This category covers things that relate to how disease and illness take root in people. It is not intended to be a how to in terms of a set of instructions on the things that you need to do to make your life worse or to shorten it. The opposite might be closer to its goal; if these things make disease, NOT doing them will likely contribute to improved health outcomes.
Because of our genetic code, any one who wishes to improve their health as they get older will need to spend a lot of time doing things that run against that programming. This is not an easy task because the behaviours that are required to cause this change have little or no history in our ancestral past. This is not impossible and is in fact rather simple – although it is very hard – consistent attention, practice, and recovery over time.
As a personal trainer I found that there were two groups of people who were extremely easy to train and who were almost certain to get good results. The first group was competitive athletes. These individuals were unstoppable, self-motivated and relentless. They did what they were asked to do, as hard as they could, and paid very close attention to their actions. They ALWAYS improved and most of them probably achieved their physical potential in terms of movement proficiency, explosive speed and strength. If you want to feel capable, train these people. They will improve and you will feel like you can do no wrong.
The next group of people who were great to train were women, usually parents of 2 or more children. These individuals acted like athletes – the followed instructions perfectly, paid attention when they worked, and were highly motivated to get the best possible results out of the limited time they had to spend training. They also improved, although not necessarily as quickly as their potential would allow because balancing being a mother with training is tough and their workouts were always going to be secondary to their family responsibilities.
Everyone else was a crap shoot. As a general rule, younger people do better than older people. Single men up until age 40 do better than their their female cohorts. Single women who do not like working out, married men in general, and older people all fair equally poorly.
I’m not certain why this is, but I have a few guesses. First off, working out to improve any goal is tough. If someone likes working out, they’ll deal with this toughness and do what is asked of them. But learning how to like working out is a skill that must be learned and mastered through practice. If that practice hasn’t been put in when the person is younger, it may already be too late as the toughness can simply be too much to overcome. They may go to the gym or work out, but they don’t do everything they need to make gains – they don’t work hard enough, they don’t eat appropriate amounts of food, and they don’t replace bad habits with good ones.
Next, there is a lot biological programming that is geared towards keeping things as they are. Body fat is store energy, traditionally used during a famine. This is an evolutionary proven method formed during a time when food scarcity was a reality that it isn’t today. Becoming lean makes no survival sense according to our genetic code; fine so long as there is a constant and stable supply of food and when it is interrupted, a life threatening problem. Eating high calorie foods is also intrinsically rewarding. Most human being release dopamine in response to fat and sugar combinations specifically and fat or sugar in general, so we are motivated to seek out and consume foods containing these macro-nutrients. Green leafy vegetables offer very little in terms of intrinsic reward. While it is true that we can teach ourselves to find these food rewarding, that is a skill and must be practice in order to cultivate it. Generally speaking this won’t happen, and if it does, it is more likely to occur in the younger population.
The final reason why I would say it’s very tough for people who are older than 30-35 years of age to get into better shape is that there is no evolutionary reason to do it. Becoming a parent gets tougher as we age and while those who are older may be in a better financial position to be raise children and have a better temperament as parents, the statistics on positive reproductive outcomes reduce as both sexes age. These negative outcomes may actually provide a disincentive in terms of improving body composition.
Consider the fact that, generally speaking, women allow men to determine who the best mates are – given that men work it out themselves who is at the top of any dominance hierarchy, the best potential mates for women have in actuality been select by other men. At the top of these dominance hierarchies tend to be strong men with good posture, two characteristics that are linked to higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone. Without an exogenous supply of these hormones, men who are in the late teens to late 20s will have the highest levels. The statistics reveal that reproductive success and outcome is greatest for men in this age range.
Men select reproductive partners because of factors embodied by the women themselves. These tend to be waist to hip ratios, body fat levels and posture. Social norms not withstanding, this excludes younger women, and women over the age of 30. An examination of the hormonal averages for women indicate a bell curve distribution with a peak for women in their early 20. Reproductive success and outcomes are also bell curve shaped and map almost identically onto the hormonal averages.
For women and men, the story is the same. When the hormone levels are lowest, reproductive success is lowest. When hormonal levels are highest, reproductive success levels are highest. When hormonal levels are highest, desirability to the opposite sex is also highest. Women and men tend to desire reproductive partners who represent the greatest likelihood of reproductive success. This means high testosterone and GH for men, and higher estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and GH for women. It is not surprising that when people who belong within these groups workout, they change body composition very quickly. The opposite fact is also not surprising, when those who fall outside of these groups workout, the changes in body composition take a lot longer, and may not happen at all in-spite of the fact that fitness levels improve as do a number of other health markers.
There is no evolutionary reason for people to get into better shape, particularly when they have moved past the peak of their hormonal profile. Reproductive outcomes are worse – pregnancy success rates are lower, birth defects and developmental challenges are higher. Given these facts, a narrative justification can be given to the difficulties in changing body composition as people age – for the betterment / fitness of the species, the things that make an individual attractive to the opposite sex evaporate and are harder to achieve when the risks of pregnancy begin to increase.
Learning how to like working out is a skill that must be learned and mastered through practice. While some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to find it more pleasurable or easier to like than the bulk of the population, activity is still required to trigger the expression of this increased potential.
It is easier for younger people to teach themselves to enjoy exercise than it is for other people for a few critical reasons. First off, they haven’t spent nearly as long learning what other non-movement activities can be rewarding therefore they are more inclined to put the time and effort into lifting something heavy in an earnest attempt to trigger a dopamine release. Second, they have a more favourable hormone profile that improves the rate of result acquisition; this reinforces the actions they are taking and, while “liking” exercise is not the same thing as being rewarded, it’s a distinction without much of a practical difference. Finally, younger people usually have way more opportunity to exercises, which will make them better at it. Proficiency, particularly when compared to others, does tend to result in a greater sense of satisfaction.
Gene expression and any learning will have much larger impact the earlier in life they occur. A child who learns to associated movement with the sensation of feeling good or who conditions their brain to release reward chemicals in response to movement will, on average, be more active throughout the entirety of their life and will enjoy the benefits associated with an active lifestyle. Similarly, a child who takes advantage of the time and the opportunity to discover many of the different foods that trigger the release of reward chemicals will, on average, consume more of these specific foods over the course of their life. They will, as a consequence, experience sub optimal health outcomes and may increase their risk of disease when compared to those who do not eat a lot of these foods or those who consume them in moderation while engaging in a more active lifestyle. We can therefore conclude that gene expression and learning have compounding effects over time, good or bad.
Unless you like working out because you are genetically predisposed to or you find it to be rewarding because you put the effort into teaching your brain to release reward chemicals when you do, you are NEVER going to feel like getting into great shape, and even less so as you get older. Our genes exist as they do because they gave our ancestors a survival and reproductive advantage. They were shaped by mutations and in response to the various environments over millions of years, but at no point during this time was there ever a long lasting abundance of food. Those species that survived were able to handle intermittent periods of food scarcity because they would over eat when they could in order to store energy as body fat, move as little as necessary, and down regulate their metabolic rate when calorie consumption would drop. Genetically speaking then, we are programmed to be fat, lazy, and to seek out and gorge on high calorie low nutrient foods. These three tendencies are never a part of any weight loss, health or body composition improvement plan.
Because of our genetic code, any one who wishes to improve their health as they get older will need to spend a lot of time doing things that run against that programming. This is not an easy task because the behaviours that are required to cause this change have little or no history in our ancestral past. This is not impossible and is in fact rather simple – although it is very hard – consistent attention, practice, and recovery over time.
When someone has developed a habit of complaining, we can be sure of at least one thing: they are repeating a successful behaviour – doing something that worked before – and are seeking the same outcome. Their decision making matrix MAY be populated with an inaccurate piece of information, but we KNOW with certainty that their actions are goal directed and, if nothing else, historically effective at leading them to that goal.
My name is Patrick and I am a complainer.
There, I said it. While I am certain that complaining is not a disease, it does lead to some very poor outcomes. The main one is that it doesn’t do anything positive. In fact, it nearly always makes a person feel worse. If talking about everything that is wrong with your life moves you to do something about it then it may be worth doing, otherwise it only serves to make you feel bad and to reinforce any views you held that triggered the negative thoughts in the first place.
Complaining is toxic. It creates negative emotion in everyone who is exposed to it. Even those people who agree that what you are saying is factually true become infected with the poison of dark emotion. When they listen to you complain, you begin to make them feel bad. They won’t want to be near you and they won’t have any desire to listen to you. No one likes toxic people so complaints for their own sake are incredibly alienating.
Consider what complaining without taking further action might reveal about you to other people – you are stupid, lazy, or have a very low opinion of yourself.
Stupid because you stopped thinking as soon as you saw what was wrong and decided to bitch about it; the complaint is not necessarily the indicator of stupidity, that is revealed when you didn’t do anything to change the situation when you noticed what was occurring because you are not smart enough to think up a solution to make things better.
If you are not stupid, you are probably lazy because you know what to do to fix the situation and just can’t be bothered to do it. A small action to improve your situation would require about as much energy and probably less time than what is being consumed by complaining about it.
Okay, so you are not lazy or stupid, and continue to complain. Assuming you know how to fix the situation and have the energy to do that, maybe you believe you are a piece of crap who deserves only to exist in the situation that you find yourself in. Maybe, if you were a better person, a person of some worth or value, you’d take enough pride in your life and do the things that are needed in order to make it better.
This final one may be a little tougher to wrap your head around, but the rationale I am using goes something like: every day we take thousands of actions, most of which are aimed at addressing wants, while the remainder are aimed at addressing our needs. When resources are low we shift focus, slightly redirecting an increased portion of our effort towards addressing needs. Therefore, when we do not take a specific action that we have awareness of and the ability to take, that lack of action is actually the taking of an action aimed at addressing a specific need. In this instance, that need is to provide or generate evidence that we do not deserve for that thing to occur. Sure this is a version of a counterfactual argument, and this makes no material difference when you track in and exhaust all of the other possibilities. We take care of our needs and when we do not take a known action, we have TAKEN care of a need.
Regardless of which of these three is true, the people around you will make the proper decision and move the hell away, and can you really blame them? You are stupid, lazy or have no self respect, this is the trifecta of contagious uselessness and it is a fact that anyone who is repeatedly exposed to these qualities will begin to manifest and display them. People can’t wait to get away from you because being around you makes them feel bad and will, over time, turn them into the same thing. You ending up friendless is an act of self preservation or self compassion by the people you once called friends.
This is why I say I am a complainer, not because I complain but because I used to complain. All that really means is that I am just not complaining right now. The ability is strong within me and it can come out with very little provocation and during moments of inattention.
As such, it is best that I treat it like a disease because left unchecked, it will ruin my life. It will repel everyone and everything that I love and I will see removed from my life will be all of the things that make it worth living. It will tear me down revealing a shell of what I could have been had I just fixed the problem as soon as it was identified.
Human beings are exceptionally pragmatic and logical operators that take actions to achieve a specific outcome. This will occur even if they have no conscious awareness of what they are seeking or what action they are about to take. Knowing this allows us to work backwards from an outcome or action and surface the intention and a persons underlying values, beliefs, and personal identity.
HOWEVER, the world is very complicated and affords us ample opportunity to get things wrong. But the feeling of being wrong and being right is the same; being wrong only feels different when we REALIZE that we are or were wrong. The consequence to this is that people end up acting pragmatically and logically with incorrect information.
Human beings are practically identical to each other and the differences between us are the result of a variation in very small number of genes. This means that all human beings have the same needs and mostly the same wants (this is the area in which there will be some variability).
Out of the near infinite number of possible actions that a person can take at any moment in time, human behaviour is actually limited to a very low number of them. Very few of our actions are new, and most of these new actions will never be repeated because they will not yield the result we are seeking. Those that do lead to a desired outcome will be repeated over and over again.
When someone has developed a habit of complaining, we can be sure of at least one thing: they are repeating a successful behaviour – doing something that worked before – and are seeking the same outcome. Their decision making matrix MAY be corrupted with inaccurate information, but we KNOW with certainty that their actions are goal directed and, if nothing else, have been historically effective at leading them to a goal.
There are worse things for humanity than global warming…. Pollution is a bigger problem. Antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem. Bad ideas about differences between groups of people is a bigger problem. A lack of diversity in terms of crops and livestock farming is a bigger problem. Obesity is a bigger problem. The fact that very few people know how to make any of the things that we use is a bigger problem. Our collective ignorance about how exactly we got here is a bigger problem.
Things take time. Other than the big bang, which for some inexplicable reason created an expanding universe out of a near infinite mass of matter contained in a tiny area of space. That was very very quick. Everything else takes time.
We as a species are beginning to stumble from one disaster to another at a quickening pace. For billions of years, not much happened. Then things started to pick-up a bit of speed. It wasn’t much speed, but it was a lot faster than the pace in the previous billion or so years. This continued along for hundreds of millions of years with only slightly more than nothing happening. There was another increase in the speed of change, still slow by big bang standards, but it was faster. This incremental pace of increases continued along for hundreds of millions and probably billions of years.
Not everything went at this snail’s pace. There were moments of dramatic
action followed by slightly longer periods of time when the planet would
experiences the physical consequences to that moment before things slowed right
down again. These moments are more or less completely made-up of the times when
large objects that had been travelling through space crashed into the earth.
Like that time when a massive asteroid / early planet joined the earth with
such force that the resulting debris eventually all coalesced to form the moon.
Or that other time when an asteroid slammed into the water just off the coast
of what is now Mexico and the ensuing chaos killed 98% of the land dwelling
creatures – basically all of the ones that were not able to take shelter a few
inches below the surface. The consequences from this one took a lot less time
to materialize than the moon maker; estimates range from less than 6 hours to a
couple of years.
Then effectively nothing for an unimaginably long time.
Except this time was a little different. The culling of most surface life
created a space for a different type of animal (or classification) to get an
opportunity to live without too many predators. This classification was the
warm blood, live birth giving creates that are collectively known as mammals.
Some of the most famous animals that are not dinosaurs fall into this category
– panda bears, the cute as anything kola bears, sloths, wild dogs, wild cats,
and human beings. It took a while for each one of these species to come to be
but what is important is that it happened. The land was safe enough for early
mammals to live, breed, and naturally select or mutate a high level of
diversity into this class of beings. Sometime between 50 thousand and half a
millions years ago homo-sapiens came into existence. This was the beginning of
something entirely new, a species of life that would eventually develop the
capability to manufacture natural disasters and other slow moving events that
that nature used to have a monopoly on causing.
I’m not going to suggest that human beings are great, because we are kind of flawed in very fundamental ways, but we appear to be the first species to ever exist on the planet that is able to engage in complex interactions with other members of the species, and of considering abstract ideas and stuff that doesn’t exist. There is reason to believe that many other species are capable of at least rudimentary abstraction, but none of them have the capacity to communicate these ideas to others nor do they have the ability to look at what is going on at one moment and figure out what will happen in the next, at least not to any substantial degree. Some can learn through observation and understand concepts like fairness and reciprocity, many more are capable of the abstraction that is object permanence, and all of them are incapable of communicating these things to other members of the species – all learning was the result of direct observation or direct experience.
Welcome to the beginning of the end, thank you for coming!
In fairness to early man, they were practically useless. Sure they had an
advanced brain that ran much of the same programming of the mammal species that
came before it and it functioned in effectively the same way (neurons that
alter their electrical charge slightly to be “on” vs “off” and collections of
them interacting to form neural networks to respond to and make things happen),
but out of the box, there wasn’t much more to this version than the one that
came before it, but there was potential. The newer version had a huge capacity
for storage and the capability to process more information faster, and in a way
that was new. This brain was also coded to grow a larger prefrontal cortex than
any that came before, although it was programmed to do most of this growth
beginning around the time puberty.
This late growth stage is an argument against intelligent design. No one
with a fully developed and functioning prefrontal cortex could miss the
inherent problems with having one part of the brain lag 15 years behind the
rest of it. This will not go as well as having a brain that grows at the same
It’s also an occurrence that supports the theory of evolution that a new
species will arise from what came before. Whatever mutation triggered the brain
to grow an exceptionally large prefrontal cortex also coded for it to grow
later in life. Take what is already there, let it run its course, and when it’s
done, start growing the new stuff.
This of course changes nothing about the eventual outcome of having human
beings evolve into existence. These consequence will take time but the moment
the genetic code mutated to program for a human brain, the count down was
The problem has to do with the human ability to learn quickly and without
having to observe or directly experience something. Consider wild dogs for
comparison and contrast. When they are born, their genetic code contains
instructions that will ensure that the reward centers of their brains will
release reward chemicals in response to particular things. If these things
never happen, the animal will never become conditioned to take particular action.
Their motivation will be fueled only by punishment and thus be exclusively
avoidant. However, if the animal happens to experience one of the things for
which the reward chemicals will get released, their future will immediately
transform to include repeating the experience. Through this mechanism, wild
pack dogs can learn a number of things and act in very specific ways that can
very easily be mistakenly to be group behaviours that were communicated. Wolf
packs can track down prey and perform some highly coordinated attacks including
flanking maneuvers by pack members that are invisible to the rest of the pack.
But all of it is simply the result of gene expression and behaviour shaping
based on reinforcement. It is fantastic, but all of it was determined by the
millions of years of life that led to the emergence of the wolf species.
Human beings are not like that. Well, they are not JUST like that. Gene
expression and behaviour shaping through reward and punishment are at work
within each one of us, but we also have the ability for abstract thought and
remarkably robust communication abilities. The addition of these later two
means that we are capable of out of context learning merely by hearing them.
E.g. we learn many things at school that we later apply to work and the day to
day living of adult life. Factor into this the ability to learn fantastic
amounts of information and to then work with and reprocess this information and
the floodgates to knowledge and wisdom swing wide open.
It might be important to consider the fact that very little advanced
knowledge exists in isolation – advanced ideas build upon less advanced ideas,
which were themselves built upon less advanced ideas. When we figure a fact
out, it gives our species a big hand in accumulating knowledge. As the
collection of knowledge grows to include more advanced concepts, we have the
ability to fill-in the gaps or the missing steps in our knowledge. For example,
if we teach someone fact A and then teach them fact B and then just to fact G,
the human brain will be able to make a guess about steps C, D, E and F and will
be able to manufacture compatible and congruent knowledge based on knowing the
starting point and knowing the ending point.
That wasn’t a big deal for early man, which we accept as being mostly
clueless. But it didn’t take very long before they began to develop technology
that was based on this progressive model of knowledge organization. Shelters,
fires, weapons, tools, tribes, leaders, education, division of labour, hunting,
gathering, farming, domestication of animals, specialization of labour,
government, schools, etc…. While not necessarily in chronological order, each
one of these technological advancements / discoveries had the effect of
improving production and security and of reducing the need to teach young
people EVERY lesson that came before. If you work on a farm, what is important
is that someone knows how to hunt well enough so that you don’t have to know
how to hunt and that you know how to farm well enough so that they don’t have
to know. This will free-up a lot of energy to learn or discover more about
farming or hunting. When the first working animals were domesticated, farmers
no longer needed to know how to plow the fields by hand, they just needed to
know how to connect the animal to the plow and how to walk it in a straight
line while it drags it. Learning how to do this, however, also meant that you
could easily figure-out how to do it by hand by reverse engineering the
The rate of change began to accelerate. Sure, it took a very long time for
the first pieces of homo-sapien discovered technology to surface, but as soon
as they did, they could be shared. This gave the technology staying power and
it allowed other human beings to improve upon it. Things advanced slightly and
slowly, but within a couple of generations, early man was capable of doing
things that pre-man had no concept of. Give it a few hundred generations and
what the people consider to be common knowledge would have seemed like magic to
This is the point at which the fate of the species and possibly the planet was sealed. We began to assimilate ever increasing amounts of the physical environment into the collection of matter that is implicated into the life of humanity. Whereas early man would eat animal and plant life in order to convert it into energy and building material, use other plants to build and heat shelters, and use other various materials to form primitive tools, tens of thousands of years later we had developed the ability to build complex tools and machines out of molecules that were themselves processed into usable form by other complex tools and technologies. Sand was turned into glass, iron ore was processed into the iron, the stored energy of the sun was harnessed through the use of mills on rivers and dams, the movement of electrons that is triggered when a magnetic field moves across a copper wire becomes electricity, etc….
A lot of these things were just novel ways to use or take advantage of what had always existed, many were just an industrial scale increase in the assimilation of existing things, but some of the technology caused the formation of completely new combinations of molecules that had never existed in nature before. These useful yet Frankenstein creations and the increase in availability of the preexisting ones are problematic for a similar reason. Life evolved in the presence and concentration of the preexisting elements and compounds meaning anything that is alive either used the molecules or was unharmed by them. Changing the availability of them, and adding new ones, can interfere with the normal biological functioning.
The industrial revolution lead to the creation of the chemical industry and
from that moment on, there was a no holds bar assault on the environment. The
levels of everything increased, and creatures that had never been exposed to
particular chemicals began to assimilate them into their bodies. These
chemicals then began to change how cells function.
Some of these changes were health promoting – various medicines, vitamins,
and nutritional compounds supply something that predictably alters
physiological functioning in the direction of better. Some of them helpful
because of the very specific way in which they are incompatible with life –
antibiotics, cancer drugs. But many of them have effects on life that are
neither helpful nor compatible with the ongoing flourishment of human kind –
PVC and asbestos cause cancer, while bacteria adapt to become resistant to
This brings us to where we find ourselves today. The slow change over
billions of years has been transformed by human technology into a lightening
pace of change. The carbon that has been locked and stored in various places in
being released at an ever growing rate as we our technologies break apart the
molecules to release the stored energy. The energy is useful, the resulting
molecules is less so. It is a matter of scale here. Seasonal fires used to
trigger the release of large amount of CO2, but the fires would go out and the
land would quickly begin to recapture the carbon as the forest started to
regrow. Over millions of years, a balance had been struck that effectively
negated any of the positive or negative consequences of releasing this stored
carbon. Human beings and the technology they have created since the beginning
of the industrial revolution has eliminate the seasonal aspect of release and
recapture, replacing it with constant release and a decreasing partial
We have entered a no man’s land of chemical diversity and availability.
Plastic is everywhere. Carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in
a very long time and have increased at a rate that is faster than any time in
the past except for the moments of impact with asteroids or volcanic
This is where the mutation that caused the human brain to come into existence is no longer something that is improving our chances of surviving. Specifically, the ability to think in abstract terms, to learn through listening vs. direct experience or the observation of real experience, and to build upon existing knowledge in ever more complex ways, means that we have no experience and little awareness with the consequences of our technology. Unlike the dinosaur killing asteroid which was a near instant released of 1.3 – 58 yottajoules of energy into the environment, the rate of human caused energy release is much slower. This slow burn delays the impact and consequences from less than a few hours to years, decades or even generations, which is the exact recipe for imperceivable and denial. For example, an earth quake, forest fire, or volcano will reveal consequences almost immediately or within days, the effects of moderate radiation or moderate toxic chemical exposures can take twenty years or more for come to pass. This causes humans to make the incorrect assumption that these technologies are only acute harmful in high doses given the quick onset and death in these circumstance. Smoking was harmless until the 1950’s when doctors began to notice a big increase in cancer deaths, particular lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. Those who were getting sick had been smoking for decades so the temporal relationship between cause and effect was too wide for most people to perceive the existence of a relationship at all. Nonetheless, there is a strong link between smoking and disease, and there is a correlation between the amount of exposure, both in terms of concentration and duration, and negative health outcomes.
There are worse things for humanity than global warming. Not to trivialize the direct impact on millions of people so far, and the billions of people who will be impacted by rising sea levels, but there will be enough well above sea level land that those effected will be able to move. It will suck and it will be expensive, but they will still be alive and healthy. Although by the time it happens, there may not be a lot of people left to be impacted.
Pollution is a bigger problem. Antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem.
Bad ideas about differences between groups of people is a bigger problem. A
lack of diversity in terms of crops and livestock farming is a bigger problem.
Obesity is a bigger problem. The fact that very few people know how to make any
of the things that we use is a bigger problem. Our collective ignorance about
how exactly we got here is a bigger problem.
And yet, very few people are talking about these things because they are
too busy talking about the latest stupid tweet, reality tv show, fashion trend,
or the absolute vileness of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. We are talking
about what doesn’t matter because it feels more real than the things that do
matter. We’ll wear our ignorance like a badge of honour instead of it triggering
shame and motivating us to learn something.
There’s a slow-motion car crash happening but we’re not noticing it. We only see the shiny, new, and the fast moving. None of us have seen an extinction level event first hand and since the last one created the clearing that allowed human beings to evolve into existence, we have nothing to fear, especially given that we are the ones steering the car.
It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding, it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food did not.
The next version of the guide was released in 2007 as Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide
and it did contain most of the information that wasn’t included in the
1992 guide. The number of servings of grain products was reduced in
general. However, the guide serving recommendations are broken-out by
age and gender. This change gave the guide more prescriptive power that
reflected the specific and changing needs of each gender throughout the
course of their life. In general, males burn more calories and, as a
result, their need for vitamins and minerals is slightly higher.
guide is also more detailed, 6 pages vs. 2, and includes a lot more online
features. It is clear that it is an attempt to create something that is more
useful and that will appeal to a much wider audience. It includes more
information about exercise, both in terms of frequency and intensity, along
with the potential outcomes you might experience as a result of engaging in an
guide represents the first real steps towards “mindful” eating. For example, it
invites people to limit certain foods that are high calories, sugar and fat,
along with limiting trans-fat. It asks people to “read the label” in order to
become aware of what is in the food they are selecting to eat. While these are
important steps in the right direction, they are too late for a lot of people
given the poor advice that was provided 15 years before. People had free reign
for a decade and a half to eat too many servings of grain products and would
now find themselves in a less than ideal place as a result of it. Worse still
would be the lasting consequence on any of the children who had been subjected
to this bad advice – primarily higher levels of body fat and the deeply stored
incorrect wisdom inside their brain caused by 15 years of conditioning.
the problem, while human beings are genetically coded to find certain things
rewarding, they are born without any knowledge of just what there things are.
Over time they learn how to trigger the reward chemicals and with enough
practice and exposure they will develop the exact behaviors needed to release
these chemicals. However, if they never get exposed to the things that cause
the release or if their exposure is limited or conditional, they will never cultivate
the level of refinement that is required to develop compulsive overeating.
important to step out of this conversation at this point to consider why human
beings find sweet things to be enjoyable and why they find fat and sweet
combination irresistible. At first thought the answer seems obvious, we like
sweet things because they are sweet and we seek out and over-eat food that are
high in fat and sugar because they are high in calories. But these explanation
are not accurate, or at least, they are incomplete. We enjoy sweet things
because our brains release reward chemicals in response to consuming them and
with enough practice, we learn that we will release reward chemicals in
response to eating sweet things. It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding,
it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet
things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things
that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function
given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat
them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals
and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the
motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring
that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food
consider the fact that drugs like cocaine and amphetamine do exactly the same
thing. When we consume these types of drugs, our brain responds by releasing
the same reward chemicals that are released when we eat sugar and sugar and fat
move on to the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide. This version is very
different from any that came before it in that it makes no recommendation about
number of servings. It is, in fact, a guide in the purest sense of the word.
While each of the previous versions doled out recommendation about how much
food a person should eat, 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit in the 1992
guide for example, this version does not. The quantities approach that was
taken by all that came before has been replaced with a qualitative method that
satisfies a need to educate. For this reason it is better and worse.
continues to build upon the mindful eating approach that was launched in 2007
and encourages people to prepare more of the meals and to eat with other people
more often. It invites people to consider the experience of eating in terms of
pace, fullness of flavors, smells, and textures, the amount of chewing a food
requires, and their motivation or reasons for eating, etc. All are important
considerations in generating any level of awareness about ones eating habits
and behavior. However it doesn’t ask people to reflect on how the food made
them feel, which is arguably the most important aspect of mindful eating. For
example, if someone eats 4 cookies after eating a large dinner and upon
reflection realizes that they were not actually hungry for the cookies and did
not find eating them to be satiating, it may raise the questions about the
function of the cookies and the person’s relationship with ending a meal with
something that is excessively sweet. Once asked, it isn’t a very big step from
there to realizing that a lot of their food choices have nothing to do with
immediate necessity and everything to do with preparing for a time when the
food supply is cut off.
is better and worse for the same reason. It’s better because it tells people
how to eat and how to approach their food and worse because it doesn’t tell
them what or how much of it to eat. It starts off with the assumption that
people will do the right thing if they know what that is, and then sets off to
tell them what the right thing is. While this is a noble goal, it is based on a
mostly false assumption. Most people already have a very good idea what they
should and shouldn’t be eating. Almost everyone knows that vegetables are
better for you than cookies or chips will choose the cookies or chips over the
vegetables. Sure, there are some outlier who do not know the difference between
these types of food and will, upon receiving the education that the 2019 guide
offers, stop eating cookies and chips and start eating vegetables, and there
are people who choose to eat more vegetables while avoiding the other things,
but most people are not outliers. Most people have a very good idea and still
choose to eat too much of the things they shouldn’t and not enough of the
things they should. The guide does not address the fact that knowledge is not
sufficient because gaining it does not consistently or predictably change
guide is a step in the right direction in terms of shifting the focus onto food
as a thing that is more than just a source of nutrition and energy. The efforts
to point out that it is also a source of many different experiences is helpful.
While this has always been the case, it didn’t really need to be said before
because people spend more time preparing food and eating meals with other
people. 50 years ago, a nightly family meal was the norm, with the adults
preparing it and the children cleaning up afterwards. Going out for a meal was
rare because it was expensive and there wasn’t as much money being earned.
Adequate amounts of high quality and highly nutritious food were available.
These foods were effectively straight from the farm to the store and did not go
through much processing. Things spoiled quickly so people bought only as much
as they needed and they had relationships with the people who sold them the
food. There was a community aspect to the entire food chain because things were
smaller in scale with many local suppliers.
not how it is today. My local grocery market just finished renovating the store
to add 4 different meal replacement sections to the front portion of the store
and these tend to be much busier than the produce section. In fact, many of the
people who “shop” at the store only make use of the first 15 meters. While this
initially reduced the flow of people though the rest of the store and made the
check-out lines run faster, they have reduced the number of cashiers in
response to the decrease flow so it now actually takes longer to checkout. It
is clear that the changes have increased profits because they charge a premium
on the meal replacement items and these sections are always busy; I’m sure that
it is only a matter of time before they begin to remove the other sections of
the store to replace them with more profitable offerings. I’m not suggesting
that the food is bad, it is very tasty. They use high quality ingredients,
their recipes are good and it is well prepared. But it isn’t the same
experience as selecting the raw ingredients for a meal, buying them, and
bringing everything home to prepare. The premiums you are paying for are the
convenience of having someone else prepare the meal and the time saving the
service provides. So, depending upon the value of your time, it may actually
work out to be cheaper to buy it from them as opposed to taking the old-school
doesn’t matter how accurate the information is in the 2019 Canada food guide, a
lack of knowledge is not the reason why people choose to eat in a way that does
not serve their best long term interests. This occurs because we now have the
choice to eat effectively or to eat conveniently. And this brings us to the
final thing that needs to be discussed.
that we have the genetic programming to seek out, consume and over-eat high
calorie foods in an effort to store energy. Now consider what else we might be
programmed to do / not do in order to ensure that there is energy for use
later. If you spend the time to consider the possible answers to this statement
you’ll notice the irony. If you didn’t take the time and spend the mental
effort to generate the answers, you’ve actually modeled the answer perfectly.
We are genetically programmed to avoid spending energy doing things that are
unnecessary. This includes but is not limited to choosing to avoid thinking
about things that do not pose an immediate survival threat and to avoid doing
things that will cause us to take physical and mental action whenever possible.
Human beings are not lazy per say, we are just not motivated to burn off energy
for no reason. When faced with the choice of taking action or not taking
action, we’ll favor doing nothing, and when we are faced with two possible
actions, we’ll tend to choose the one that has us spend the least amount of
narrative truth is the human beings are programmed to seek out and consume as
much energy as they can and to do this as efficiently as possible with the goal
of storing energy for use at some point in the future when food is not
available. When we walk into a store, possibly hungry, and are faced with the
choice between buying a ready-made meal or buying the items we need to make a
meal at home, our programmed desire to save energy will probably kick in and
have us standing in line to pick up our meal replacement, one that is larger
than what we need and contains more sugar and fat than is necessary. And we’ll
go home and eat the entire thing and feel good physically because our brains
will release the reward chemicals that come from a good gorge.
that eating too much will make us gain weight will not change our nature
because it IS out nature. Getting fat IS the goal. The genes that would have
coded for a different outcome did not get passed along because those who had
them died during one of the thousands of famines that hammered our ancestors
intentioned as the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide is, it cannot do very
much to overcome millions of years of evolution and “selective breeding” that
food scarcity shaped. At best, and it seems like it hit the mark, it can
encourage people to take a moment before eating something to consider their
motivations for doing what they are about to do. And to maybe, in a moment of
mindfulness, make a different choice, one that will ensure a better future,
even though it causes the brain to rebel and trigger the negatives emotions
associated with the historic and antiquated concern about an impending famine.
Will-power and mindful effort towards doing something other than the automatic,
something that doesn’t feel as good, but is a step towards full nourishment and
sustaining a dietary energy balance.
doesn’t come out right and say it, being healthy isn’t natural. It may be
somewhat automatic for younger people but it is something that we grow out of
as we age. What is natural for us is to sit as still as we can and stuff down
our throats as much as we possibly can. This is where the guide comes-up short,
and this is understandable because it’s a hard fact to wrap your head around.
The fact that it doesn’t even try is what I find so problematic. When this is
paired with the fact that guide has a history of offering up bad advice or
stating things that are completely wrong, my skeptical nature comes out to
thinking about the topic of advising an entire population on how to eat:
Guide is doing its intended job at a better than average level. By knocking on
the door of mindfulness, it is suggesting that there might be a lot more going
on than just what we have been paying attention to.
food advice and education and going along with the demands of the food industry
has created a situation in which only those with money and free time or those
who do not have enough money get to remain lean and healthy looking – those
with money and free time get to buy the best food and spend time working out /
exercising to create a false famine while those who do not have enough money
loss weight simply because they are enduring a real famine. The poor do not
have a voice and are effectively ignored; which is a shame because the strategy
of remaining hungry for longer periods of time is very effective. A voice is
given to those in power, the very people who have both money and time, and they
get to do the very things that are needed to actually be healthy. Then they get
onto their high horse and judge the rest of us for being lazy, which we are,
and for overeating, which we do. We are fat and unhealthy because we make bad
choices while they are lean that healthy because they make good ones. Surely if
we weren’t so flawed we’d say no to the junk food, yes to the vegetables and be
moving around more.
is nonsense. We are not flawed. We are perfect. We over eat and under-move
because our genes motivate us to over-eat and under-move. We don’t think much
about it and when we do, we don’t really know why we ate two servings of
dessert and didn’t feel like getting onto the rowing machine for a 2000m
workout. The fact is eating shittie food is rewarding because our brain rewards
it. Burning off extra calories isn’t immediately rewarding and it takes the
body a while to learn how to notice that it can feel good. The only thing that
we have going for us, when it comes to eating more healthfully and exercising
an appropriate amount, is the vision to see it happen and the willpower to do
it. But until we understand and realize that eating right and moving more are
not a part of our code, we’ll continue to wonder what is wrong with us when we
don’t find it easy to live better.
easy because it is hard. It burns energy that our body does not want to burn,
we have to eat things that offer no immediate release of reward chemicals while
avoid eating the things DO cause the instant release of these chemicals. It is
suffering and sacrifice and there is almost nothing we can do to have it be
anything but that. However, it is only suffering and sacrifice, it is not pain
or death. We go without a little reward and overtime we teach our brains how to
reward other actions. Asparagus or broccoli will never cause the release of
dopamine but the thoughts we have after eating them can cause the release.
Walking 10000 steps in a day is not the most effective way to cause the body to
release reward chemicals, but the knowing that you walked 10000 steps can
become a reason for releasing them.
is the tool we can use to identify and understand the problem and it is the
tool we will use to the quickly create the new processes that are needed to
actually make living better something that feels better. With sufficient
training and practice, you can teach your brain to reward the very things that
right now feel like suffering and sacrifice and you can become a person who is
chemically motivated to eat right and move more.
nature is only your nature when you allow it to remain so. When you pay
attention to it and take an active role in shaping who you are, what you do and
the choices you make, you will create a new nature. The old one will remain,
it’s been shaped over millions of years, but there is plenty of room in your
brain to create a second way of operating. It takes effort and practice, but
fortunately not the millions of years that the unmoving overeating baselines
took. Use your brain, pay attention, be curious and accept the cost and spend
the energy, and you are bound to be successful.
Body fat is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity.
This is the first installment of a post that talks about the new Canada’s Food Guide, its history, and some interesting facts about human beings that make us resistant to the efforts of the government to nudge our eating habits in a more positive direction.
A few months ago the government released the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide. This is something that they do every decade or so with the goal of helping to further educate the public about what they should and should not be eating. It’s the government so it’s important to take their advice with a grain of salt because, in spite of their best intentions, they have a country to run so there is a big disincentive to making a very specific claim about the healthfulness or its direct opposite about any particular product given their reliance on the tax revenue generated by Canadian businesses – it would be very unwise to state that “meat is bad for people and should be avoided” even if it is true, which it isn’t, because the meat industry in Canada is huge. This means that the guide is going to be a combination of facts, some speculation based on science and marketing based on the needs of special interest groups and industry lobbyists.
When we look at the first version of the food guide – the Official Food Rules released in 1942 – we notice a single serving of potatoes per day as the recommendation as was a serving of whole grain products along with 4-6 slices of Canada Approved Bread. Milk was recommended for everyone with children drinking twice as much. It appears below:
These are the health protective foods. Be sure to eat them every day in at least these amounts (use more if you can).
MILK- Adults- 1/2 pint. Children- more than 1 pint. And some cheese as available. FRUITS- One serving of tomatoes daily, or of a citrus fruit, or of tomato or citrus fruit juices, and one serving of other fruits, fresh, canned or dried. VEGETABLES- (In addition to potatoes of which you need one serving daily) – Two servings daily of vegetables, preferably leafy green or yellow and frequently raw. CEREALS AND BREADS- one serving of a whole grain cereal and four to six slices of Canada Approved Bread, brown or white. MEAT, FISH, etc. – One serving a day of meat, fish, or meat substitutes. Liver, heart or kidney once a week. EGGS- at least 3 or 4 eggs weekly
Eat these foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.
Some source of vitamin D such as fish liver oils, is essential for children, and may be advisable for adults.
important to keep in mind that this was released during the WW2 and while food
scarcity wasn’t necessarily a problem in Canada, it was not a time of plenty
for most Canadians and the primary reason why organ meat was recommended. Plus,
it was also 70 years ago meaning that the availability of particular types of
foods was seasonal. Canada is large and it has definite seasons meaning that
very little grows in most of the country for 6 months of the year. The robust
transportation systems we enjoy presently did not exist meaning that fresh or
fresh-ish vegetables from South America or California were simply not
available. Flash frozen or canned vegetables were about the only types of
garden vegetables that would be available for a large portion of the year.
supply chain was very different and much of what we presently have access to
did not exist. Sugar was glucose from tropical sources and not sucrose, which
is a combination of glucose and fructose, which is primarily sourced from corn.
And it was very expensive so it wasn’t used very much. Boxed cereals and boxed
anything were not as abundantly available as they are now and the chemical
industry, while it did exist, was not such an integral part of what we consider
the food industry. It was a simpler time, with fewer choices and with local
foods contributing to the overwhelming majority of what was available to buy.
not good or bad, just different. The eating habits of people had less to do
with food preferences and more to do with what was actually there to be eaten.
People would go hungry because of a lack of availability and would find that
what they ate would be more connected to the time of year or the seasons than
Guide was the government’s effort to ensure that the people would receive
adequate nutrition, and it didn’t have a lot to do with big business because
big business wasn’t really a thing that had much of a foot hold in the food
supply chain. Potatoes were recommended because they store well, so Canada had
a lot of them. They didn’t grow nearly as much corn or grain as they do now and
many of the things that flour allows us to make spoil very quickly without the
chemical preservatives that presently exist, so these things would only be made
years and decades that followed the introduction of the Food Guide, things
changed dramatically. Spoilage stopped being a concern, food processing allowed
for the creation of things that would last for months or years, and the things
that human beings find palatable or irresistible, became cheaper to grow and
manufacture. Food science became a thing and the chemical industry contributed
their part to the creation of low cost, low nutrient, high energy foods that
have an extended shelf life and trigger all of the reward centers of the brain
that were historically only stimulated with rare, hard to find and scarce food.
For example, ripe fruit and honey were available seasonally and then not at
all. Food science put an end to this scarcity meaning sweet high calorie food
stuffs were available year round.
choice and preferences took over. We no longer needed to be content with simply
satisfying hunger, we could now begin to focus on satisfying a craving for a
particular thing. The canned apples or peach jam were replaces as the winter
time source of sweetness with things like boxed cookies, candy, or low cost
chocolate. Say what you like about the health effects of eating too much fruit,
or its relatively low nutritional content, but when given a choice between
preserved fruit or modern candy, our species will get more nutrition and less
energy out of things that grow than things that are manufactured. Again, this
is not good or bad, it is just a thing that is true. Small amounts of
manufactured and boxed candy is fine for healthy people, it just isn’t as
beneficial as a similar amount of grown food.
reasons for this are very straight forward. In order to put something in a box
for consumption at some point in the future it cannot spoil and it cannot
change form. Spoilage is prevented by adding things that prevent it or by
removing the things that cause it meaning that preservatives are added or
minerals are removed which result in novel combinations of chemicals that have
never existed in nature before, let alone been consumed as food by anyone.
These products maintain their form though the creative use of stabilizing
agents that were discovered by the chemical industry. The traditional oils that
were used to make things like bread and cookies were replaced with chemically
altered oils that are solid at room temperature meaning the bread and cookies
look and taste the same for months. These solid oils or fats are man-made
creations and completely new to human beings – we have no evolutionary history with
them meaning we have no idea how they will impact our bodies or what role they
will play in gene expression.
case, this is bad, and for a few different reasons. The first is that adding
hydrogen molecules to fat to make it more stable is, in essence, the creation
of a new chemical. While it is safe to say that swallowing an individual
hydrogen molecule or a few thousand of them along with each mouthful of food
will be harmless to human beings, when these molecules are joined to other
molecules to form a solid, they are no longer the same thing. Hydrogen is an
element and an important gas that becomes a solid at -260 degrees C.
combined with other elements, it will help the resulting compound to form a
solid at higher temperatures. Our species and anything that is alive on the
planet now, only has an evolutionary history with hydrogen containing solids
that exist in nature and only in the amounts that occur in nature. The
manufacturing of trans-fats to create more stable oils artificially manipulates
the ratio of their availability and it makes it available in a way that does
not exist in nature – dairy and meat does have some trans-fat, but it also has
other things that manufactured trans-fat does not, things that might work
synergistically with the trans-fat to reduce or eliminate its harmful effects.
The fact is that we KNOW the impact of too much trans-fat on human health, it
second reason why adding hydrogen molecules to fat to create a more stable fat
can be bad is because of how it will impact the brain. Fat is high energy
(calorie) so our species has developed a taste for it because any members of
our species that were motivated to eat it would seek it out and consume it
whenever they could. This would mean they were consuming more energy than they
were burning, and would lead to weight gain in terms of increased body fat.
This extra body fat would be used when food was scarce giving these individuals
a better chance of surviving a famine. Over time this survival advantage would
be passed onto the following generations resulting in the tendency for human
beings to find eating fat to be rewarding. By the same token and method, we
also find eating sweet things to be rewarding and in a way that is proportional
to the level of sweetness. When paired together, sweet things that are high in
fat are almost completely irresistible to human beings. We learn very quickly
that high fat sweet things give us a reward and we begin to seek out and
consume these things. Sweet and fat have existed for as long as there have been
people, but the combination of them, or the ease of access to things that
contain a combination of them, is much more recent. Manufacture fats ensured
that the food industry could supply these types of foods, in a stable form that
will not spoil, in a constant and uninterrupted supply.
scientists have used our genes against us and created a food that we are almost
powerless to say no to. Factor in the health damage that the manufacture fat
causes to us and the size of the problem becomes evident. Narrative speaking,
we are programmed to seek out and over eat the very things that will, in the
long term, destroy our health and hurt our well-being.
sake of keeping this on track and because it isn’t entirely clear that GMOs and
fertilizers are harmful to us, or as harmful as overeating trans-fat and
sucrose, I’m going to return to the topic of the most recent version of the
Canada Food Guide after stating that today, thanks to technology and the development
associated with corporations and capitalism, we have access to an abundance of
food, and year round access to almost everything that we are able to eat.
Seasonal eating is no longer a thing that we have to stick to. While local
foods will be cheaper at certain parts of the year, these food will be
available year round if we have the money to buy them. This means that a lack
of availability can no longer be cited as the reason why someone does not
follow the Canada Food Guide – a lack of money to buy imported fruits and
vegetables remains a reason but, as I will outline, it isn’t a valid reason for
most of Canada’s population that live in larger and more populated areas.
change with the most recent version of the Guide is the elimination of a recommended
number of servings. The previous version still provided a number of servings of
each of the 4 food groups broken down by sex and age and it seemed to be geared
towards getting adequate nutrition and adequate energy. Be aware, these two
things are not the same. Nutrition is the vitamins, minerals and protein a food
provides while energy is the stuff that the body will metabolize as fuel to
power all of the physiological processes required to sustain life. For example,
the body needs a certain amount of vitamin B12 to function optimally and it
will get most of this vitamin from the meat you eat. Without the B12, things
begin to breakdown and the body will start to direct any available B12 to the
most critical processes. This means that a deficiency in a vitamin leads to
reduced functioning of specific processes and not a global failure; this is a
very good survival approach and is one that is used by most living things
because it sustains life giving the organism the opportunity to seek out and
consume the missing molecules. Your hair may fall out or your digestive system
may become less effective, but you are still able to think and move – to hunt –
and find some meat to replenish the B12 levels.
different from nutrition because it is the fuel for the metabolism. You need to
consume energy fairly consistently to keep things going. When your food does
not provide sufficient energy, your metabolic rate will begin to slow down and
certain physiologically processes will begin to go off line. Non-essential
processes will be first to drop off, things like hair and nail growth, followed
by muscle repair and replacement of dead cells. Given long enough, the body
will begin to consume its own tissues for energy – wasting diseases like AIDS
and various late stage cancers are examples of this. However, unlike disease,
if someone finds and starts to eat food, the body will start-up these processes
and attempt to repair whatever damage was done and take care of whatever needs
to be taken care of.
is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning
it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents
livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity. You can be
sure that within the genetic material of all people are combinations of DNA
that code for this process and, as a result of the natural selective breeding
that periodic famines caused, all of us are exceptionally good at storing body
fat. Our potential ancestors who did not have the good genes for storing body
fat died off during times of food scarcity leaving nothing but people who were
uniquely coded to store fat.
distinction between nutrition and energy is important because allows for a
clear understand for the existence of malnourished people who are obese. The
opposite can also be true although much less common given the huge difference
between energy and vitamin requirements; one group of people who have a tendency
towards adequate nourishment but insufficient energy consumption are those who
are trying to extend their life through intense calorie reduction. This group
eats large amounts of garden vegetables while refraining from foods that
contain carbohydrate, fat and excessive protein. They will still desire to eat
more as they will be hungry, they will just choose to not eat and, over time,
learn to ignore food cravings and become accustomed to being hungry.
everyone else hunger serves to motivate us to eat and it does not necessarily
reflect our actual needs. It serves our survival needs.
about it this way: our genes have coded over-eating into our operating system
because historically, those who over ate survived to reproduce. This means that
we are coded to do the very thing that causes an increase in body fat. This
tendency manifest itself in many different ways, or exists for a few different
reasons, one of which is a latency between the time when we have eaten enough
in terms of food volume and when the stomach sends the signals telling the
brain that it is adequately filled. Rough estimates put this latency period at
between 10 and 15 minutes; the exact length of time is less important than
understanding the consequences to this phenomenon. The outcome is that we
continue to eat past the point at which we should stop if replenishing our
energy was our actual goal. This only makes sense IF overeating was in fact the
goal for human beings.
powerful mechanism, one that I have already mentioned above, has to do with
motivation. Human beings will have a tendency to do things that they find
rewarding, and we find eating sweet or fat foods rewarding and find eating
things that are a combination of sweet & fat to be incredibly rewarding.
And it doesn’t take very long for us to figure out what we like and then to go
after consuming it. Once we have uncovered it, we will over eat it at any
opportunity and will often find ourselves continuing to eat it will after any
reasonable amount of calories have been consumed. Some of us will, in fact,
ignore the body’s “I am full” signal and continue to eat, and eat, and eat.
makes sense given the relative scarcity of sweet and fat things in our
ancestral past. It was better to gorge when the opportunity presented itself
because it would usually only happen during the harvest season when fruit would
fully ripen and when animals had enjoyed an abundance of food throughout the
summer. Remember, all mammals have a significant amount of their genes in
common, so they share the mechanism of storing body fat through over eating
with us. Animals have more body fat at the end of fall / beginning of winter
than they do at any other time, so they will contain more of the stuff we have
learned to crave at this time of year. Coupled with an abundance of ripe fruit,
we are going to be highly motivated to eat as much as we possibly can and to
overeat, during harvest feasts. This allowed our ancestors to store the maximum
amount of energy in the shortest period of time, which helped them get through
the winter when food was scarce.
this worked perfectly, as evident by our species survival. Historically, we
were able to get through the tough time because we over ate during the good
times. Those who didn’t over eat, didn’t survive long enough to pass along
their genes. While we rarely sat down to eating massive amounts of highly
nutritious food, we were probably adequately nourished because the large
amounts of higher energy food we did eat contained enough vitamins, minerals
and protein for our bodies to function effectively. And it is worth considering
the slow burn that nutrient deficiencies have on our ability to function,
particularly when compared to the rapid onset of the negative consequences
associated with a deficiency in energy consumption.
it works too well and it is now a major problem for modern people simply
because we are running the identical code that we were 15000 years ago before
farming of any type afforded us the freedoms associated with the elimination of
moment to consider what life would have been like before farming. We would
exist in small groups and would have to follow the food. We’d eat as much as we
could whenever we could, and then go periods of time when there wasn’t enough
to eat. We’d live off of our body fat and we wandered around looking for
animals to hunt and collecting whatever plant stuff we could that would provide
us with anything useful. Life would be hard, a lot of our energy would go
towards generating heat to maintain an appropriate body temperature and most of
the rest would go toward finding our next meal. There would be very little
specialization of labor because there wouldn’t be enough food to free some-up anyone
from having to hunt or gather. There would be constant hunger separated by the
occasional moments of gorging.
world were this was the norm, the ability to store energy when possible and the
motivation to do the very thing that was needed to create a caloric surplus
that storing energy required were essential.
forward to 1942 when the first Canada Food Guide known as the Official Food
Rules came out. Sure, we were running the same code that had us seek out and
overeat high calorie foods and to overeat whatever food we had available, but
we were not living in an environment of abundance. While it wasn’t necessarily
a place of constant scarcity, given that farming existed and we had learned how
to preserve enough things to make them available during the winter when nothing
grew, it was not a place where there was unlimited food available to everyone.
The more affluent did have improved access and they had higher body fat levels
as a result, but in general, people looked more or less the same as they had
for thousands of years; although there is some evidence to suggest that we were
slightly taller and slightly bigger in terms of muscle and bone structure.
Obesity was a very, very rare thing and being undernourished in terms of a
deficiency of vitamins or minerals was more of a problem.
enough energy to go around but there would be seasonal droughts in terms of
nutrients. This was not great, but it was a much smaller problem than having
your population starving. So the government set out to solve this smaller
problem and created the Official Food Rules in an effort to combat it.
look again at these rules and notice how little food is actually being
recommended in terms of servings, the language “when available” with reference
to cheese and “at least these amounts” and the second last line “eat these
foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.”
life time, I do not recall there ever bring a shortage of cheese, it has ALWAYS
been available as far as I can tell. Regardless, they wanted to make sure
everyone got enough calcium and believed that dairy was the best source of it.
Next, they believed that if you were able to consume ONLY the outlined food
that you would receive adequate nutrition in terms of vitamin and minerals.
Finally, you had free range over what you ate AFTER you consumed the outlined
food. You were fine to eat other things, like cookies or chocolate, and
probably beer, but to do so only after you had eaten the other prescribed
items. They are not limiting what you eat, they are saying eat at least these
things before you eat other stuff. This form of languaging paints a picture
that, as they viewed it at the time, did not include a significant number of
people who were eating way too much. Obesity statistics are hard to find for
this period of time and, while not statistically sound to say this, the lack of
easily available statistics coupled with the available statistics of ~10% 1970,
it is probably safe to conclude that obesity wasn’t much of a consideration let
alone a problem.
The guide continued along in this fashion for about 3 decades until the 1977 Canada’s Food Guide when it began to take on a more graphical / metaphoric form. There are a few reasons why a flat text list of rules was no longer deemed sufficient enough to capture and maintain the attention of the population, like the availability of colour television, leading to a need to make things entertaining. The colour wheel that featured a smiling sun that was licking its lips is more playful and has pictures of specific food items of each type or category. It is easier to look at and is presented as two sided with more specific textual information on the back.
The name and number of recommended servings per day for two of the categories changed between the 1982 Canada’s Food Guide and the 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. “Breads and cereals” was changed to “grain products” and the recommended servings increased from 4-5 to 5-12 as “fruits and vegetables” was changed to “vegetables and fruit” and the number of servings increased from 4-5 to 5-10. These changes reflect an increase in the availability of both grain and fruit along with a refocus on the importance of getting enough vitamins and minerals as indicated by the re-ordering of vegetables before fruits.
I remember this guide very well. It came out the year I graduated high school and it was what was in use when I took a nutrition class at university. It was also what was around when I first got exposed to the Atkins diet – an extremely low carbohydrate eating approach that causes people to enter a state called Ketosis meaning they are burning fat for energy vs. sugar. According to the recommendation in 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, it would be impossible for someone get into ketosis if they followed it, even if they only consumed the lowest number of recommended grain servings. We were taught, and I believed, that ketosis was a dangerous state to be in and that it should be avoided at all costs. What wasn’t clear to me at the time was that ketosis was a completely natural state to get into and it was, in fact, the very state that we used to go into every time our food supply was reduced and we began to burn body fat for energy.
it worth, 5 servings of grain is a considerable amount of carbohydrate, while
12 servings is a massive amount and much more than most people should be
consuming. According to the guide, one serving is 30 grams of cereal which has
an average of 20 grams of carbohydrate, or 80 calories. This means that they
recommend people eat between 100 and 240 grams of carbohydrate per day or 400
to 960 calories of carbs per day. Eating this amount of well above the
threshold for ketosis. While ketosis is not the only way people will burn body
fat, it is the most effective way, and the way in which our ancestors would
have gone about it given that is what happens when the food supply is
there had been a trend of an increased number of servings of grain products in
the newer versions of the guides, 1992 marks a huge increase from a max of 5 to
a max of 12, while offering very little in terms of justification for eating
more or less of them other than suggesting that teenagers should eat more while
adults should eat somewhere in the middle.
significance of this is very important and it has had a big impact on the
number of people who are considered obese in the country. The early guides
offered minimums and a suggestion that you could eat more AFTER you ate all of
the recommended food, the 1992 guide gives vague advice and doesn’t explain the
consequences of eating too many serving. This is a problem because there was no
longer any food scarcity. There was an abundance of food, particularly grain
products, which are high energy, and a massive selection of refined or
processed grain products, which have a lower amount of fiber and therefore a
higher percentage of calories that the body will metabolize for energy. Without
clear instructions, with a higher recommended number of servings and a lack of
food scarcity, people would just eat more because the guide said that they
could or should.
A number of years ago my brother sent me an article called Demystifying Depression – Part I by Name of Feather – Name of Feather is the username under which the article was originally posted in May 2005 . Over the years the article has disappeared and reappeared on a number of occasions as the websites it was hosted on have changed owners or simply just shut down.
The major thesis of the article is that depression is a physical disease and, more specifically, a disease that is the manifestation of an inability to recover for the day to day stress of being alive.
In general, human beings have a finite ability for cellular repair and depending upon the amount of stress, stimulation and tissue damage they experience they will require a specific length of time to fully recover. For example, a person may have the ability to repair 48 units of damage per day, or 2 units per hour. If they have an easy day that causes 12 units of damage, it will take them 6 hours to recover. A much tougher day that causes 48 units of damage, will, assuming no further damage occurs, require a full 24 hours to restore things to normal.
Something that is less than helpful is the nature of recovery. Unused potential simply evaporates and cannot be stored. If it was not used when it was available, it is just no longer available. Which is a problem when we consider the following example: Someone has an exceptionally stressful day and generates 96 units of damage, mandating the need for 2 full days of recovery. Not a problem, so long as the time is taken to recover and allow the body to return to baseline, the individual will be fine – think about someone taking it easy on the weekend or going to bed a few hours earlier for a couple of days. Now what happens when to the recovery queue when, on the day following that 96 units of damage, the person has an average day of 48 units?
96 – 48 + 48 = 96.
After a full day or recovery they remain in an un-recovered state; effectively in the same position there were in when their day ended yesterday. It is this cumulative characteristic that creates the possibility that the recovery queue will grow larger and larger over a period of days and weeks.
The body is generally able to keep going for a while when it is over stressed or overworked. This resilience is a survival trait allowing us to push hard when we need to and recover once the work is done. In fact, our ancestors lived in a time that alternated between scarcity and abundance, which favored individuals who were able to carry-on under suboptimal circumstances. Sooner or later things would improve and the opportunity for recovery would present itself. Baseline functioning would be restored after the required period of time.
Human beings run into problems when the opportunity for recovery is never given or not sufficient enough because our ability to continue to function normally is dependent upon the ability to spend adequate amounts of time in a fully recovered state. When this does not happen there are metabolic and physiological consequences. Initially the negative impact is small – a person might have a more difficult time regulating emotions, maintaining skin health, falling or remaining asleep, concentrating or recovering from physical exercise – but after a short period of time the effects will begin to grow – changes in body composition, personality changes, increased susceptibility to infection, or reduced cognitive functioning – and eventually the body will begin to shut down impairing digestion and immune functioning allowing disease to take hold, which will eventually lead to death.
The article outlines all of this, but most importantly it details how to avoid it from becoming a problem in the first place and how to adjust your behavior in the event it you have dug too big a hole to recover from with a few days of rest, some extra sleep or a couple of weeks vacation.
This to me is the most valuable part of it. So much is known about optimal or normal physiological functioning that it is very easy to miss some of the more critical parts of it. The experience of anxiety and its associated stress response are completely normal and very predictable BUT only as long as the processes that support them have the adequate opportunity to recover. The moment they start to get impacted will mark a change in how the organism will handle any stress. These impairments will have a cascading effect on seemingly unrelated systems, which will cause further negative effects. The example recovery potential of 48 units per day will, once a threshold has been crossed, begin to drop and will not be restored to normal levels until the body has the chance to fully recover. It becomes 47 units, then 46, and it continues to drop until the person consciously takes recovery, breakdown occurs which forces recovery, or the person dies.
The dose is the poison here. The higher the stress, the longer the recovery. The longer one spends in a non-recovered state, the greater the level of physiological impairment and the longer it will take for normal functioning to return. In fact, it is both possible and likely that extended periods of time spend running at a diminished capacity will result in permanent changes to many metabolic functions including the ability to recover from stress.
Consistently receiving nominal amounts are fine, as are occasional periods of time with very large amounts as long as there is the opportunity to completely recover. The potential problems begin when recovery capacity is not able to keep up with the damage and when this damaged state is sustained for periods of time. At this point, the individual will begin to show diminished capacity and this will include their long term resilience.
Which brings us to the actual problem with stress. We handle it very effectively and for a while, until we don’t, and at that point it is already too late. We have created a lot of damage that we need to recover from, and some of that damage is to the recovery processes and to the processes that create stress resistance. But we are blind about this simply because dealing with stress is so natural and doesn’t have a lot of symptoms.
If you haven’t read the article before give it a read and consider making a copy and saving it on your computer. It is very useful and given its tendency to disappear without warning, there is no guarantee that it will always be available to you when you need it the most.
We are born as perfect as we will ever be. With rare exception, we have our greatest potential the instant we arrive into the world. From there, our environment begins to chip away at our possibilities and over time we suffer from the outcome of our decisions or the decisions that were made on our behalf. With each breath, we either maintain our potential or it is reduced slightly.
I have trained a couple of people who had suffered heart attacks and then subsequently made the decision to correct as many of their bad habits as they could. They eat better, exercise more, reduce their stress and stop over indulging in alcohol. They, like many people who have suffered a heart attack, make reference to their heart attack as both an ending point and a place of new beginnings; “my health was fine up until that day” is something that I have heard which reflects their understanding of what was going on. But it doesn’t reflect what actually happened. Their health had been suffering for years BEFORE the heart attack and the heart attack was only the latest in a series of escalating symptoms; even if it was the first symptom that registered that there was a problem.
You have been making yourself sick for years – everyone has been. At best, you are doing everything you can to achieve your potential – eating appropriate amounts of whole food, getting an appropriate amount of sleep and exercise, etc…. but in a world as polluted as ours, the chances of you not consuming toxins is very low. The clean life that you may be living likely isn’t as pure as is needed to reach the highest level of health. In all probability you aren’t getting enough exercise, eating the right amounts of food or getting sufficient rest to recover your vitality and enhance your constitution for health.
This doesn’t mean that you are going to die of a heart attack at 50 or cancer at 55. But it does mean that you are damaging you body and diminishing your ability to recover from this damage with each non-ideal choice you make. It also means that if you do end-up with a disease, there is a very good chance that you have been working at it for the last 20-50 years and not just during the few weeks preceding the diagnosis.
The human body has a remarkable ability to recover. There is ample redundancy so a lot of stuff can break down before their is critical malfunction. But there are limits and one needs to be mindful of them as they move through life. With each less than ideal decision that is made, you move one step closer to the cumulative consequences of these choices.
In talking to more than a 1000 people over the last 10 years a few facts about nutrition have become clear.
First off, the education system is doing a good job at teaching people what they should be eating. I’ll fill-in some blanks about how the remarkably adaptive way the body operates, but I’ve yet to talk to someone who doesn’t know that eating more vegetables, less sugar, fewer processed products and drinking more water and less pop is a more effective way to eat. People know what they should be eating in order to improve their health and functioning so they suffer from obesity and reduced vitality for reasons other than education.
Next, many people comment that it is hard to eat correctly. On one level this is true, given that living things benefit from eating unprocessed food that rots quickly. Shopping twice a week is a necessity if you are going to eat real food because you will not have the “luxury” of buying food that doesn’t spoil because it is loaded with preservatives. And you need to prepare that food which is going to take time – peeling vegetables, cutting meat and removing bones or fat/skin and then cooking the meal requires time. But this only seems like it takes more time when compared with opening a box and heating something in a microwave or ordering a meal and waiting for it to arrive.
The other comment I hear consistently after an optimal nutrition conversation is that eating for health and vitality is boring. My thoughts about this one is that this is the biggest reason why people do not live optimal lives with an abundance of energy, clarity of thought and emotional contentment. Good quality food doesn’t provide the instant state-changing experience that the high sugar, high fat, high chemical food-like stuff delivers. Good quality food doesn’t do very much to your immediate state; it really shouldn’t because there isn’t anything in it that will have a quick impact on the brain or body. Real food impacts the body slowly, over time and in many ways by doing nothing at all.
People like or become addicted to food-like stuff because it has a very quick impact on the brain – it changes their state almost immediately and in a predictable way. Feeling sad? Eat some sugar, get a release of dopamine and feel better. Feeling some pain somewhere? Eat some ice cream and get a release of opioids to numb the pain. Eat fat and sugar together and feel good immediately. The happy / feel-good chemicals will be released and you will get a little high from it.
You don’t get this state change from eating salad, beef, chicken or fish. Eating these things may not even make you feel full. They have been shown to be better for you, but their immediate impact is low and almost perceivable, and given the distance from the consequences of a poor diet the instant reward is what many choose.
But as time passes, and the consequences begin to take hold on a person – addiction, obesity, disease, loss of energy, loss of circulation, impaired thinking, etc…. the state change is all that remains in terms of any conceivable positives. But then it’s too late to do very much about it. A 40 year sugar habit is tough to break. Dropping 100 lbs is close to impossible and only successfully undertaken by the most remarkable of individuals. Once cancer takes hold, the body has a very tough time fighting it without medical intervention. Clogged blood vessels don’t suddenly clear-up simply because the person stops eating crappy food. Make no mistake about it, the consequences arrive and they usually stay forever.
Real food does very little to our immediate state and it does very little to our bodies; which is what one should look for in their food because the body has a remarkable way of repairing itself.
You have been lied to and the quality of your life is lower because of it. So is your life expectancy. As is your vitality and in many ways your constitution for health is also diminished. Some of the lies were not malicious at the time, but they are now, and you really should start to pay attention to them and how they impact your spending habits.
What am I talking about?
The crappy food you eat, the reason you give for eating it and commercialization of “Food” and “Health”.
You eat a lot of really low quality food. It’s loaded with sugar, it has a lot of the fat processed out of it and it last forever on the shelf because almost everything else that made it food has been removed. It’s created and perfected in a lab, then manufactured and distributed to the masses in much the same way a smart phone finds its way into your life. And you buy this food, week after week, feed it to yourself and your children, and move forward telling yourself that it isn’t harmful because Health Canada wouldn’t allow big companies to sell poison and because big companies wouldn’t sell something dangerous to their customers.
Before you pull your head out of the sand, you may want to eat a few mouth fulls because it’s a lot healthier than what you have been eating.
Food in this country is, for the most part, about profit. It is about creating more wealth through increased market share and decreased production costs. The people who sell you the food had nothing to do with its production. Most food sellers work for corporations, not farmers. They are part of the massive industry that maximizes profit by selling the most food possible at the cheapest possible rate. It is in the interest of profit to create foods that people will eat, that won’t spoil and that can be shipped anywhere in the world cheaply.
Health Canada doesn’t care about food being harmful, they care about it being safe and big corporations will sell you anything you’ll buy that they are allowed to sell – tobacco, highly addictive pain killers, and untested chemical creations that “enhance” flavor and sell-ability. So long as the products don’t make you sick immediately and there is enough time between consumption and illness, Health Canada won’t get involved. They’ll rightfully shutdown a meat plant and recall tons of beef because of E. coli that sickened 17 people, but they’ll give high sugar foods a green light because the illnesses they cause take years to develop and are in many ways the result of personal choices.
It’s daft. Vexingly stupid actually. Obesity crushes the life out of people and the stats tell a sad tale about wasted potential. Sugar causes heart disease and fat gain. It causes cardiovascular disease because the inflammation associated with sugar consumption destroys the blood vessels. Omega 3 fatty acids, when taken in the right amount, improve health; yet they are being removed from food because of an antiquated notion that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.
But the food is “safe” and it is keeping you from dying from starvation; although you likely suffer from a strange kind of malnutrition never before seen in the history of our species. I encourage you to notice how you feel after eating a boxed meal, a bowl of cereal, or a meal replacement bar. Notice how much different you feel when you eat a fresh salad. Pay attention to the different levels of enjoyment you get from the “food” and the food. Notice which one creates more cravings and be aware just who benefits from this need to eat more.
You’ve felt it for a long time, that what makes up most of your diet isn’t food at all. It’s a Frankenstein creation of things that seem real but would never spontaneously exist in nature. And when you eat it, it’s shortening your life. To believe otherwise is to continue to lie to yourself.
“No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” by Patrick Stokes is a very interesting read that tackles the notion that people are entitled to their opinion. He isn’t saying that you are not free to hold whatever opinion you like, he’s just saying that when you don’t know what you are talking about or cheery-pick the evidence to bolster your opinion, you should probably keep your mouth shut. To do anything other than that is intellectually dishonest at best and dangerous at worst.
He is speaking about the anti-vaccination movement and to some of the untrained people who spearhead the movement. The article is well thought-out, presents a clear point of view and is supported by enough evidence to make this POV compelling enough to consider.
His point is clearly demonstrated in the comments. One of the anti-vaccination advocates makes a statement to the effect of “you bring your evidence and I’ll bring my evidence and we can debate the issue.” This is a little frightening given the abundance of research that has been done on vaccination over the years how there is no link to autism – Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study linking MMR to autism and bowel disease has been shown to be fraudulent and it has also been show that he has a conflict of interest when publishing the releasing the study.
The numbers don’t lie, vaccinations are safe and societies that have the highest uptake of vaccinations have the lowest incidents of the diseases that they target. And make no mistake about it, the measles, mumps, rubella, small pox, diphtheria, pertussis and lockjaw are serious and potentially fatal. Reducing the incidence rates for these diseases is not a bad thing regardless of the growing number of immunized people who don’t want their own children immunized from them.
When someone is spouting off about things they don’t know anything about without being clear that they don’t know anything about it, they have forfeit their right to have an opinion and should stop talking about the topic.
I am pro vaccination and pro science, and I believe the world is better off preventable diseases that cause suffering.