Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Human Machine and the Neglect Cycle

My innards look something like this.
When I was writing my earlier inexpert articles on nutrition, I frequently likened the human body to a machine, which isn't entirely inaccurate. While there are some differences, the basic rules of mechanics apply, particularly when it comes to fuel and maintainance.

Humans suffer any of a broad variety of physical and mental breakdowns over time, from acute problems to more chronic ones. Today's bad posture is tonight and tomorrow's back problems, bad shoulders, and overall "age-brokenness". Today's bad diet could very well be tomorrow's Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I find myself particularly aware of when I am and am not fatigued, partly because the job demands a fairly reliable high-energy, and partly because fatigue can also be a symptom of my own idiosyncratic chemical imbalances.

Recently, I went through changes in my life that dramatically impacted my fatigue level. I reduced my overall activity level from five-times-daily full-hour aerobic activity (not counting for the anerobic exercises of being employed) down to a piteous ten minutes. At the same time, I rather dramatically (and foolishly) reduced my caloric intake by a good 20% and went off of caffine cold-turkey, down from a habit of double-dosing on energy drinks first thing in the morning.

The resultant month-long experiment has been a tremendous burden and I found myself having serious doubts about what I was doing - in all aspects. Being literally too tired to care has its definite disadvantages.

I'm feeling better now. To some degree I think my body has adjusted, but it shouldn't have had to. I consume far less than I should calorically, even at my reduced activity level. The nutrient balance is so far out of whack I often wonder how it's possible I function at all. I became severely ill for about a week, and in one 24-hour stretch I slept for about 18 of them.

I'm more or less back to normal now - mostly because I've let softer forms of caffeine back into my life and consume an unabashed quantity of empty sugar calories - but the continuation of the easy fatigue and the other help problems has inspired me to write about patterns of neglect.

We, that is to say humans who are in a position to be healthy and yet aren't, habitually neglect ourselves.  For me, as with all other behaviours, this is a somewhat cyclic process, though there are certainly some aspects of health I neglect more than others, and on the whole I think the neglect probably wins out over the otherwise. I'm a socially-anxious homebody who prefers the company of books and pixels over the company of other noisy humans (when I'm not the society-starved extrovert who spends and spends and spends just to keep my friends company for a few hours), after all.

Then periodically, something comes along and causes us to give a damn. We take a stab at resetting our diets onto healthy patterns, maybe go for a walk, run, or cycle now and again. Take up a sport. Try freakin' yoga. Whatever.

Then, as our focus wains and we realize superhero training montages are only possible in the movies, we lose our interest in our latest health initiatives and go back to assaulting our bodies with casual neglect.

I think, to change that, you'd need to make a few changes:

  • Bad Diet Habits are Good Diet Habits-in-Waiting. Every craving has a healthier alternative, and the example I usually use for that is that a furious craving for fruity candy is almost always slain by fruits. It's easier mentally to think of diet adjustments less in terms of what you're trying not to do, and more in terms of what you are doing.
  • Ditto for Exercise. You aren't a couch potato. You're training for your sport/activity of choice. I think humans in general and people in my mindset in particular have a fear or aversion to being seen as novices in a particular craft, which is odd, because I've always considered the position of the novice very endearing and the pursuit of expertise a noble effort - one of the most human drives, in fact.
  • Game it. It bears repeating that humans like to win at things. That's why we think of physical activity and sport as synonyms - they often are. So keep score. Chart your times, or your reps, or which targets in your nutritional system of choice you hit. (N.B.: A lot of different nutritional guides have been published by numerous countries that are very interesting in their design. As with everything the truth is in the results, but many of these alternatives are worthy of pursuit if you, like me, can't actually be bothered tracking each individual neutrient). You'll then have a useful tool to gauge your progress toward goals, which is also important.

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