Why Is Losing Weight So Hard?
Losing weight is a humbling experience. On the surface, it seems easy. Eat less calories. Eat better calories. Repeat. And yet, I still find myself eating crap, and too much of it. I still find myself putting off exercise, even though I know I’ll feel better afterwards. Some days I do better than others, but it still frustrates me to no end how hard it is. And this is where it gets to be a humbling experience.
Mind Over Matter?
I used to believe in Cartesian dualism. I thought of my mind as this ethereal entity that drove my body around like some sort of meat robot. But seeing the effects of even a minor stroke on my father made me think otherwise. The mind and body are one. This is why New Age concepts like the Law of Attraction don’t work. “Mind over matter” is bullshit. Our mind is part of our body. This leads us to the concept of free will, but I don’t want to go down the philosophical rabbit hole at the moment. Suffice to say that willpower is hard, far harder than you could imagine. This is why smart people do dumb things. We’re not like the Bene Gesserit witches of the “Dune” universe. We can’t control our bodily chemistry with thought alone, and I doubt we’ll be able to for the foreseeable future.
Evolution vs Innovation
Evolution is a slow process, taking many generations to adapt to changes in the environment. Our tastes and habits are well-suited to hunting and gathering, but this is impossible to emulate, no matter how many so-called “paleo” foods you eat. The world is changing too fast for us to keep up. Evolution takes centuries, but innovation happens almost overnight. And much of this innovation is not in our best interest. Food is a big industry, with a lot of smart and rich people working to make new and improved types of Cheez-Its. And while there is plenty of research into health and fitness, it’s a constant arms race. The truth is, the foods available to us are designed to be “irresistible”, so it’s no wonder that it’s so hard to resist them.
Nutrition and Microbiomes
From the 21st century, it’s easy to look back on the crudeness of medieval medicine: bloodletting, leeches, humours and enemas ruled the day. Even a hundred years ago, with anesthetic and basic cleanliness, medicine was still fairly rudimentary. I think we’re at the same point with nutrition and exercise. We’ve bypassed the age of leeches, but we still have a long way to go. I’m particularly interested in microbiomes. It turns out that the number of bacteria in your gut outweighs the number of cells in your body by a 10:1 ratio. As my sister the biology teacher puts it, we’re just sacs of bacteria. I think that, as we find out more about the microbes with whom we have a symbiotic relationship, we’ll find better ways to feed ourselves without going overboard.
I’d like to think of myself as smart: an above average member of the most intelligent species in the known universe. But at the end of the day, I realize I’m just a big monkey. The primal urge to eat, and eat calorie rich foods, is nested so deep in my brain that it takes every ounce of strength in my cerebral cortex to keep up. Our ancestors survived by making the most of the calories available to them. Our descendants will have to find a smarter way to manage nutrition. In the mean time, all I can do is try to stick to my diet.
Have you had any trouble losing weight? Let me know your story in the comment section.