Happy Friday everyone! Today’s post is going to take a psychological look into why we as a people are overweight, underworked, and find it difficult to make healthy changes.
To begin, I want to say something powerful to you that Robin Williams said to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting.
“It’s not your fault.”
You may be thinking, “Woah, wait a just a minute there ferret. Can you honestly be telling me I am not responsible for my own health and well-being?”
My response, “No.”
Ultimately, there is no one, no unseen force, and no universal alignment that can ever be responsible for your optimal health and well-being except you. It is you who must decide to add physical activity into your life and begin a fit life style. It is you who must decide what foods you put in your body. It is you who must decide what perspective you will use to approach life’s problems.
With the minimal amount of control we actually do have in this world, never forget, that this vessel you are traveling in is yours. It is the one thing in this universe you have the most control over.
But I digress, so why have I told you that being overweight, under-fit, or that you find it difficult to maintain a healthy life style is not your fault, especially when I also just said only you are responsible for these exact same things?
My friend, the deck has been stacked against you since your complex genetics started piecing you together in the womb (or test tube.)
Absorb the following if you will…
Long ago, humans existed in a hunter gatherer life style and were adapted (and well) to survive this life style. Our bodies developed into super caloric storing machines that understood that famine was a real life threatening situation that could prevent us from passing on our genetic information by cutting our survival short. So, to combat this stressor of famine, our body is capable of turning excess energy into a usable substance at a later time as fat. Brilliant! If you’re a pre-society human that is.
For us, in a world where high calorie foods are not only abundant, but easily accessible, this same genetic predisposition for survival can seemingly become our worse enemy.
Next question; so why does our body allow us to consume so many calories beyond our capacity?
This is a fun one, will involve two answers, and may blow your mind, so hang on for the ride.
1.) Our stomachs are equipped with specialized sensors that can detect volume and nutrition. Volume, to prevent us from over-eating and rupturing our stomach, nutrition to cause the feeling of hunger so we can absorb nutrients for life functions.
High calorie foods typically have low volume, and low nutritional value. So, despite the fact that we are consuming enough calories for what our body needs, we still feel that empty feeling, and because we have not met our nutritional needs, our body will want us to continue feeding it. Now, if you were an ancient human, this would be perfect, a calorie dense food that won’t occupy a lot of space in your stomach so you can indulge more and have energy to store.
2.) Our bodies and brains are predisposed to react to high-calorie foods with a pleasurable feeling, allowing our ancient brethren the ability to discern and seek out higher calorie foods for survival.
So now we know the science, what’s the problem?
Today’s diet consisting largely of processed foods and rich sugary foods (key note, sugar is in EVERYTHING) hits us in two ways we are not equipped to deal with as modern humans. First, they are calorie dense and nutrient poor, meaning we have to consume more of it before we feel satisfied and nourished. Second, we become addicted to the sugar and chemicals used to replace food with food product.
HOLY GUACAMOLE BATMAN! They have set us up the bomb! Or in laymen’s terms, the modern diet is built to fail our bodies! We are literally eating, but continuing to starve.
Ferret says, a clean diet filled with wholesome foods (foods that look more like their original form) will give you more than enough nutrition and the perfect amount of calories for your body. No counting required! Just eat well and when you’re hungry!
Can it really be that simple?
Yes I tell you. I’d stake my reputation on it and say this from personal experience.
When food becomes processed, a lot of the nutrition is lost, and chemicals the body has no idea what to do with are added. Chew on that for a while.
Now we enter into why physically exerting ourselves is difficult (both physically and mentally) and why we are full of great ideas and motivation initially, but sometimes find ourselves regressing or altogether giving up on our goals.
Think back again to what our bodies are programmed to do above all else. Survive. Well, when you live in a world where your next meal isn’t always guaranteed, and needlessly exerting energy could be the difference between life and death, you get a brain and body that is hardwired to not only want to conserve energy for survival, but to enjoy doing it as well because it means there are no present stressors for it to respond to. Your body is pre-programmed to not want to “uselessly” expend energy (I say useless because in simple functions, bench pressing and running from a tiger are very far apart on the energy conservation table.)
So, we have to fight against our natural programming of maximum calorie consumption and energy conservation. We understand how bad for our health it is, and we know what we should do, nay, what we must do to keep our bodies healthy in this modern world. So why don’t we? And when we do something about it, why do we sometimes quit halfway through, or lose steam after the initial burst of inspiration?
Psychologists explain this phenomenon with a bracket of complex terms and categories called the Readiness to Change. What they have concluded is that on our way to change, we must go through several stages before we can turn a new behavior into a habit. Once it’s a habit, we no longer have to think about it, it becomes as natural as brushing our teeth.
As human beings, we constantly fluctuate up and down these steps, making progress, and sometimes regressing to earlier phases in our quest to change, or add a behavior.
Simply put, we are creatures of habit. If it isn’t part of the routine, the brain can’t auto-pilot it. If it requires skills that we have no already developed, the brain has to work and put effort into decoding the signals to produce a result. The brain wants us to survive and tries to avoid stressors at all cost. It translates stressors into life and death, even though in today’s world, most of our stressors are mundane and menial things that don’t correlate directly to life and death. Unfortunately, our brain can’t tell the difference. So change is scary and difficult. Expending energy is contrary to survival. Comfort means we are taken care of and not in any immediate threat of extinction.
To beat all this, we have to start small. Get extra steps in per day, Add in one healthy portion a day, slowly start restocking your cabinets with less processed and more wholesome (after all, if the unhealthy option isn’t there, you won’t be able to have it.) Leave yourself notes, and other mental ques to keep you on track. Get a personal trainer and learn as much as you can!
I state again friends, “It’s not your fault.” Evolution has been against you your whole life.
However, it IS your responsibility to take charge of your health.
It IS your choice of what foods you put into your body.
It IS your choice at how much effort you put into living an active life style.
It IS your prerogative to give up after a failure, just as it IS your prerogative to build your resolve and tenacity, treating failure as a lesson instead of a setback.
Knowledge is power and your best friend. I urge you to read as much literature as you can on nutrition and exercise. Watch documentaries, experiment, journal, and record your experiences. The best and easiest way to make a healthy lifestyle yours is to want it, solely for you. Not to be skinny. Not because your doctor told you to. Not because it’s good for your health and longevity.
Because you want it, and love yourself enough to realize you deserve the best.
Side effects will include: tasting food, having more energy, better quality sleep, and longer natural life.
Don’t let your lifestyle become just another thing you can’t control. Own it my friend. Own it.