Writer's note: this turned into a bit of a manifesto - sorry about that. In lieu of this, I am posting portions, not the whole thing - so as not to overwhelm completely.
Barrett argues that the foods we’ve invented and presented ourselves with are “supernormal stimuli”. That’s a big word for a simple idea. It was first illustrated in birds. Giving a bird a larger, more colorful egg that its own will cause the bird to respond and sit on the larger egg. Even if this egg is quite a bit larger than the bird itself. The fake egg is a “supernormal stimulus”. It represents an egg, but is much larger and more ridiculous than it’s own regular size egg. Thus, the bird would neglect it’s own egg in order to reproduce another egg. Most notably, the cuckoo takes advantage of this. The cuckoo mother lays her egg in another bird’s nest. That other bird incubates the egg and raises the young. Pretty crazy, right? So, the author argues that fast foods and processed foods have become supernormal stimuli to us – something we will respond to more than regular fruits and vegetables. In the days of our ancestors (and even now, in more remote and thrid world countries) things like salt and sugar were rarities. Now, they’re everywhere, and they’re contributing to an epidemic that is ever expanding. Do you know that we may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents? Huh? That ain’t right! More people are being diagnosed with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, etc. More CHILDREN are being diagnosed with these diseases. More people than ever are on drugs to control things like depression, thyroid, blood pressure, cholesterol. And realistically, the best way to control those things is with diet and exercise (in some cases, not all – I am by no means a physician). She prescribes at least one hour of exercise a day and eating tons of fruits and veggies. Barrett also says something that I’ve known for a long time. If you don’t eat it, you won’t want it. I know it’s hard to wean myself off the sugars and salts. But, if I don’t eat it for a few days, I usually don’t want it. If I don’t eat the desserts after dinner, I don’t want them. Weird, right?
I think what all of this has told me is that it does matter what I eat. Alex and I went to the Indian buffet restaurant the other night. I tried to get some of the more healthy choices (but, really, what’s healthy at Indian buffet?): the veggies, the rice and naan and a tiny amount of meat. I tried to eat better than I normally do and I did not go back for seconds. That night and the next day? I felt like shit. Whenever I eat poorly, I feel like shit. I get tired and cranky and hungry more often. I get bitchy when I can’t get something to eat RIGHT NOW. And I’m finally beginning to realize why that is. Fast food is so processed, the vitamins and minerals that my body needs are completely gone from them. When I eat fast foods (or sugar substitutes, or anything with essentially zero nutritional value), my body takes what it can from it and then a few hours later, tells me I’m hungry again. Most fast foods create a “high” and then a “crash”. Oh man, do I crash. And I hate it. I hate to be the person that has to eat every couple hours. And I hate having the fat around my belly. And I hate feeling tired and lethargic and not wanting to do much. I know that a lot of this is due to my job. I work a lot and I am on my feet a lot and sometimes I get so burnt out that I just collapse. But I love my job, and I love school and learning: the whole she-bang. So, how can I do it better? How can I be better? What should I do?
Here’s the deal: the tiredness and lethargy are due to improper nutrition, as is that depression (the not wanting to do anything portion of it). Depression is not really understood, but here’s what I think is happening. There’s a region of my brain that has active cell division: that is, cells are being created all the time. When you are healthy, cells are dividing at some pace, replenishing old cells in that area of the brain. When a person becomes depressed, those cells do not divide as rapidly, they do not get replenished, so there is literally a “depression” in the amount of cells in the area of the brain required for regulating mood and emotions. Anti-depressants can help this situation by helping to stimulate cell division to replenish those cells. However, it takes a couple weeks for those cells to get up and divide and reach normal levels again (that’s why it takes several weeks for anti-depressants to kick in and start working). What else can expand those cells? Exercise. Usually vigorous exercise, something to create that “runner’s high”. I’m OK with that – sounds good to me. The hardest part is getting started. Once I’ve maintained something for a few weeks, it becomes habitual, which is great. I won’t always have to struggle with getting out of bed in the morning. Who knew?
I’m not sure whether I’ve connected all the pieces of the puzzle, but I feel like I’m on my way. I’ve connected eating bad foods to feeling bad. I’ve connected not exercising to feeling depressed and lethargic. I’ve realized that I DO want to be a healthy person and it has nothing to do with emotion or anger or jealousy or any of those petty feelings I used to have about myself. I’m trying to let that all go. It’s not about being mad at myself for craving chips, it’s about realizing how those chips will make me feel in the long run and avoiding it for that reason. Those cravings? They’ll pass. I’m sure of it. And if I eat a few, they I’ll enjoy them and get back on track right away. I already find myself eating less, just being more aware of what’s going in the old pie-hole. And I already feel a ton better by just committing to exercise every day and eating more fruits and veggies. I’m more engaged in my work, I feel less lethargic, I get out of bed in the morning and find I require less sleep. Granted, I’m not perfect, and nobody is. But I feel like I’m on the path, and that makes me feel great.