Seven years ago, when I saw Chic in concert for the first time, Nile Rodgers used the interlude in one of their songs as an opportunity to tell the crowd about his recent cancer battle, which he ultimately won. The songwriter and producer explained that receiving the news inspired him to go on a music-making binge, as he figured he only had a short window of time left to express his art.
Earlier today, as I was driving home from the beach with our daughter, that memory crossed my mind. Since she will soon be restarting school, we have been trying to cram in as many daddy-daughter activities and outings – the Museum of Science, the Butterfly Place, farms, the zoo, fruit picking, restaurants, train rides, the aforementioned beach, etc. – as we can before the start of the school year interferes and forces these bonding experiences from frequent occasions to relative rarities. Before we have even left the parking lot of one activity, I am already thinking about the next one and all of the others that I hope to shove into our remaining time before it runs out. We have fun, but part of me is distracted, anxious, and sad as I think about the end.
Deadlines have their upsides because they can push us to accomplish tasks and achieve goals that might otherwise remain unfulfilled, but they bring with them stress and general feelings of unease that detract from the experience.
Life-threatening illnesses and the school calendar are examples of deadlines imposed upon us, realities that we just have to do our best to roll with, but sometimes we needlessly impose deadlines upon ourselves. A person who wants to get married by a certain age may settle because the timing is right even though the partner is wrong. Someone I know recently spent a hot summer evening in the emergency room with heat exhaustion and dehydration because they stubbornly kept hacking away at a tree they really wanted to cut down before dinnertime rather than conceding they should take an additional day to complete the project. When we were adolescents, a friend of mine wanted to bench press a particular weight before a school dance, and he ended up having to fight to free himself as the much-too-heavy bar laid across his chest.
Because this is a nutrition blog, I am of course thinking about the predicaments we can put ourselves and our relationships with food in due to self-imposed deadlines. An obvious example is the melancholy and frantic overconsumption that precedes a scheduled diet. Trying to lose weight before a wedding or another similar function is a common – yet problematic – behavior that is most likely to result in eventual weight gain and increased risk for developing a wide range of health woes. Someone I know severely dehydrated himself on his birthday and spent much of it at the gym because he had set a goal to be at a particular weight by his new age, and while he did survive and recover, he put himself in a dangerous situation for the sake of an arbitrary goal.
Imagine what these scenarios could look like instead without the needless deadlines. No diet on the horizon could mean more peaceful and intuitive eating without the threat of self-imposed food insecurity looming. Foregoing an attempt to lose weight before an event reduces the chances of harmful and discouraging weight cycling and creates space for the person to focus their time and attention on the big day itself and to go into it full of energy instead of depleted. Personally, I can think of more fun ways to spend a birthday than sweating out as much fluid as possible on an elliptical machine.
Time and opportunities are finite resources, and while we never know when they will run out, we can make life easier for ourselves by leaving self-imposed deadlines in the past.