have to breakfast?
Finally does food need to become so encompassing that it actually becomes a lifestyle? Does it really need to become an identity that defines our character and inner beauty?
Obviously healthy eating takes some discipline and attention to healthy choices, just as watching TV in a healthy way. But the point is that it can be done without the strict rules, the stressful plans and the all encompassing “Lifestyle”.
Now if you’ll excise me, there’s a bit of left over ice cream in the freezer and Top Gear waiting on my DVR 🙂