You’ve probably heard the saying, “Diets don’t work.” When it comes to lasting lifestyle changes, radical crash diets certainly don’t work. And I’m not just talking about food. Writers who decide to give up all plastic in one week are not likely to succeed in creating long-term sustainable changes either.
But there’s another element that can undermine our efforts at changing ourselves and the world: GUILT.
When I asked Fake Plastic Fish readers to take the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge, I emphasized several times that guilt is not necessary or even helpful. Did I say this to make you guys feel better so that you’d participate in my little challenge? No way. And I hope those who took the challenge (and those who will take it in the future [have you done it yet?]) will come to understand what I have: that guilt gets in the way of seeing the truth.
I’m currently in the middle of reading an enlightening book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David Kessler, former head of the FDA. Kessler spends many pages explaining scientifically how it is that we have evolved to crave certain types of highly palatable foods and then shows exactly how the food industry uses this information to design foods that are irresistible to us.
If we spend all our time feeling guilty about giving in to our cravings for salt, sugar, and fat, we lose sight of the bigger issue: Millions of dollars are spent every year to keep us in this cycle of craving and surrendering to foods that are not healthy for us. How can we expect to win this battle if we think the problem is all our fault?
Blaming ourselves doesn’t help. But making excuses for our behavior doesn’t help either.
What can we learn from keeping food diaries or tallying our plastic trash? What can we learn not only about our own habits and lifestyles but about the way our society itself is set up to promote waste and overindulgence?
Questioning who is “at fault” is important because it helps us realize that resisting plastic, just like resisting overeating, is not a matter of individuals “being good” but about fighting a systematic plan by companies to keep us entrapped in these unhealthy habits.
Interestingly, one of the participants in the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge decided to tally only her food-related plastic and use the exercise to see if giving up plastic packaging would also lead to weight loss. It’s a good question, since so much junk food comes packaged in plastic, and many of these foods are exactly the types of engineered enticements that Kessler explains in his book.
What other kinds of links can we make between the types of products and packaging that are available and promoted to us and the sickness that many of us feel on a daily basis? And once we make these links and catch a glimpse of a problem that is vastly bigger than our individual selves, how can we fight back?
What are we doing about it?
Part of my intention for having people take the challenge is to provoke a certain amount of frustration. Once we get our plastic trash down to a level beyond which we’re not willing to go without extreme sacrifice, what then? How many of us are willing to take the next steps and speak out? If only writing some letters. Talking to our friends. Signing a petition. Or going further and creating a campaign.
I’m tossing these ideas out to you guys to chew on. I’ve personally been feeling overwhelmed ever since returning from Chicago, realizing that while my individual actions are crucial, they are not enough. I’m not interested in beating myself up over the occasional plastic wrapper when billions of dollars are spent to create and promote new plastic crap every day and entrap us in a cycle of overconsumption.
I’m looking for my next campaign. Are you?