Unhealthy Lifestyles Are Not A Matter Of Education

I recently read a click-baity article about the "top X number" healthiest vegetables. The main surprise about this list, other than the fact that I clicked on a such a time-waster in the first place, was that all of the vegetables listed were pretty much what everyone already buys at the grocery store. This wasn't a list comprised of kohlrabi and cactus pears. It was a list of carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and so on.

This raises the question of why we need an article that tells us to keep eating what we already eat. The cynical answer is, of course, "Har har, Ryan, the article wasn't meant to inform you about vegetables, but to keep you on the page long enough to increase the probability of generating ad revenue." Touche.

The less cynical answer is that most people - meaning, most Americans who eat food - already know how to eat a healthy diet, but fail to do it anyway. For a long time, we've been told by health educators that education is the key to getting Americans to improve their diets and their lifestyle. Articles like the one I read, paired with mere observation of Americans in their natural habitat, would seem to suggest otherwise. The so-called "fitness industry," too, is big on education. Read my free e-book, subscribe to my newsletter, watch my YouTube channel, see my tips for a healthier diet, etc., etc.

No, I don't think like of knowledge is the real problem here. Really, what we're talking about is a lack of self-control. Eventually, we all reach adulthood, obtain a disposable income, and come face-to-face with a doughnut shop. A few of us can ward-off temptation by eating a nutritious breakfast before we head out the door, but the majority of us - a statistical majority of Americans are obese - are simply left to wonder, "Why not?" Why shouldn't they spend their money on a doughnut? Why should they deprive themselves of something they genuinely enjoy, if they can afford to buy it, it tastes good, it makes them happy, and so on.

Only after confronting the reality of their own reflection  in the mirror, after years of not saying no, does anyone realize that there is a very good answer to the question of "why not." The answer is that years of acquiescence yields obesity, premature aging, and with them, a variety of other health problems.

I know many people, friends of mine, who are my age and who express envy of my position as a fit and healthy guy pushing forty. I'm a normal weight. My bio-markers are normal (well, except for the type 1 diabetes thing, but that's not a lifestyle choice). My energy levels are generally high. I look about ten years younger than I am, and I perform athletically much the same as my friends performed twenty years ago.

I'm not boasting, this is the physiological truth. And the best part is that it feels great being fit and healthy. All those who once boasted of the importance of living life to the fullest in their twenties, complete with all the boozing and drug use that entails, are now a little jealous that they feel so old. They take stock of their joint pains, their muscle aches, their sluggishness, the lack of "spring" in their steps, and they credit old age. But old age didn't get them here; poor diet and lifestyle choices did.

At forty, there is still plenty of time to reverse most of the negatives. With strict and deliberate diet and lifestyle changes, most people can recapture their energy levels and their good biomarkers, and many can also regain their youthful figures. A good diet can improve your complexion and the strength and sheen in your hair. Spending more time being active in the sunshine can give your hair great highlights, make your skin look better (but do use sunscreen), and give your body a much-needed boost of Vitamin D. Some people can even work themselves up to a level of athletic performance that far exceeds my own. All it takes is diet and exercise.

I'm not saying anything anyone doesn't already know, though. Everyone knows that skipping the burger, staying home and grilling some fish, eschewing the doughnuts, getting out for an hour or two of exercise ever single day, and so on, can drastically improve their lives for the better. But still, they don't do it. Just like they know eating broccoli will make them better off and they don't do it.

Ultimately, it all comes down to self-control, to the willingness to forego instant gratification for the sake of a better future. I have called this temperance across an extended cognitive time-horizon. You have to be the kind of person who is willing to get by with less. That's less doughnuts, less treats, less alcohol, less partying, less lying around, less TV. You have to be the kind of person who knows that less today means more tomorrow.

And it's interesting to me that this is a lesson that extends into so many different areas of life. As with health, so with financial gain. To be a millionaire in today's world really just means living well below your means and saving consistently. One doesn't really even have to save aggressively. Being a great musician means putting in 30 minutes of deliberate practice per day. Having a great yard really just means setting aside an hour a week to pull weeds and move a garden hose around. Having a great marriage means taking the time to make interactions with your partner positive rather than negative. Writing a book or two per year means writing a page or two per day. Think about it, that's nothing!

Ultimately, it's rather stunning what most people fail to accomplish in their lives when we consider that all any accomplishment really requires is small but consistent daily effort. So, no, it's not that we don't know how to accomplish any of this. It's that we know, and we still don't do it.

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