When it comes to health, we live in a culture that likes to place the blame on others for being in poor situations.
We say things like, “If you’re overweight, that’s your fault. I’ve avoided diabetes, so why can’t you?”
We tend to blame people for their problems because of actions they took, while not fully understanding why those people do what they do.
People logically know that they should eat the apple instead of the cake, that they should take the stairs instead of the elevator, and that they should exercise instead of watch TV.
But as humans, we consistently lack the willpower to do what’s best for our bodies.
We see this with children. Children have to be encouraged to act in their own best interests. This is why governments ban the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, require parents to immunize their children, and make physical education a requirement in school.
But adults are different. Adults aren’t encouraged to do things in the better interest of their health, so as a result they make poor health decisions because that’s what we’re biologically meant to do.
In the book “The Story of The Human Body,” Daniel Lieberman, an anthropologist and biologist at Harvard University, talks about obesity from an anthropological perspective.
Lieberman says that we did not adapt to be healthy because we’ve evolved to crave salt, sugar and fat.
At the same time, we’re poorly adapted to control our innate cravings for comfort foods and calories.
As a result, we overeat and under exercise, which leads to a list of diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
From an evolutionary standpoint, being obese was a reproductive advantage. Mothers needed the extra fat to support pregnancy, and men needed the extra fat to hunt without feeling depleted.
Our ancestors, therefore, had an advantage when they ate things like salt, sugar and fat.
But food was scarce back then.
Throughout human history, food has always been hard to find so when you found any extra energy, you ate as much as you could because there was no guarantee that you would ever find it again.
Very rarely would they consume excess amounts to the point of reaching obesity.
Today, however, food is abundant.
Nowadays, we’ve adopted our ancestors tendency to crave salt, sugar and fat, but we take this tendency to an extreme.
Now we overeat because we’ve adapted to.
It’s easy to say things like, “I’m not obese, why are you? Just eat healthy.” But it’s not that simple.
Choosing to never eat fast food again isn’t that easy. We crave fast food to the point of addiction, and as much as we try to regulate our diets, it’s almost impossible because of our biological tendencies.
In the book “The Story of The Human Body,” Daniel Lieberman says,
“If there is any one most useful lesson to learn from our species’ rich and complex evolutionary history, it is that culture does not allow us to transcend our biology.”
Biologically, we have a natural impulse to move toward unhealthy behaviors, and away from healthy behaviors.
This does not mean that we’re slaves to our genetics, but it means that it’s very difficult to go against our biological tendencies to want fats and sweets.
When it comes to health, you can’t rely on your body to make good decisions. Instead, you have to learn to help it. You can’t consistently willpower yourself to not eat the cake on the kitchen counter every night. You have to learn to just throw it away because willpower is not going to help you in the long run.
Like children, we should all be encouraged to act how we truly want to act. Whether it’s exercising more or eating out less, we all need help from others to act in our own best interests.