Bernard O'Shea: Michelangelo didn't dabble in moderation, and neither do I

Just a sip? It's all or nothing for Bernard. Just don't tell his doctor
Bernard O'Shea: Michelangelo didn't dabble in moderation, and neither do I

Bernard O'Shea would like to think that he could cultivate some self-control, especially when it comes to chocolate and alcohol, but it's easier said than done. Picture: Brian Arthur

There are some things in the world that I wish were just good for you, with no scientific “...however” attached.

For example, “a glass of red wine is good for the heart; however, more scientific research is needed.”

The thing is, I like red wine. However, I like bottles of the stuff. Unfortunately, a glass of the stuff is a red rag to my temperament. The same goes for stout. It was and has been eulogised as being great for the blood and full of iron. I’m always low on iron and have a vitamin B12 deficiency, so I should drink it regularly. But I don’t need scientific research to know that 10 pints of the stuff isn’t going to improve my blood tests.

The same goes for chocolate. A large Toblerone lingered alluringly on the kitchen table for the last week. Every night I watched as it beckoned me to caress its fondant-infused mountains. I eventually caved and ate the whole thing. Not just one square; I had to engulf it all.

The thing is, I’m in heaven when eating chocolate. The textures, the flavours, the initial hit of dopamine so strong it makes your heart slow down. The way it melts on the tongue makes you believe there is a divinity bestowing your brain with little gifts, watching over benignly as we sup pints in cosy pubs and scoff Fruit and Nut bars when stuck on the M50.

I’m embarrassed to say that, at 43 years of age, I am still excited when someone brings a box of Ferrero Rocher to the house. Of course, I follow the unwritten rule of opening and sharing them instantly. Be wary of people who “put them away” and offer you Rich Tea biscuits instead. These are bad people.

I’m long enough in the tooth now to know I have no self-control. I look at skinny people with great skin who leave chips on their plates and think, “I could be like them,” but then I can’t stop thinking about chips for the entire day.

I envy friends who go out, have a few drinks and go home. After the tiniest sup of Arthur’s finest I am instantly infused with love for every human on the planet and can sniff out all porter taps in a 30-mile radius.

The hangovers eventually put paid to my drinking exhibitions, and guilt plays a vital role in keeping me off the chocolate binges. But now and then, I break out like Alan Partridge, who described one such episode as, “I gorged on Toblerone and drove to Dundee in my bare feet.”

Less possible for me with the sea and Brexit, but I have driven to a 24-hour petrol station for a Wispa.

As for the gargle? Thank God for the non-alcoholic stuff, as I love the taste of a pint, but even then, I’ll have multiple cans.

It all boils down to one word I wish never existed: moderation.

I’m not fond of the concept. I can’t do moderation. Possibly it’s a genetic trait, but I feel it’s something more spiritual, almost religious. I had a very traditional Catholic upbringing. Guilt was a significant ingredient. Sometimes I’d think God was looking down on me as I horsed into curry chips at one in the morning, saying, “And all I do for you?”

I comfort myself imagining the Pope asking Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. He didn’t return months later to compliment Mick’s excellent job with the white weather shield emulsion, saying, “That’s lovely, Michel, nice and clean, brightens up the place.”

No; Michelangelo nearly killed himself for years painting a masterpiece while lying flat on his back. That’s because moderation wasn’t on the menu. It was all or nothing.

So how do we find the middle ground in life before we end up dying on our backs with paint on our faces? Sometimes a serious life-changing scenario is the trigger but what if you’re like me and struggle not to eat eat all the biscuits and all the Toffifees before you even get out of the duty-free?

There are oceans of academic studies on achieving moderation in our lives, a plethora of research on why and how people like myself struggle with moderation.

There is a phenomenon called the ‘Inverted U,’ defined by Psychology Today as: “The effects of a specific experience are more and more positive until maximum arousal occurs and the effects suddenly become more negative.”

Next time you want to pop a waxy little Toffifee out of its golden shell or feel like popping the cork on that bottle of Merlot, for “just a small glass”, knowing it will all end in a slothful shambles, try this hack my sister told me about, which I’ve been doing for the last month.

Say to yourself, “I’m not going to have a chocolate now, but in five minutes, I’m going to have two.”

Set a timer on your phone for five minutes. Then when it goes off, say to yourself, “I’m not going to have two chocolates now, but in five minutes, I’m going to have three”. Keep repeating as the multiples rise.

An hour into the exercise, when I say, “I’m not going to have five Tunnock’s tea cakes now, but in five minutes, I’m going to eat six ”, I realise how utterly crazy that amount sounds. But that’s what I was formerly prone to do.

It’s not delayed satisfaction because I’ll leave them alone more often than not. It works as a double bluff. I’m not denying myself but upping stakes until I’ve mentally envisioned the “Inverted U” experience without eating the tea cakes.

It’s early days, but it’s one of the best mental tricks I’ve come across to control my highly unmoderated ways.

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