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Debbie and I have been on a new diet for six days, and today I failed. The diet is really easy to do because most of the time we are sleeping. It’s called an intermittent fasting diet, and the way we started doing it was by not eating anything caloric from 8 PM to 8 AM. That’s a twelve hour fast which we broke at breakfast at 8 AM. It was so easy to do that we upped the ante and now we don’t eat between 8 PM and 12 noon. That has proven to be easy to do too and has the advantage that I do feel a little hungry just before lunch, but generally only when I think about it. My friend Fred G, back in Berkeley, used to say, “Hunger is my friend.” I don’t know what kind of diet he was following but he always looked trim and vigorous. To me, a little bit of hunger just means my stomach, or whatever it is that proclaims that I’m hungry, is sending signals to my fat cells to give up a bit of stored weight.

The diet is so easy to do that when I am home there is no problem because I just wait until the dinner bell rings and then I go sit down and we eat. Today was different. I went to one of my morning meetings and someone had generously brought a beautiful collection of treats — cookies, Christmas candies, and assorted other things including chocolate brownies that were all on a decorative Christmas plate. I was involved in a conversation with D when the plate came to me, and I reflexively took a small brownie and passed the plate on, and went back to the conversation. A few seconds later, after I had eaten the small brownie, I realized that I had broken my diet.

When it came my turn to speak to the group, which was at the time talking about love and personal responsibility as if these were easy things to do if we said the right words occasionally, … I confessed. I said, “If you can’t keep a promise to yourself, how can you be trusted by yourself, or by anyone. Can anyone be trusted with a promise? New Year’s Resolutions are known for being broken even before the month of January is half gone. So can you trust those people, who can’t trust themselves to keep a promise to themselves to be trustworthy to you?” Machiavelli said you can only trust people whom you can punish if they don’t keep their commitments. Therefore, following his advice, a New Year’s Resolution should be coupled with some form of preplanned punishment for noncompliance. It could be a tiny punishment, but real.

One thing about the concept of love, as it is generally discussed, is that it is a good feeling and that it is wholly personal and internal. My problem with that form of love is that if it isn’t expressed externally it is unknowable and thus meaningless to the supposed loved one. I insist that love must be expressed externally in a way that affects the loved one in some tangible way and that when it is expressed that way it is called kindness. Therefore, I call kindness a more satisfactory form of behavior than love.

My failure to keep my diet was because my resolution wasn’t yet formed into a habit capable of resisting a challenge. That tiny brownie was a wonderful lesson and an opportunity to learn to be more careful with my promises to myself and to be kinder to other people for their failures to do what they say they are going to do.

A diet is a personal commitment to the health of one’s future self and it should be treated as a sacred trust.