Deep Survival: What Our Basic Human Instincts (or Lack Thereof) Have to Do With Weight
It’s a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon here on Long Island, and I have a light day!
Once I’m done writing this to you, I’m going to work out (it’s a yoga kinda day!), do some grocery shopping and chill :-)
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to a book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales when I’ve been driving to clients in my car.
This book reviews the author’s life fascination, which is why many people in the midst of life-threatening situations seem to lose all basis of rational thought and unwittingly ‘off themselves’. A common example in the book thus far is of dead scuba divers found with oxygen still in their tanks, and the author’s interest in why these dead divers felt the need to rip off the only thing keeping them breathing while they were lost at sea.
While I haven’t completed the book just yet, there seems to be a common theme in the half dozen examples Gonzales has reviewed: We as a species have evolved. Due to the development of civilization and the significant decrease in unknown threats, we’ve evolved to react more with our emotions, and less with our instincts.
His theory is that in the life-threatening situations mentioned earlier, the survivors were able to tap into their ‘animalistic’ instincts, and do what was needed to survive. The others either froze in fear, or were so overwhelmed with the magnitude of their circumstance that they stopped thinking, and as a result of either their inaction or wrong actions, stopped breathing shortly thereafter.
What does this have to do with health and weight loss? In a word: EVERYTHING!
If you’ve followed me long enough, then you know that I’m very big into helping my clients overcome food addictions. We’ve talked a lot about the PHYSICAL corrections that need to be made in order to get healthy and to lose weight, but not so much the MENTAL side…
I don’t care who says otherwise — There’s an EMOTIONAL component to getting overweight and developing unhealthy habits. These emotions may be triggered by different life circumstances, but there’s no way in hell it’s purely physical!
In my case, I was tormented from grades 3–7. I was fat, out of shape, and the boys in my grade sure let me know it!
My comfort at the time was arriving home from school, and digging into a container of Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream. From the time I was home from school through to when I went to bed that night, there was much ice cream and pastry ingested to help me cope with the emotional stresses of the day.
Now, there was obviously a physical addiction. Sugar and grains are incredibly addictive, so my body yearned for these things. But it wasn’t just my body; It was my mind!
Looking at brain scans of a human ingesting sugar is like looking at the lighting of a Christmas tree. Dopamine’s released, and in that moment, we feel comfort and pleasure. It was an emotional experience for me, too, because in those moments, I’d forget about those douche bag kids. I’d be happy without a care in the world.
Sadly, this is just a band-aid for a lot of underlying issues that I had to (and in some cases, still have to) address as I grew older.
I’ll admit that there have even been recent times where I’ve let my emotions get the better of me, and have led me off my nutrition and fitness regimens. I’d mentioned a period from late October through early December where I was completely out of control, but I’ve since pulled in the reigns and righted the ship.
Much of the damage I’d done has been undone, but it just goes to show that emotional eating and emotionally-induced laziness can effect anybody — Even someone whose life’s purpose is in that field!
When I’m on point, I’ll look at a donut or a slice of pizza, and I won’t even think twice about it. My body knows this is going to do absolutely nothing for it, and as a result, my mind follows suit.
It’s when I’m stressed and am looking for some sort of relief, that all of a sudden, I start thinking, ‘What the hell?’ And that’s where discipline kicks (or doesn’t kick) in!
I’d written a while back that in order to truly reach success on your weight loss journey, you have to confront your emotional trigger(s). For some of us, it’s just one thing: One place, one person, one situation. For others, it’s a combination of triggers.
Whatever they may be, acknowledge that they are, indeed, your triggers, and then start shutting them out of your life one by one. In time, your instincts will take over, and you’ll look at food for what it actually is meant to be: Fuel, not stress relief or a false sense of decadence.
P.S. This book is truly fascinating, so if you’d like a copy, here’s the link: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why