It's probably fair to say that being healthy is a primary concern for most of us. By 'being healthy', I mean remaining in good health throughout the course of our lives, and not in the sense of the momentary decision we take to avoid the extra glass of wine, biscuit, cake or whichever indulgent pleasure we may succumb to. Why is it then, that our long-term aim to remain as healthy as possible is so often compromised by the choices we make daily that, if we are totally honest with ourselves, we know are not going to help us to achieve our goal? This is something which I have fallen prey to on countless occasions during my life and which I'm sure anyone else reading this will also readily admit to. It's undeniably a form of self-sabotage, if we have set out to achieve our primary concern of optimising health, so why is it that we continue to do this? What is it about the short-lived present moment pleasure that leads us to throw our caution to the wind?
A considerable amount of scientific research has been undertaken to investigate why we do this. Firstly, there's the fact our brains are awash with chemicals, and whilst this is a complex area that I'm neither qualified nor able to fully explain, these inner workings undoubtedly lie behind many of our cravings. We also need to consider the role our gut microbes play, which recent research has shown have the potential to steer us towards certain foods in order to satisfy their own selfish need to thrive and flourish.
So is that it then? Are we simply victims of our chemistry and our microbes, and is that why we allow ourselves to ignore the signals our rational brain is giving us to consider our actions and defer them? I think this is certainly part of the reason why we make the decisions that we do, but not the only reason. I believe it's even more complex than that, since as well as internal influences on our behaviour, we are also subjected to many external stimuli, often just as potent. For example, we are all prey to the huge advertising budgets of the food manufacturers, which speak to us in language that seduces us and create images that provide a sensuous delight for the eyes. They manipulate our taste buds by creating flavours and textures that we find irresistible, that have just the right combination of fat, salt and/or sugar to make the particular food irresistible, the so-called 'bliss point'.
So how on earth can we be expected to avoid the pitfalls which stretch out in front of us on our journey through life? Isn't it easier to just live for the moment and enjoy life without thinking about the longer term consequences of our actions? That way we don't end up castigating ourselves for succumbing to temptation whenever that happens. Surely that makes life easier, then we can get on with living and enjoying life instead of worrying about 'being good'. Sounds fair enough? Erm, well no, at least not where I'm concerned. The reason being that I don't consider enjoying life and being 'healthy' as mutually exclusive activities. I admit I would once have doubted this, as I would have considered it to be about denial of some kind of pleasure. How can eating salad, fruit and vegetables possibly be more exciting or pleasurable than tucking in to a portion of fish and chips, a pizza or fried chicken wings? Unimaginable! Except, it doesn't actually work out that way. It's infinitely more pleasurable, in my view, simply because eating food as nature intended, provided by nature, is full of a vibrancy and energy that your body will come to crave.
Admittedly, it's not necessarily going to work for everyone overnight, as we are so ingrained in our habits and ways of eating, that transition needs to happen gradually. Our taste buds and digestive systems need time to adapt. But once the transition is complete, it's difficult to imagine any other way of eating. And it's not 'being good' to deny yourself any of the more unhealthy temptations that are frequently offered to you, as it's not about allowing, or disallowing, it's simply giving yourself what your body needs to keep you in balance. Why deny yourself the chance to live life to the full and feel amazing!