Diet and Agency

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by Nick Galieti

I have two stories that I wish to share as illustration of the effect diet has on the principle of agency. After sharing the two stories I hope to correlate them to this precept.

First Story:

I live along the Wasatch Front/Salt Lake County, UT area. While this area is stereotypically considered a “mormon” heavy population, there has been enough of a shift in the population over the last 7 years or so that many of the stereotypes are becoming far less prevalent. One sign of that shift is the rise in restaurants that serve alcohol, and the number of coffee shops and smoke shops that have opened.

I travel a good bit with my job and I have been able to measure this change up against other cities in the world. In many cities and areas of the world the morning ritual of the majority of the population is to drink coffee. Riding in mass transit trains, driving on the freeway to work, walking the streets doing some shopping, most people have an insulated hot beverage cup topped with the token spill proof lid.

Some will walk around zombie-like until they get at least one cup of coffee before they start their day. I have observed an increase in the Salt Lake City population that is starting to follow this lifestyle choice in hot or cold weather. While I don’t know what would possess someone to drink a boiling hot beverage when it is 90 degrees or even over 100 degrees outside, one could easily observe that drinking coffee is a habit, and to some, perhaps an addiction that surpasses need or logic.

Second story:

I am over weight, not grotesquely so, but I am 30 lbs over what the government considers a healthy body weight. Even if the government didn’t set that standard, my knee pain act as a reminder that change is needed. While I am only 5′ 8”, there was a time in my life when I used to be able to jump high enough to grab hold on a basketball rim 10 feet off the ground. I also used to be able to run a 6 minute mile and could walk up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. Those days are gone.

After being mistaken as the father of a 19 year old girl (I am only 34 at the time of this post), I realized that not only do I not feel young, but I feel unhealthy enough that my energy level is giving the perception that I am older than I really am. I started to look at my diet and realized that it wasn’t that I was eating all that unhealthy as far as food choice. I just eat far more than I need to make it through the day and I am not exercising anywhere near what I am capable.

Now, how do these two stories relate diet and agency? In both of these experiences I realized that WHO I was becoming and the characteristics I saw in others weighed a great deal on what was consumed.

Let us consider this thought from Elder D. Todd Christofferson who quoted Elder Richard L. Evans:

Life offers you two precious gifts-one is time, the other freedom of choice, the freedom to buy with your time what you will. You are free to exchange your allotment of time for thrills. You may trade it for base desires. You may invest it in greed… yours is the freedom to choose. But these are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction. Every day, every hour, every minute of your span of mortal years must sometime be accounted for. And it is in this life that you walk by faith and prove yourself able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And your eternal reward will be according to your choosing.

In the case of those that drink coffee religiously I see an individual who has surrendered a portion of their life’s energy to an external chemical. They have chosen to buy with their time and their money something that will actually curtail their ability to chose. That individual will become a slave to the caffeine. While coffee is not the only substance that can have this affect on an individual, I simply use it as an example of anything that can have such a claim on our attitudes, and our finances.

What of the money that is spent on coffee? With the average cost of a cup of coffee being around $4.50, multiply that by the number of days in the year that people drink coffee (let’s assume that the average coffee drinker will miss some days due to sickness or circumstances, we can round to 300 days a year) the average individual spends $1,350 a year on coffee. Most studies show that this figure is the average, and doesn’t include the amount of money that individuals spend on coffee at home. (For more on how America’s coffee habit impacts the society and workplace, you can read this article from ABC News.) Considering the amount of money an individual spends on a completely elective product, something that is unnecessary to achieving good health, up against the good that could be done in helping others, their family members, or even on a gym membership to be healthier, drinking coffee is a choice that has moral implications. Drinking coffee is, as Elder Evans puts it, “are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction.”

When I consider how poor diet can impact one’s energy level alone it is not a stretch to realize that those who are healthy are open to more of life’s opportunities. This is not a social commentary or criticism of economic opportunities, this is not an attack on age. This is as simple as considering the lack of motivation and lack of ability that an unhealthy person will choose not to engage in.

Back when I was first married I was in good shape. I wanted to go swimming, hiking, bike riding, I was able to provide more acts of service and could be a better employee. As I have gained weight I have noticed a decrease in my abilities, but even more poignant, I have noticed a decrease in my desire to all the good that I am capable of doing.

In both scenarios I see the wisdom in the Word of Wisdom. In keeping a healthy diet I not only will open up the possibilities of my agency, but I will also demonstrate that I will, “walk by faith and prove [myself] able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And [my] eternal reward will be according to [my] choosing.” Unhealthy habits are a surrender of control, of our ability to choose. If I choose to be unhealthy, I will submit my choices and my resources to feeding an addiction with temporary pleasure instead of helping those in need; or in indulging in self-medicating some emotional need with food, instead of being healthy enough to fulfill the measure of my creation. Diet changes not only what we can do with our time and energies, but it may also change the length of time that we have on this earth to use the agency with which we have been blessed. This also gives greater relevance to the practice of the Sacrament being something that we consume. What we take into our bodies can act as a token of our commitment to keep God’s commandments, and to use our agency for the work of the Lord.

4 Responses to Diet and Agency

  1. jae says:

    There are aspects of this post that I totally align with. However, I would like to state that it seems we, as members of the Church, have the advantage on the concept of agency. We know the doctrine and are more in tune with the principles associated with it. Not to defend the life style of the business suit and coffee cup folks, I have to give them a bit of an out, if you will. For they are without the blessing of the Spirit to aid them in sorting through the confusion of the world. There is such convoluted information from the various medical, health and natural industries that make it difficult to know what is truth and what isn’t. I have read numerous studies both in support of and in the negative regarding the benefits of coffee, if any. I am blessed as the decision to avoid this stems from a desire to obey a commandment. What commandment do our brothers and sisters in the world have to aid them and bless them to better use their gift of agency?

    I appreciate your correlations and believe they support why we as members live as we do. We understand obedience to the word of wisdom in all aspects will bless us with an ability to walk and not faint. What a gift that is to us. Still, we have our own set of issues with caffeine as members. Our addictions of choice often lay just this side of obedience — a can of worms all on it’s own.

    I enjoyed your post and will continue to ponder upon this as I believe there is much more underneath.

    (I especially appreciated your quoting of Elder Evans. Great truths in just that paragraph. What an awesome movie ‘Man’s Search For Happiness.’ I wish the Church would bring this one back. It dates me, but it is one of my favorites.)

  2. Becky Rose says:

    I so identify with what your saying about lack of desire and capability to do and help! I’ve experienced this first hand in my own life. Thank you for this. Another reason to eat more healthy and deny myself of those momentary pleasures such as ice cream and cookies.

  3. Paul says:

    Loved this post. I’ve maintained a significant weight loss (over 25%) for just over a year now, making me feel like it’s more or less permanant (meaning I’m really learning to change my lifestyle to match my new weight). I had thought about the weight loss for a long time (years!) before finally taking action and doing something about it. I had made one significant attempt a few years earlier , but in a way that was not sustainable over the long term.

    The Word of Wisdom is an interesting thing. We often reduce it to a list of four or five specific worthiness items rather than examining it and living it for what it is. I don’t mean to prescribe a meaning for everyone, nor suggest that the WoW alone is the key to healthy living. There’s plenty to be studied on that subject, and weight loss and fitness are not simple subjects, either.

    But you are right: there are consequences — some long term, and some unintended — for the choices we make, and when we choose to do something, we also choose the consequence.

  4. Ray says:

    Excellent post. I know enough people who have medical / physiological issues that keep them from being thin that I try not to judge others when it comes to weight, in and of itself, but . . .

    I am genetically predisposed to not be slim (*grin*) and have struggled with being overweight ever since my metabolism decided to buy a recliner and a TV just as I was leaving college. It has been in a deep sleep for years now. At my peak, I weighed roughly twice what I did when I graduated from high school – but I was thin in high school, with a classic “V” build and hadn’t come close to filling out my frame. I have tried various “diets” over the years, but nothing worked until this past year. Complicating things is the fact that my knees and back won’t allow me to do a lot of traditional exercise – and some of that is due to the extra weight they’ve supported over the years.

    Last year I lost about 50 pounds, then I settled into a non-diet routine to see how much I would regain. After about four months of that, I now am about 20 pounds above the low point from last year and am about to start losing weight again. If I can lose about 40 pounds or so this year, I will be right where I want to be.

    My “secret” was simple: Portion / calorie control, very little sugars, lots and lots of water, no sodas, relatively little liquid other than water, primarily fruits and vegetables, a little meat (mostly fish and chicken) sparingly, etc.

    In other words, I finally pulled my head out and actually started living by the general principles of the Word of Wisdom.

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