It’s tough to get to the gym, right?
It’s even tougher to make healthy food choices, mm-hm?
That’s the messaging that we’re used to. That fitness is hard, and requires constant self-denial and monitoring.
In an evolutionary sense, fitness is a biological imperative. Oxford defines it (in the biological sense) as “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment”. “Fitness” encompasses the basic qualities that ensure survival: seeking and consuming food, sufficient and efficient movement, grooming, shelter, and optimal reproduction. What does it say about our society when we need to sell ourselves on doing these things?
I’m not saying everyone should or will become a gym rat. I’m certainly not saying that we need to be eating broccoli and boiled chicken 6 times a day, 100% of the time. I’m just curious about the notion that we live in an environment where we often feel like we have to shame and cajole ourselves into doing things we know are good for us.
It sure would be nice to get outside regularly for some fresh air, to eat whole, minimally processed foods, to stay in tune with our natural sleep cycles, minimize stress and increase our mindfulness.
We all know these things are a good idea – why do we have such a hard time getting around to them?
Why is change so hard?
It comes down to evolution. We need challenge to the status quo to adapt and evolve. However, organisms resist change in order to protect themselves. We’ve constantly got this internal back-and-forth going on when it comes to making lifestyle changes. With a storm already brewing inside of us, we tend to get bogged down in the details surrounding our proposed change, and throw up road blocks before we even get started.
Maybe the first change we need to make isn’t internal, it’s external…
Our brains are hard-wired to be energy-efficient and economical – if convenient junk food and seated entertainment are cheapest and easiest ways to feed and engage ourselves, that’s what our brains will reach for. It’s not unusual to want to skip a workout – our brains love for our bodies to conserve energy until it is needed. Trouble is, with seemingly unlimited easy calories to take in, and less energy being expended through day-to-day living (seated jobs, couch-bound entertainment), we have a surplus of energy, nothing to do with it, and a brain that wants to keep hoarding. If our environment made it more challenging for us to get those calories (farming, shelling, shucking, cooking, etc), or made the easy choices slightly better for us (see this article) and if we had more temptation and opportunity to entertain ourselves in a physically active way, we wouldn’t be in such a pickle.
A really smart guy I know wrote his PhD about how the things that you interact with daily impact the number of choices you have to make from minute-to-minute. The more things, the more choices. The more choices, the harder it is to make them. If moderate activity, reasonable eating, and time spent outdoors are the more difficult choices to make, maybe we need to be examining how we can change our environment and our day-to-day surroundings.
Change the habitat, change the habits.
What small changes can you make to your kitchen to make healthy foods the obvious choice? Can you keep apples instead of cookies on the counter? Have veggies cut and ready to eat in the fridge? Can you make room in your freezer for a number of lean proteins so that meal planning is easier?
How can you use your environment to make training seem like playing? Do you like games and competition? – check out Fitocracy. Like structure? – Can lay out your training clothes or pack your gym bag each night to make the day’s session easier? Can you train outdoors? With friends? Can you get a dog so that you get in your daily walk outdoors?*
* This is my favourite fitness suggestion. There are lots of dogs who need homes, and lots of people who need fresh air and sunshine. Also, science says that walking dogs boosts parasympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn helps to calm your body. Also, I love dogs – find a good one here.
Whatever the change you want to make in your life – examine how your environment and your evolutionary leanings play a part. If you always find yourself saying, “I really should, but…”, try this instead: Say, “I really should, and…” and then come up with one infinitesimally small change in your surroundings that you can make to get you one step closer to that change. It’s those little steps that get your down the road to bigger changes.
We shouldn’t need to be shamed into things that are good for us. Better to discover a way to enjoy things that are good for us – to find the exercise that feels like play, to seek out whole foods we love to eat, to develop healthy habits that make us feel like rockstars. Maybe by making little changes to the environment we interact with every day, we can evolve just a little bit more quickly.
So, how are you going to help yourself evolve?