What do patches of ice, darkness, dogs, snow-covered trees, cats, cars, sunrise, and freezing temperatures have in common? Not much unless you’re a runner. Then, you might encounter all of those things in a single run.
I’m not a big fan of outdoor running in the cold. I used to have a threshold of no colder than 45°F (7°C). One of our crew recently left for an extended period so I promised to step up my game, so to speak, and run even when temps dipped as low as 20°F (-6°C).
On a recent Saturday morning, I stepped out the door. With the wind chill, the temperature was a bone-chilling 0°F (-18°C). My fingers and nose ached with the cold for the first few miles. (There may also have been some involuntary crying.)
In spite of the temperature, I was able to pound out 16 miles (~26km). Some of the miles were slow. Most were really slow. For certain, none of them qualified for personal records, except that the entire run was completed before the temperature reached 5°F (-15°C). That was either a personal best or a personal worst; I’m still undecided.
Apart from the temperature accomplishment, what was particularly remarkable about the run was that the previous day I fueled my body with nothing more than meat, movie theater popcorn, a lot of soda, and a little bit of water.
It was a horrible diet. Yet even with that terrible fueling, I was able to do something fairly remarkable (for me).
To be fair, I eat more good, healthy food than bad, and I exercise more than the average person, but healthy or otherwise, I often eat more than I need. Exercising a ton is the only thing that keeps my weight in check. The minute I stop exercising, the pounds reattach themselves like a blood-thirsty leech; easy to get on, emotionally hard to get off.
Let’s stick to the leech analogy for a moment (pun intended). I’ve never personally had a leech latch onto me. However, I’ve known many people who have. It requires no effort to get a leech stuck on you; just get in a body of water where they are and they’ll do the rest.
Once you discover the leech, there may be a bit of emotion and pain involved in getting it off. Barring any infection, a bite from a leech is largely harmless (I’m not a doctor so please don’t take that as medical advice.). The emotion will likely increase with the number of leeches to be removed.
Hopefully the analogy relating unwanted pounds to leeches is clear; often easy to gain and often hard to get rid of.
Outside of metabolic disorders, the formula for weight gain and loss is fairly straightforward (again, not a doctor; consult a doctor before starting any diet or weight-loss plan). If you eat calories both fewer in quantity and healthier for you than what you need to maintain weight, you’ll lose weight. Eat more or eat less healthy and you gain.
Herein lies the problem: it almost doesn’t matter what our state of general health is, many of us have a consistently bad habit of taking our bodies for granted. Many of us believe that we can continue to shovel with impunity whatever kind and quantity of food into the biological miracle of our bodies that we want.
Of course, that’s not at all true. What we eat and in what quantities has a direct impact on how we feel and even has the potential to lengthen or shorten our lives¹.
I hesitate to quote myself (seems a bit self-serving), but in an April 2021 article called, “Why Eating Healthy Is So Hard”, I noted:
As humans, we seem to have an innate behavior of blaming external factors for our circumstances. In almost every case, nobody is forcing you to eat anything. We get to choose. So, the responsibility for healthy eating ultimately resides with each of us. Society, however, does its very best to make it hard to choose. But, the society in which we live in the United States is a product of our own making. The drive to have things as cheaply as possible and as fast as possible have created that society.
As I already referenced, our bodies are nothing short of miraculous. We provide them with a (potentially) huge variety of foods (and things that barely qualify as safe for human consumption) and they move us around for days, months, and years, often with no more sickness than the occasional bout of indigestion and a few colds.
We can’t always talk ourselves into change. We all likely know someone (maybe it’s you) who deals with chronic physical or mental illnesses that are, at least in part, outside their control and seem to rob them of the ability to make good choices surrounding food, alcohol, or drugs.
However, for most of us most of the time what’s at the root of the problem is really emotional mismanagement. Taking our bodies for granted in any form is because of one or more mismanaged emotions.
Stress. That’s my go to excuse for my often poor eating habits. I’m always tired, and I have two demanding jobs. Eating too much is my misguided strategy to stay awake and combat stress. My logical brain knows that some of my eating habits actually make the stress worse. Logic, unfortunately, is rarely in control when I feel stress.
Until your worldview (and often circumstance) change, the amount of effort to stay where you are will always be less than the amount of effort required to change.
To change, you need a reason — a why — that is significant enough to become a motive force for the desired change in your life. That why is not superficial and can’t be determined looking into your own eyes in the mirror for 30 seconds.
As Simon Sinek says, the “why question is an emotional question that elicits an emotional response”. Think about it. If you called a good friend and asked them to really explain why you are friends, it will likely be an emotional response. Ask enough probing questions and you’ll eventually get to the goosebumps-giving reason you’re friends, and it has to do with what your friend values in you.
Your why, then, comes from articulating your own value in your own life.
Now, relating this to our bodies. As we’ve already established, many of us take these remarkable vehicles for granted. If you’d like to stop taking yours for granted, ask deeply introspective questions about your own value, take the time to really answer the questions honestly, then take action. Philosophizing about something, no matter how good the exercise, won’t lead to change. Only thoughts converted into actions yield desired results.
Thanks for reading!
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¹Nutrition and longevity — From mechanisms to uncertainties, National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31631676/, “In humans, certain healthy foods are associated with longer telomere length, and reductions in protein intake with lower IGF-1 levels, respectively, both relations being associated with longer lifespan.”