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Got Eudaimonia? Beyond Diet and Lifestyle Change

Posted Jan 08 2012 1:04pm

by Barbara Berkeley, MD

" The ancient Greeks called it eudaimonia, and positive psychologists have adopted the term to refer to the kind of profound satisfaction and meaning one derives from raising children, training for an Olympic event, completing a college degree or helping your neighbors rebuild after a disaster. " ( NY Times,  "Get A MidLife" , 1/8/12)


It's a gift from the ancients!  Today's New York Times introduced me to a word I've needed and searched for; a word to take the place of the weak and poorly descriptive phrase:  "lifestyle change".  One of my early blogs on this site complained about the fact that dieters dutifully repeat a rote phrase when asked why many diets ultimately fail, "It can't just be a diet," they say, "it has to be a lifestyle change."  

Whatever that means.

 While every successful maintainer I've every met has definitely altered his/her lifestyle, the phrase "lifestyle change" is not sufficient to describe the accomplishment, nor does it provide any specifics about what that change included. Some time ago, I asked readers to come up with words that better described the experience of maintenance and that included the profound sense of transformation and accomplishment that seems to go with it.  But no words seemed strong or specific enough.

Today's NY Times has an article about modern middle age, it's drawbacks and it's benefits.  Among the good things middle-agers experience is more frequent EUDAMONIA: a sense of having accomplished something truly profound.   Bingo!  I believe that eudamonia is what separates those who just diet from those who become different people at the end.

Look at the Silly  Season ads that currently fill our airwaves and magazines.  What's the message?  That diet is about fitting into smaller clothes.  That dieting is painless and can be accomplished by eating the very same foods that the SAD equates with pleasure. (Nutrisystem: Features "butternut squash ravioli", "double chocolate almond cookie").  Who are the spokepeople?  Often, they are celebrities who have long histories of gaining and losing weight.  Chances are you wouldn't believe that Oprah or Kirstie Alley had found the secret to weight loss unless they had managed to stay at lower weights for a very significant amount of time.  What are the attractions?  Women in tiny jeans and lots of makeup.  It's pretty superficial when compared to the significant tasks that anchor weight maintenance. 

What creates eudaimonia?  Achieving something big, meaningful, and real.  To do this, we need to go several steps past the usual suggestions.  Here's an example:  a weight loss tip from US magazine: "When baking, replace oil with applesauce".  The same tip for those in pursuit of eudaimonia:  "Stop baking.  Guess what? You'll live."

You can find the comments of eudaimonic maintainers scattered throughout the responses to most online articles on diet.  They generally will describe how they lost the weight and their long term regimen for keeping it off.  There is always a simplicity to it and a pride.  They worked it out!  This has created a deep satisfaction.  

As I always like to say,  losing weight is no more nor less than throwing out the trash at home.  It's great to get rid of it, but it's not a cause for intense, deeply-felt pride.  But if you can turn that nice, clean home into a showplace, a thing of beauty, a place that anchors the you've got eudaimonia.   






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