Currently, around 76% of Americans are overweight, about 42% are obese, and according to a Mayo Clinic study, close to 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug or more. Something is not working the way it’s supposed to.
If you want to solve a problem permanently, you must first understand the root cause of the problem. In this blog, you will learn the top reasons why our society has become so overweight and unhealthy.
There are a few reasons why our body is no longer lean and healthy, and it goes beyond just the food we eat or don't eat. Yes, in the past 40 years or so, our diet has really changed, which has contributed to the problem. We eat a lot more refined sugars. Actually, our consumption of refined sugar has gone up more than 30% in the past 40 years. We eat more overly processed foods, and because we no longer pay attention to our hunger, we eat a lot more food than we used to 40 years ago. It has been estimated that we eat between 300 and 500 more calories per day than we did, and we are less active. However, this is only part of the reason why our body is no longer lean and healthy. Another very big reason is too much comfort.
Let me tell you a story about fish that will help you better understand what is happening to our bodies. As you might know, the deeper you go into the ocean, the higher the pressure. At 10,000 feet below the surface, the pressure is around 300 times the pressure on the surface, and yet there are fish that live that deep and thrive.
They can do that because their body has adapted to that kind of pressure. Now, if you take those fish and bring them closer to the surface where you don't have as much pressure, they might be able to survive for a little while, but sooner or later, they will die. Why? Isn't it more comfortable not having all that constant pressure exerted on your body?
The reason they die is that their body has adapted to very high pressures, and when the pressure is no longer there, they can't survive.
Humans have been on the earth for around 6 million years. All these years, the body adapted to a much harsher environment than the human body has to deal with today.
If you think about it, it’s only the past 100 years or so that humans have lived more comfortably than the body did 1,000 years ago. In the past 50 years, we have gotten even more cozy. Think about it: most people in the Western world do not experience being hot or cold for prolonged periods. For example, the only time most people feel cold is when they walk from their heated house to their heated car.
Did you know experiencing cold and letting your body try to warm up, or the reverse, feeling hot and allowing your body to cool itself down, is great for your health? For example, regular exposure to cold aids in burning fat, strengthens the nervous system, regulates blood sugar levels, combats oxidative stress, and strengthens the immune system. Wim Hof has proven the positive effects that regular exposure to cold has on the immune system. Wim has not gotten sick for over 20 years. Did you know that exposure to heat also has benefits to your brain and helps the body with detoxification, which is excellent for overall health?
In the past, people would get all these benefits naturally by simply getting exposed to the environment. It is uncomfortable being cold or hot, which is why people found ways to eliminate that discomfort, not realizing how crucial it is to our health.
Most people in the modern world never let their bodies get exposed to extreme cold or heat for prolonged periods, and their health suffers from it. But remember, too much cold or too much heat is not good either.
Another thing that we don't let our bodies experience too often is hunger. Today, most people never allow their bodies to get hungry. In the past, people did not eat as often. Only in the last 50 years or so have we had such an abundance of food, at least in the Western world.
In the past, people felt true hunger regularly. Frequently, they would go for days without eating. If you look at ancient texts, people would eat once per day on average. When I lived in Greece in the 70s and 80s, adults only ate once or twice per day. Usually, it was lunch and then a small snack for dinner. It was drilled into our heads as children to make sure we were hungry before a meal. In Greece, we did not have a lunch break at school. There was only a small store that sold snacks and little sandwiches. Usually, my mother would give us money in case we wanted to buy snacks. If I had not had my snacks by noon, I would never purchase snacks even if I was hungry because I knew if I ate after 12, I would not be hungry by the time I got home for lunch at 2. So, I stayed hungry.
As it turns out, letting your body go hungry has tremendous benefits to our health and weight. The point I want to make is that in modern society, very few people let their bodies go hungry, and our health is paying the price.
Many fitness professionals say that letting your body go hungry is very bad. They are dead wrong. As soon as children say they are hungry, parents rush to get them food. Why? If they are hungry, and they can't eat for another 2 hours, so what? Nothing bad will happen if you are hungry and don't eat right away. Unfortunately, people have been taught to avoid being hungry in modern society, and that started from a very young age.
I see that with my own children. When they have events at school or church and the event is 3 or 4 hours long, people automatically bring snacks. So, what if they get hungry? People get mad at me when I ask them, "So what?" Being hungry is not the end of the world. It’s actually one of the best things you can do for your health.
Other things that our bodies no longer get as much exposure to are viruses and bacteria. Well, isn't that a good thing? Actually, it is a terrible thing for our immune system. You see, our immune system needs exposure to viruses and bacteria to stay strong. The moment it does not get constant exposure, it starts to get weaker. By regularly sanitizing all the surfaces we touch, we are doing more harm than good. Letting your kids play with dirt and put their hands in their mouths is good for them. When I was a child, my mother let us play with dirt, put our hands in our mouths, and did many other things that most parents would never let their kids do today.
On the other hand, one of my cousins, whose mother was obsessed with cleaning and sanitizing everything, was sick all the time, whereas my siblings and I hardly ever got sick. I know many people who have similar stories; we do need to expose our bodies to the environment where viruses and bacteria exist.
Remember, viruses and bacteria need a weakened immune system to get us sick. If you take care of your immune system, you will not have to worry about viruses and bacteria.
Of course, you do have the opposite of too much exposure, and again, that is also not good.
The problem is that many of our daily habitual behaviors, which many consider healthy, actually weaken our immune system. Not getting regular exposure to cold, eating too often, overeating, anti-bacterial soaps, over-sanitizing surfaces, and living in an overly sterile environment all these things weaken our immune system.
Another reason our bodies are falling apart is that we don't walk nearly as much as we used to. In the past 6 million years, people walked everywhere for the most part. Over all these years, the body has adapted to walking, and all of a sudden, it no longer walks as much. Walking is not just about burning calories and keeping the heart and lungs strong. Walking is an essential activity for the maintenance of healthy joints. Did you know walking is vital for the lubrication of your knees? For example, your knees don't have a blood supply. Did you know that your knees get the nutrients they need to stay healthy through movements like walking? As you walk, you swing your leg forward, creating a vacuum in the knee, which pulls a liquid in that helps lubricate the joint and also provides the nourishment the cartilage in your knees needs to stay healthy. One reason people have so many joint problems is that we don't walk nearly as much as we need.
The point is that the body has adapted to a much harsher environment than we live in today, and the mind has adapted to a much calmer environment than we live in currently.
We did not realize the harsh environment was critical for maintaining a lean and healthy body. Like the fish who have adapted so well to the tremendous pressure at the bottom of the ocean, their body needs that pressure to stay alive.
The human body has adapted well to the harsher environment that it needs it to stay lean, healthy, and fully functional. However, rest is also critically important, not just for the body but also for the mind. Too much comfort or too much stimulus is equally bad for the body.
Don't worry; we don't need to live in the wilderness to be healthy. There are things we can do that will provide all the stimuli our body needs to stay lean, healthy, and fully functional.
Another thing that has changed between how people used to live and how people live today is stress. In the past, people did not worry as much about the future and did not hold on to the past as many people in modern society do. People were more accepting of what is. Let me explain what I mean.
Did you know not accepting what is, is one of the biggest causes of stress? Some things happen to us that we can change, and some things happen to us that we cannot change. Many people in the modern world focus too much on the things that they cannot change. That causes a lot of stress, which is unnecessary. I’m not saying never to feel bad; what I am saying is feel bad, but if you cannot change it, accept it and find a way to move on. People in the past had a much better coping mechanism that enabled them to be more accepting of what is.
For example, if you look at healthy cultures worldwide, they have traditions and rituals on how to cope with the death of a loved one. According to a research article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, it explains how these traditions and rituals can help people cope with events like the loss of a loved one. I know in Greece when someone died, we had certain traditions that we followed on how to mourn. In modern societies, most people have lost those traditions and rituals on how to deal with death, which I believe had a substantial negative impact on people’s ability to deal with losing someone. Not being able to cope with loss is a massive source of chronic stress. The reason I bring this up is that chronic stress is one of the biggest causes of disease.
Today, most folks are under constant pressure to do something or to be somewhere. They are always worrying about something, and unfortunately, many things they worry about are outside their control.
Basically, most people live under constant chronic stress. Do you know what that does to your telomeres? By the way, telomeres, without getting too deep into biology, are caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. Once the telomere gets too short to divide properly, that is when you begin to age and also when diseases start to show up.
Chronic stress, according to Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., and Elissa Epel, Ph.D., shortens telomeres at a much faster rate than normal, which translates to aging at a much faster rate than normal and also increases the chance of developing all sorts of diseases. If you want to learn more about telomeres, I recommend reading their book, “The Telomere Effect.” It was one of my favorite books to read — a real eye-opener on how our thoughts affect our health.
Another thing prior generations did more than people living in modern societies is rest their minds. Their minds were not turned on 24/7 like people today. How often have you sat and looked at the sky, not watching TV, iPads, iPhones, or reading anything, just staring into the sky, or the ocean or some nice nature? Did you know that looking at something made by nature, like the forest or the sea, has a more relaxing effect than looking at buildings? Also, spending time outdoors and in nature profoundly benefits our mental health and vision. To me, it looks like we are designed to spend more time outdoors.
Today, people spend more time indoors staring at a screen than ever. As a kid in Greece, I remember spending most of my time outdoors, and the same thing is true with most adults. Here in the U.S., it was not much different 30 and 40 years ago. People spent more time outdoors than we do today. We have learned, this was very good for our mental health.
Resting the mind is as important as resting the body. When I lived in Greece, we only had two channels, and those two channels were only on after 5 pm during the week and 12 pm on the weekends. Today, people go from TV to their iPads to their smartphones. They hardly ever give their mind a break. In Greece, it was not uncommon to just stare at the night sky or the ocean. Have you ever done that? It is very relaxing for the brain.
If you look at Asian and many Middle Eastern cultures, meditation and prayer were part of their life. Meditation and prayer are both very good for the mind. According to Blackburn and Epel, regular meditation helps elongate the telomeres, which has enormous positive effects on your health.
Do you know what else has changed in the past 40 to 50 years other than what we eat and how active we are? How often we eat and how fast we eat. 40 to 50 years ago, people did not eat as often as we eat today. If you look at healthy societies today, you will notice that, on average, people eat 2x per day.
As I mentioned earlier, in Greece in the 70s and 80s, adults usually ate two meals per day, one big and one small. Today, people eat 4 and 5 times per day. That has a massive impact on people's weight and health. Did you know that the same food and amount of food can affect your health and weight differently depending on if you eat it in one big meal or five small ones? I know mainstream nutritionists would tell you that eating small but many meals throughout the day is better, but the truth is the exact opposite. There is plenty of research to back this statement up.
Why do people today eat more food than in the past? One main reason is the fact that we eat on the run. We no longer take the time to sit down and enjoy our meals as we once did. Did you know the slower you eat, the less you will eat without trying? The faster you eat, the more you will end up eating.
Just like the fish that live in the very deep and don’t fare well if you bring them closer to the surface because they adapted to the high pressures of the deep, the human body, over the past 6 million years, has adapted to a very different environment. The current environment no longer provides the stimulus necessary to maintain its integrity and health. The good news is that with a little work, and I genuinely mean a little work, we can easily recreate the environment the body needs to thrive. In my 30 years in the fitness field, I have found most people are only 3 to 5 healthy habits away from achieving the lean and healthy body they want.
If you need help with developing all the healthy habits that will help your body return to its natural state, which is lean and healthy, check out my online coaching service by going to www.ThePracticalFitnessCoach.com