• julianwatkins

Temptation: Willpower? Whatever.

We’re getting fatter and sicker because we lack motivation and willpower. Simple, right? But does that stack up?

Historically, and right up to the 60s, very few people were overweight. Now, in the UK, it’s over sixty percent and rising, that are overweight or obese. Somewhere between 1960 and today most of the nation’s willpower and motivation evaporated.

That seems strange to me; that in a couple of generations we’ve changed so fundamentally.

As Morrissey asked: has the world changed or have I changed? Mozza, when it comes to health, it’s the world.

Processed and fast food have become ubiquitous. Since the 60s they’ve embedded themselves so firmly in our world we almost don’t notice anymore. These substances, masquerading as food, are everywhere. High profit, high calorie and designed by food scientists to be addictive, they tap right into our primitive drives to maximise calories.

You’re the last link in an unbroken chain of ancestors that goes right back to the primeval swamp we all crawled out of. Every link in that chain scraped together and scavenged enough food to survive. Prioritise the wrong food: the low-calorie stuff? More likely to die. Pass up on that honey? More likely to perish in the winter and that DNA strand less likely to be passed on. Most animals didn’t make it. Your ancestors did. You’re the winners. If that’s not selectively breeding a trait to prefer high-calorie I don’t know what is.

In the natural world it works like a dream. Gorge whenever possible on the highest calorie stuff you can get your hands, paws or fins on and hopefully make it through the lean times (and it was mostly lean times back then). Eating their natural diets, no animals are overweight. None! In our modern environment? Let’s be honest, this mindset is a right pain.

The survival drive’s hard-wired into us. That isn’t changing any time soon. The problem now of course is that there isn’t a harsh winter or a famine coming. All that’s coming is even easier access to the artificial junk. Two of our biggest business “success” stories of late: Deliveroo and Just Eat.

If you’re overweight in today’s environment there’s nothing wrong with you. I’d argue the opposite: there’s everything right with you. Being overweight is normal. A normal response to an abnormal, profit-at-all-costs, world.

So, we try our best to eat less: to out-gun millions of years of evolution with our willpower. What does your highly tuned survival instrument of a body do when you try to eat less? When you try to cut its hard-won stores of survival fat, it screams blue murder and goes all Rambo. No chance, my friend. I’ll show you survival: here’s a drop in metabolism and a ramped-up appetite. Diet your way out of that!

And so, in the long-term, restriction diets don’t work.

What DO we do? Motivation goes up and down (mostly down) – we all know that. Relying on willpower is exhausting: your willpower against the mighty Big Food and its advertising budget. A classic mismatch with few Davids winning and mostly the inevitable crushing defeat by Goliath.

The answer is simple but counterintuitive. We eat more.

No, not more of the processed, largely animal based, junk that got us here. Eat more unprocessed or minimally processed plant foods. Don't go hungry: eat plenty.

Simple isn’t easy of course. You’ll need rules instead of motivation; character instead of willpower. Become the kind of person who eats unprocessed. Make decisions once and vow to stick to them. Relying on willpower every time you pass a doughnut is exhausting. It's "I'm trying to avoid doughnuts" versus "I don't eat doughnuts".

The people that succeed don’t struggle it out through a show of willpower and motivation. They craft a set of rules and a mindset that eliminates the need for struggle.

Initially this is tough. Really tough. We all love junk food. Who doesn’t adore crisps and doughnuts? After all, you are hard-wired to crave them. But in time, you can become the type of person who doesn’t eat that stuff: it will be a part of your character.

I’m guessing you don’t steal, right? You don’t take the waiting staff’s tips off the table? And it’s not even hard. But resisting that bread and butter bowl? Oh, boy. That’s tough. One is character: the other willpower.

Remember, in their natural environment no animals are overweight, and in our natural environment, neither are we.

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