The Desire versus the Act
Disregulated eaters tend to act as if feelings and behavior are one and the same, or at least as if they’re so intertwined that they can’t be separated. A line in a mystery I read long ago struck me as a useful description in distinguishing the two. I hope it helps you recognize the difference, especially around your eating.
The line came from the protagonist in Lawrence Block’s mystery, EVEN THE WICKED: “There is, I have been taught, all the difference in the world between the desire and the act. The one is written on water, the other carved in stone.” The speaker is a recovered alcoholic, a deeply flawed but reflective private eye who has found a better life in recovery after years of addictive misery. Not so different from disregulated eaters who are working towards “normal” eating and learning not to act on impulse.
I like the way that Block—from what I’ve read about him, a recovered alcoholic—uses the word desire. Most of us recognize that desires are internal impulses and that they come and go. You may want to have Asian food one night and seafood the next, may wish to spend one vacation in the mountains and another at the shore, may desire on a Saturday to do nothing but read and relax and on a Sunday prefer to get out and be with people or vice versa. Are we all agreed then that desire is an internal word? Thoughts or feelings, they’re strictly an inside job. However, when—and only when—desire crosses over the line to become external, it manifests itself in behavior. There is a world of difference between the two and that’s what you want to remember.
Now let’s return to Block’s metaphor: desire as written on water and an act as carved in stone. Wishes pass, they come and go, rippling through our minds then floating away. We become involved in a new activity and a wish disappears as if it had never existed. Sometimes wishes drift off on their own and other times we need to give them a little shove, but then they’re gone because that’s the nature of thoughts and feelings.
Behavior, however, is carved in stone. Out in the world, there it is—a done deed—and there’s nothing we can do to take it back. No matter how much we desire to do so, no matter how strongly we wish that we hadn’t take an action such as eating when we’re not hungry, no can do. So spend a little time reflecting on the distinction between “the desire” and “the act,” especially the nature of each one that makes them distinct and keeps them separate from the other. When you have an unhealthy desire, let it wash away by imagining the unhealthy act it may lead to being set in stone.