After our November race, “taking a few days off” quickly became taking almost as many days off as I was running. Part of the problem was the season. Things get pretty crazy over the holidays. But I’m not going to let it happen again.
So, this morning – just two days after running a half-marathon – I was out running at 6:15 am.
The thing I never understood is why it’s so easy to get lazy. Because I always feel so good when I’m not.
But I finally came across an explanation that makes perfect sense. We’re programmed for what seem like unhealthy habits.
We humans have been around for a long time. At least a quarter-million years. And for most of that time, survival was an issue.
Food wasn’t a given for most of our ancestors. Fruits, nuts and other items came and went with the seasons. Game was unpredictable. Maybe you’d find meat… and maybe you wouldn’t. And if you lived a part of the word with harsh winters, these challenges were even greater.
Countless generations of your ancestors went through this. Survival favored those who could pack on fuel to see them through the lean times… and who conserved energy.
So what does this mean to us today? We’re hard-wired to pack on “insurance” fat when the eating’s good, and to avoid burning calories we don’t have to.
Things started to change just a few thousand years ago. Man discovered agriculture. We started farming and domesticating animals for food. But farming was hard work. Almost as hard as living as hunter-gatherers.
The industrial revolution turned everything on its head. Over just a few generations, improvements made farming easier. Food became more abundant than ever before.
At the same time, sedentary occupations exploded. It took fewer and fewer farmers to produce more and more food. A world full of farmers became a world of clerks, accountants and button-pushers.
What didn’t change was our wiring. Our bodies still want to conserve energy and pack on fat to see us through lean times. Times that basically don’t come any more.
That’s a scary mix, but it explains perfectly why it can be so easy to overeat and put off exercise. And so hard to work out or resist that slice of chocolate cake.
It also helps explain why that greasy fast food burger and fries are so satisfying, but a green salad can leave you wanting more. You’re hard-wired to prefer calorie-dense foods.
Okay, so here’s the good news. As with so many other things, once you know what’s going on, it gets a lot easier to beat the system. Because you can recognize the signals.
For me, that now means one day off after a race. After all, it’s a lot easier to maintain a good habit than to try to establish it all over again.