"The experts are always telling us to 'Listen to your body!' But if I listened to my body, I'd live on toffee pops and port wine. Don't tell me to listen to my body...It's trying to turn me into a blob!"
-- Roger Robinson, New Zealand Masters Runner ***
I guess lots of Amercians are listening to their bodies. Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a study which projects that by 2020, 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese. The OECD is concerned about this because obesity has a direct impact not just on the individual, but on rising healthcare costs. Overweight has a causal connection to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of skeletal problems. In fact, obesity can shorten a life by 8-10 years.
The obesity epidemic is occurring mainly in the industrialized world. The causes are well known. Too much poor quality, cheap fast food, too much sitting in cars and subways, too much sitting in front of computers and school desks, too much eating.
The flip side of these "too much's" is too little -- too little exercise, too little eating of more nutritious foods, too little eating of smaller portions, too little rest, too little suport in the workplace for wellness. It was disappointing to see a NY Times article this week reporting that after two decades of federal programs to encourage Americans to eat more vegetables, only 23% of Americans eat even one vegetable with their meals when french fries are excluded.
Luckily, once you get on the path to fitness you start to realize that years of brain-washing by our culture and advertising make it necessary to reconsider all our assumptions about food and our cravings. The food industry, indifferent to the effects of their industrialized products on your body (they leave it to the healthcare system to deal with it), has made it necessary to become more picky about exactly what your body does listen to.
Most Americans are addicted to sugar and fat before they are teenagers (I speak from experience). Our bodies are the product of evolution. Not that long ago, when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, fat and sugar were rare commodities. Our body needs both, but not in the amounts and forms heavily marketed nowadays. We crave them naturally, and the food industry stands ready to satisfy our cravings at a nice profit.
But once fitness becomes a focus in your life, so does food. Strength, endurance, reflexes, balance, ability to rest and sense of well being are all affected by food choices. For a TOJ, food is even more important to ensure muscles receive adequate nutrients to repair and grow and to maintain a strong immune system as the body is subjected to the stress of exercise.
When you exercise frequently and hard, you also begin to rewire your cravings. You become less satisfied by consuming empty calories with few nutrients. Soda pop, burgers, fries and soft serve ice cream pass into history like your youth.
*** Quote from "The Quotable Runner" edited by Mark Will-Weber