What does appetite mean exactly? We like to think of it in terms of a desire for food. But it is actually more properly termed as the power that tends us toward some object that we see as good which acts through the body. Even if the object is bad for us, we can still seek it under the notion of the apparent good (this is where we have mistakenly assessed it as good). For instance, we all know appetite in relation to food but this word can apply to many things, like a tendency toward hard work or pleasure of some kind. Thankfully, we are focusing on food and drink so we don’t have to worry about those other things.
There are two types to go over – the concupiscible and the irascible. The concupiscible appetite is a tendency toward a good or away from an evil in a simple sense whereas the irascible appetite comes when one has to overcome some obstacle to satisfy the concupiscible appetite. We have inclinations that impel us toward things that are hard or difficult to attain (arduous) like completing your degree or building something. These appetites are moved by our senses, imagination, association power and intellect.
To illustrate these points, let me give an example using myself. I have an appetite (concupiscible) for chips and salsa. If I see chips and salsa, my appetite is moved (I tend towards eating them because they taste good!). Here my senses moved the appetite (I saw and smelled them while tasting them will further move it). If I think about them without them present (with my imagination, memory, intellect, association power), then I will move my appetite still. My body chemistry actually changes in response to this movement. The irascible appetite is aroused if I have to drive a long distance to get them (an obstacle I have to overcome). I might exhibit an annoyance that I have to drive to get this but this emotion drives me to overcome that long drive. Both appetites will have their respective emotions or passions which is what we will move to next.
The six passions of the concupiscible appetite include: love, hate, desire, flight, delight and sorrow. Love drives all of the others. The five passions of irascible appetite include: hope, despair, audacity, fear, and anger. What I will attempt to do is to try to relate these passions or emotions to what we eat and drink.
Love, as part of the concupiscible appetite, is a movement toward a good or pleasant object. For example, the chips and salsa. If the chips and salsa are here and attainable, then the love for it generates an actual desire. Once I obtain the chips and salsa, the desire comes to fruition in joy and delight. But if some other thing impedes that attainment, then the irascible passion of anger (irritation, annoyance, etc) will be stirred up against this impediment and urge us to overcome it. Once it is out of the way, joy or delight returns. The same can be said to avoid evil things (which is moved by a love for the good and in this instance, avoiding evil is good).
For example, let’s say I gain more knowledge that eating too many chips and salsa is bad for my health and so now my object of love is my body’s well-being. However, I find eating broccoli and other healthy foods difficult to eat. Love for my health moves me to desire to eat better though. However, the impediment to this is my attachment to chips and salsa. In other words, my love for the pleasure that chips and salsa brings me when I eat it. Hence, because this is arduous, an irascible passion will now arise. Which comes depends on the person and where they are at with dealing with this arduous task. One person may have hope where he hopes in his or another’s capacity to get him to come to the good (eating healthier and ridding himself of his attachment to chips and salsa).
Another person may despair where he thinks there is no way he will ever get over this addiction as he does not see it as possible to obtain. This happens because he sees the object of being healthier exceeding his capacity to obtain it. If and when the person does overcome this arduous task, he returns to delight as he has obtained masterful control of his attachment. Of course, true mastery is difficult to get so he can fall back into eating chips and salsa without moderation which then elicits anger as the evil of his addiction has returned and is present. This anger, though, helps one move back towards overcoming this attachment. If is overcome again, one goes back to delight and if not, one can move towards sorrow or depression (because the present evil of this attachment to chips and salsa is still here). Of course, with aid, one can be moved back to hope and eventually joy/delight.
You can see the complexity that the human mind and brain contains. Multiple emotions can come from each emotion in this process – I only illustrated a few. These emotions move through us so quickly that we never think about it. But to gain mastery over yourself in this way, you should try to understand these kinds of emotions better! If you know how you respond well to such impediments, then we can begin to draw out the reasons why you may think you cannot overcome the arduous task of overcoming a certain attachment to a certain bad food. If you know that you despair when thinking about losing weight to achieve a healthier state, why is that? Why do you despair? What makes you think that you cannot overcome the hard task of avoiding bad foods and eating good foods? By asking yourself these questions, you are exercising your capabilities of reasoning out what the problem is and finding a solution to overcome that problem and give yourself hope again. By giving yourself hope again, you will then begin to be moved to overcome this hard task.
The point I want to make is that we need to rightly order our passions of both appetites so that we can make good choices. Remember that there are instances where it is reasonable to feel fear or despair because when one reasons out that one truly cannot overcome something, then it is reasonable to feel this way. Like desiring to see a parent who recently died but knowing that this is impossible (in this life) since that person is dead so one appropriately can move the passions of sorrow, despair and anger.
The key question is: are you truly despairing in a reasonable way with trying to eat healthier? Is it really un-attainable? Or is it that you are letting your appetite for pleasure override what is reasonable? It is reasonable to maintain a healthy balanced diet because that is a true good for your body. Eating outside these boundaries occurs because of a disordered appetite. We must orient ourselves back to controlling our appetites. This will be the subject of a future blog but as a preview, the answer to getting control again is to perform acts that are truly good for you. With regards to your diet, keeping a food journal is a good first step. It keeps you informed of your bad eating habits so that your intellect and will can make more reasonable choices moving forward. By strengthening them through journaling and practice of eating healthier, you begin to take control over your disordered appetites and thus gain more hope that you can indeed overcome this difficult task.