Sure sure, lifespans are longer but humans are pretty darn unhealthy right now and honestly I think it all boils down to one thing, and that is unhealthy choices. Which sounds pretty much like a no-brainer, right? But here’s the thing – it’s not that we are newly weak willed and our ancestors would have made better choices, it’s that we’re really in the first few generations to even have to think about it – so it’s not so much that we’re bad at making healthy choices, it’s that we’re FIRST at having to make choices about this at all.
Think about your grandparents for a minute. If your grandparents were anything like mine they didn’t own one piece of exercise equipment and had never set foot in a gym (but were pretty darn fit, all things considered). They ate meat and potatoes and bread and about a mountain of ice cream, but weren’t obese. Pleasantly plump maybe but not even close to obese. So – why was their self-care so much more relaxed than ours is today with our obsessive avoidance of carbs and pedometer-measured steps and constantly monitored states of health? And why were their outcomes better?
Here’s the thing – they didn’t have a choice about health for the first several decades of their life. They couldn’t choose the snack cakes from the convenience store or the freezer dinners or the gallons of soda and late-night ice cream bars. They couldn’t because for the most part they didn’t have access to any of that – it wasn’t invented yet. The food they had access to was milk fresh from farms, veggies either fresh from the garden or canned at home, meat from local farms, their own back yard or from a hunting trip. That’s pretty much it. Sure there was penny candy as a rare treat and far more home-baked goodies like pies and cookies, but they were made at home with real ingredients. Life involved more activity because things like walking, horseback riding, chopping wood and gardening were activities of daily living -not just things they did on the weekend to “get their exercise” or “connect with nature.” In short, life didn’t actually give our grandparents and great-grandparents the unhealthy choices we have now.
If I wanted to I could probably walk less than 500 steps a day. I could drive to my mailbox (you laugh, but most people have done it at least once), have groceries delivered, shop online, stay at the desk at work and move only to get back into the car. I could also choose to eat only processed food for weeks or to go on a sugar binge or to consume my entire caloric needs in soda. I have all of those decisions to make and a lot of times it’s cheaper and easier to choose the unhealthy way. The generations coming before you and I didn’t ever have to think about this because the unhealthy way was either not available, or such a luxury item as to be prohibitive to most.
It’s really easy to beat yourself up over “making unhealthy choices,” “falling off the diet wagon,” or “cheating” but I actually think that a pat on the back is more appropriate. Evolutionarily speaking we are designed to always want food . Plus, we want sweet, fatty and salty food the most because those would have been the most rare in our wild state. You are literally programmed to seek those things constantly and you’re facing a staggering array of unhealthy choices constantly. I think you should get an award for working at it. You are amazing and awe-inspiring and wonderful for choosing health more often than you give in to unhealthy choices. You and I, we’re really in one of the first generations to have to make any of these choices at all and I think we’re doing amazingly well.
So keep up the great work and give yourself a pat on the back because frankly, you have earned it. Every time you go to a store you walk past racks of candy bars on your way out that cost almost nothing. You are constantly confronted with friends eating processed food, the enormous never-ending bowl of corn chips at the Mexican restaurant and bucket of popcorn at the movies. Today there is a constant, ever-present option to make unhealthy choices. If you are only making unhealthy choices some of the time then my friend you are ahead of the curve. So congratulations! You are paving the way for future generations to get more balance and to be a little more moderate about all of this – right now we’re just wallowing in the unhealthy possibilities.