Eat healthy! Exercise! Reduce your eating portions! These are some phrases that we hear all the time today. It seems as if we were just to follow these simple rules, the weight will simply slip off and we would all be thin. Of course, you and I know that that isn’t the case. Following rules and not breaking them requires willpower, and as the movie The Recruit says, “Everybody breaks.”
The truth is, losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight is much more complicated than the ads you see saying “Eat this one fruit and you’ll lose six pounds!” or “Try this soup recipe and eat it every day!” Weight loss and physical fitness are parts of a complex behaviorial psychology. In the society we live in today, our human behavior and traits are almost driving us to eat more and exercise less.
Here’s an interesting and humorous extract from a book on why we behave the way we do:
“Years ago, Tufts University invited me to lecture during a symposium on obesity…Lecturer after lecturer offered solutions for America’s obesity problem, all of which revolved around education. Americans would be thinner if only they knew about good nutrition and the benefits of exercise, they told us. Slimming down the entire country was possible through an aggressive public awareness campaign…
When it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t help beginning with an observation. “I think it is fascinating that the other speakers today have suggested that education is the answer to our country’s obesity problem,” I said. I slowly gestured around the room. “If education is the answer, then why hasn’t it helped more of you?”
There were audible gasps in the auditorium when I said this, quite a few snickers, and five times as many sneers. Unsurprisingly, Tufts never invited me to lecture again.’”
The man who said this was cultural anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille in his book The Culture Code.
The funny thing is, we know that pop is bad for us. We know that too much French fries is no good for us. So why do we do it?
Creatures of Habit
There are a few forces that drive our behavior. For one, people are driven by social pressure. Not fitting in with others makes us labeled as “odd”, or being an outcast. In our society, it’s normal to eat junk food. When you see everyone else eating it, you do it yourself. Jessica Alba said that growing up, her entire family was overweight. However, she knew that she wanted to be healthy and made it a point to be healthy in her lifestyle. As we all know, she has achieved this. It can be done!
Another reason for unhealthy eating is availability. When you’re out and want a snack, what’s the easiest thing to get? Carrot sticks? Apples? Or a doughnut? It has become increasingly easy for us to get calorie and sugar-dense foods when we step outside. But nutritional foods? Less so.
A third reason, and perhaps the most important reason, for our diets is habit. Humans are creatures of habit. Humans enjoy routine and going with what we know. Habit gives us a feeling of comfort and safety. We think, what we’ve been doing so far has been working out so far, so why change things? Even if we know that something should change, it is very, very hard to change our habits.
But it can be done.
Changing Your Diet
The three words “changing your diet” can be daunting. You may think, change my diet?! It’s a very big ask of anyone. Many people would rather incorporate a bit of fitness into their daily routine rather than change their diet. This is perfectly understandable. However, being healthy is more about diet than fitness. What you put into your body is a bigger contributor to your health and weight than how you exercise. Timothy Church, MD, Ph.D, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana University says “It’s much easier to cut 500 calories than to spend an hour in the gym burning 500 calories every day.”
The first step is very simple: try something new today. Just a very small thing. It can be anything, really. For example, you can go to your sink and pour yourself a glass of water. Refreshing, isn’t it? Maybe you haven’t drank water in awhile and are used to drinking other fluids, such as coffee, pop or juice. Down the water, and maybe try another glass. Simple.
When you make your dinner, maybe you might prepare something such as mashed potatoes, broccoli and chicken. You can still do so! You could try serving a larger portion of broccoli, and reducing the potatoes. For instance, if you usually have a ratio of 1:1 for potatoes and broccoli, why not add a bit more broccoli so the ratio is 1:1.5 for potatoes to broccoli. You still get to eat what you normally do, but just add a little bit more broccoli.
The thing about change is this: change is hard. Change can be daunting, overwhelming, and leave us wondering where to start. The key is to make only minor, incremental adjustments; so minor, that your lifestyle remains the same for the most part.
Think of it like a staircase. You want to go from the first floor to the second floor. How do you get up there? One step at a time.
The same thing applies to changing our habits. If you tried to get to the second floor in one large step, you’ll never make it and just give up. So why then, do we try so hard to do so for our health and losing weight? It’s only by going one step at a time that we can achieve what we want.
If you are wondering where to begin, you could try looking at recipes for inspiration. The Clean Eating Cookbook & Diet gives quick tips for getting started, along with easy-to-reference charts and both simple and more complex recipes.
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