Consume Less, Enjoy More

Lights Gone Overboard

It is possible to overdo ANYTHING...

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had issues with digestion. It’s a family thing: my dad complained about indigestion, and apparently had an ulcer (no one talks about ulcers any more. Did they go out of fashion when acid reflux kicked in?). Speaking of acid reflux, I finally took my indigestion to the doctor, started taking a proton-pump inhibitor, and had an endoscopy when I discovered that I had a condition called Short Barrett’s Esophagus. The “short” means it only was at the bottom of my esophagus, which I suppose is a good thing; but given that my grandmother died of esophageal cancer and that Barrett’s is a risk factor for the same, I’m pretty much going to have an endoscopy every three years or so from now until the end of my life. Better safe than sorry.

I’ve learned a lot about acid reflux since my diagnosis, and I know all the tricks like eating early, sleeping on an incline, and avoiding certain trigger foods (which I don’t always do well, which is why sleeping on an incline is so relevant). But the simplest way to manage reflux is, ironically, often the hardest thing to do: and that’s simply to eat less food.

Yesterday I read an article about how to avoid a heart attack over the holidays (one of my brothers has had several heart attacks and one of my grandfathers had heart disease, so it’s something that I do have some concern over). Of course, the article was a litany of common sense advice: be careful while shoveling snow, monitor your stress level, even get a flu shot. But not surprisingly, the number one suggestion was this:

Avoid overindulging in food or alcohol. The risk of an attack appears to double in the two hours after a particularly large meal.

It’s so simple, isn’t it? Eating less reduces the risk of something small like indigestion, and something major like a coronary. It’s one of two must-do’s when we wish to lose weight (and yes, the other one is to exercise). So why don’t we “just do it” — why do we keep on eating so much?

Oh, I know the chorus. We’re an affluent society; we eat to manage stress or difficult emotions; we have survival instincts that nobody knows how to turn off. I think another issue is that we’re so distracted. We eat while watching TV, while reading, while driving, while checking our email. We eat while flirting, while striking a business deal, while arguing with our spouse. We over-consume food because we’re over-consuming life.

“Less is more” has been on my mind a lot lately. I need fewer possessions than what I currently have. I need to eat less food, to read fewer books, to spend less time online. Is this a function of my age (I just turned 50)? Maybe so, but to anyone younger than me who is reading this, all I can say is “don’t wait!” Don’t wait until you are twenty or fifty pounds overweight before you start seriously modifying your food intake. Don’t wait until you have a heart attack — or develop Barrett’s Esophagus — before committing to eat less. Don’t wait until you realize that you own so many un-read books that it will take you thirty years to read them all, before you start winnowing out your library. Don’t wait until somebody takes pictures of your living room and uses them on a poster for Clutterholics Anonymous before you begin to manage your accumulation of stuff.

Consume less, enjoy more. Less food, less stuff. More life, more health, more time for the really important things like family and prayer. It’s my new mantra.

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  1. Hi

    I came to your site via Maggie Ross.

    Just a couple of things that may interest you:

    (1) Health problems and contemplation seem to go together.
    (2) Don’t blame yourself too much for “overeating”. I had a great deal of discomfort from influx disease (went the same route as you, including expensive state-of-the-art drugs) until, finally, I had a hernia repair early this year.

    The reason why I mention (2) is that people with digestive problems often blame themselves for their problems whereas, at least sometimes, they have an affliction that is in no way their fault.

    Your website (along with Maggie’s) should be compulsory reading for everybody (believers and non-believers) who thinks they know what “religion” is all about.

    Jane Smith (Pretoria, South Africa)

  2. I know people who tried everything for acid reflux without success. The problem finally went away when they stopped drinking liquids at meal time. You might want to try that. Nothing to lose…

  3. Thanks, Jane and Dwight. Your comments point out that there are many causes for reflux, and of course the strategies for dealing with it are at least as varied as the causes. Anyone who is dealing with reflux needs to talk to their physician (and I say, the sooner the better). Jane, you’re right, it’s important to remember that reflux may not just be a “lifestyle” issue. As for treatment, for me, eating moderately (and avoiding trigger foods) has proven to be the best course of action. And especially since I’d like to lose a few pounds, it makes sense on multiple levels.

  4. Hi, Carl,

    I had some problems with AR a few years ago. Sometimes I’d wake up at night unable to breathe, the acid having shot up into my nose and eyes! The cure for me was making lunch my dinner, and the evening meal very light. (I still often just have popcorn for supper.) I also put sleeping bags under my mattress to elevate my head in the bed.

    For the last couple of years, no problem at all, although I only have desserts before bed maybe once or twice a week. I know trouble is lurking if I make late-night desserts a regular habit.

    I’m very sorry to hear about your mom and esophageal cancer. My dad was diagnosed with it just before he was supposed to travel to Spain with me this summer. However, he’s been doing really well. He’s had some radiation therapy, and a few rounds of chemo, and has been eating a pescatarian diet and avoiding omega-6 vegetable oils and refined carbs. On his last checkup, the tumors had shrunk so much the docs are discontinuing treatment and just want to monitor it.

  5. Carl,

    Less is more. That cliche is a hefty tome of advice when I stop to really contemplate what that means, the before and after, who gets served, etc. I have AF too and was recently diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. Eat less, walk more, eat less, pray more, eat less, consume – in all manner of things – less. Good advice for the coming year for many, many reasons.

    Hoping you have a Merry Christmas with your family, Carl.

  6. This comes at a good time for me, since the main thing on my mind today is weight loss. My weight has been high-but-stable most of my life, but in the past year (owing to depression last winter, and more recently to getting a job in food services where I’m constantly surrounded by food) it’s gotten out of hand, even to the point where more than once I’ve been reduced to tears by the number of pants that don’t fit me anymore. It seems like a total 180 from the attitude I’ve cultivated in myself that I am beautiful the way I am, and that I shouldn’t be preoccupied with looks or with fashion, but really, there’s a difference between a healthy self-acceptance and just tolerating habits that can cause serious health problems. Finally, although I’m not one to pray for trivial things, I broke down and prayed for help in resisting the temptation to overindulge and for strength to do the work required to get my weight back in control. Since then, I’ve felt better about my prospects, and though it’s no easier to resist, I’ve begun seeing temptation not as an obstacle, but as a God-given opportunity to strengthen my self-control.

    Then, coming home and seeing this on your blog feels like a little reminder that I’m not alone in the quest to reduce consumption. Thanks for writing.

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