Paralysis by Analysis: When All the Information Still Isn’t Enough
I can tell you lots of things. Lots and lots and lots of things. About how digestion works, about the gut microbiome, about how the gallbladder works (or doesn’t), about the optimal diet for gut health. Lots of things.
And yet, even with all of this information, I’m frozen. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what steps to take next. I’m so scared that I’ll make a mistake, I’m hesitant to do anything.
When I learned that I had a 3cm-long stone residing in my gallbladder which had been causing me intense intestinal discomfort for several months, I immediately started researching. I pored over scholarly articles. I texted my stepsister (a registered dietician). I consulted with every person I knew who’d had their gallbladder removed.
But here’s the thing I’m figuring out about research: For every person that says one thing, there’s someone else that says another. Aside from the universally-accepted truths that 1) murder is bad and 2) fire is hot, it seems that every single other topic is up for discussion.
Anyone who’s ever examined their diet knows what I’m talking about. Carbs are the devil. Carbs are necessary. Well, certain carbs are okay. Fat is the devil. Fat’s okay, but only if it comes from plants. Wait, animal fat is okay as long as it’s organic/grass-fed. Eat six small meals a day. Actually, only eat once or twice a day. Gluten will kill you. Most people can actually eat gluten — it’s the GMO glutens that hurt you. Speaking of which, GMOs are one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Well, except that they’re no big deal.
Now add in a bona fide medical condition that directly affects your ability to process the food you eat — like a gallbladder removal does — and you’ve got yourself a whole other boatload of conflicting reports, opinions, and “facts.”
It’s fucking exhausting.
So now I’m sitting here, surrounded by information, and I don't know what to do with it. The thing about gallbladders in particular is that, since we can technically live without them, not much research goes into how exactly they work within the digestive system, what you can do to support healthy gallbladder function, and modifications you should make if yours goes kaput.
So instead of having a definitive answer, I’ve had to piece together theories based on what I’ve read and what my gut (so to speak) tells me feels right. But my inner perfectionist — the voice telling me that unless I do things 100% “right,” I’m a complete and utter failure — is not satisfied with this plan. And because she knows that for every opinion, there is an equal and opposite re-opinion, she has taken it upon herself to remind me about it.
Example: I made myself a salad for dinner tonight. A fresh, healthy salad. But as I layered the lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, and onion into my bowl, I stopped. “Is that too much food all at once?” Ms. Perfect whispered in the back of my head. I literally wondered if I was going to eat too many raw vegetables in one sitting.
This kind of stuff happens all day long. Have I gone too long between meals? Should I be eating so often? Should I eat even though I’m not hungry? Have I had enough water today? Have I taken my Vitamin D capsule at the optimal point in my digestion? When should I drink my kombucha today? Am I eating enough fat? Am I eating too much fat? Am I getting enough protein? Can I still eat cheese? Have I pooped today? Do I feel groggy now because I ate those crackers a couple hours ago? Did I get sick that day because I’d had coffee? Will I ever be able to drink coffee again?
My therapist calls this “paralysis by analysis” — my brain is so full of conflicting information, I can’t make a decision. And more importantly, I don’t trust myself enough to make the “right” decision.
Ah, there’s the rub. That whole “trust” thing. And here we are again. Dammit.
At our session today, she told me I need to learn to be ambivalent — to be okay with the fact that two conflicting ideas can coexist, and sometimes, even be correct at the same time. Ms. Perfect took control over my vocal cords and fired back at her, “How can that even happen?”
Then my therapist reminded me about my bikini body.
Oh shit. She’s right.
I can go to the beach now and be 100% confident in my choice to wear a bikini. I’m comfortable and feel good and happy. But, at the same time, I know I could technically look “better.” Yes, I could lose a few pounds. But that doesn’t make me any less happy romping around the sand in all my 200-lb (well, actually, 195-lb, after all this gallbladder nonsense) glory.
Two conflicting ideas. Coexisting.
Apparently I’ve achieved harmonious ambivalence when it comes to my body image. Now I just need to do it with the rest of me.
That should be pretty easy, right?
“You wish,” says Ms. Perfect.
P.S. My therapist also tells me (more often than she should have to, but hey, my psyche is stubborn AF) that if you find yourself unable to make a decision, it means it’s not time to make a decision yet. Let yourself off the hook and trust that you’ll know when it’s time to decide. This advice has served me very well.