29 Sep 2010

Manage your body weight - the green way

Health in all its aspects has always been a topic quite close to my heart, and lately I've been thinking a lot about the basics of weight gain (and loss) and how that ties in with our lives and our environment.

The first question I had to tackle was: when does a person (or animal) gain weight? And the answer, reduced to its foundations, isn't that complicated (even though the circumstances usually are): we gain weight when we eat more calories than we burn. Meaning: when we consume more energy than we physically need.

And this is an interesting point to take a closer look at.
First of all, we need to be aware that all food we eat, is energy that was part of another living being, be it an animal or a plant. That life form - and, in case of animals, whatever was needed to feed it - has died (or lost a few parts) to keep us alive a little longer. I'm not saying we need to live our lives feeling guilty about it - we are part of nature and that's how it works - but I believe it's vital to acknowledge our food's true origin in order to recover a more natural and healthy relationship with nutrition.

Now, looking at it in this way, we have several ways to manage our weight. Let's look at a few options for weight loss:
  1. We consume more energy than we need (or the exact amount), but burn off the extras with exercise, and then some.
  2. We do our normal daily activities, but we eat fewer calories than we need, thus burning off our reserves.
  3. A mix of both.
From an ecological and sustainable point of view: which of these makes the most sense?

I would say the second: take in fewer calories, and as a result we'll burn some of the extra energy our bodies have stored as fat. It's the perfect way to restore the balance between the energy total we consume during our lifetime, and how much we actually need to stay alive and healthy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm NOT pleading against exercise. When we lead sedentary lives, our bodies need us to move around more, to get our hearts pumping and our muscles working.
But I am pleading for a more conscious approach to the food we take in, and to what we spend that energy on. Somehow it feels absurd in these times of impending resource and food crises, overfertilisation and animal cruelty, to overeat and then step on the treadmill to burn it off.

At the same time the reality of weight loss is a very complicated issue, tied in with lots of physical, cognitive and emotional factors. And often there's guilt, resistance, social disapproval and stigmatisation to tackle on top of everything else.

But to me, those are just more reasons why it we need to go back to the basics, and look at which of our behaviours and understandings aren't helping us to go where we want to go, wherever that might be.

Fat in itself isn't evil, it's not a safety blanket nor is it a cosmic (or genetic) conspiracy. It's just energy we're storing. Energy we can still use, whether we still believe that or not. Energy that we've acquired through cannibalizing other life forms, something we all do, every day. There's no point in feeling bad about it, but let us acknowledge the fact and use that awareness to fuel our resolve and - if necessary - to change our outlook on our personal energy balance.

Let us not take our food for granted, and use our stored energy well.

Therefore, apart from being conscious about our food intake, can we come up with forms of exercise that benefit other living beings? Our immediate environment, our pets, families, communities or - if we get really ambitious - society as a whole?

Continued in: Manage your body weight - the green way: part two: eating.
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