If you read the last 2 posts and you aren’t new to our blog, you may have noticed that we’ve avoided writing in our super technical, science-y voice. That’s because we saved it ALL for this post. Oh yea!
*please note* this post is based off of our latest studies in these fields from various sources. Like any other scientific discussion, this information may be obsolete, incorrect, misinterpreted or debatable.
Now that you have some advice about how to create reasonable goals and keys to achieving those goals, you have to know that it won’t be easy and there are several things holding you back, but don’t get discouraged! Just get educated! In this post, we will go over these factors and talk about what is under your control and what isn’t, so that you can avoid frustration and make SMARTer decisions!
Here is our comprehensive list of the ways your body is trying to sabotage your fitness goals. We have arranged these in the order of least controllable to most manageable.
In a very technical sense, this is the “code” of base sequences in your DNA (the “rungs” of the double helix ladder thingie you’ve seen in sci fi movies). This was passed on to you from your parents and CANNOT change, barring EXTREME chemical intervention (as in more than trace amounts of “toxic” substances) which can produce random small mutations in DNA and most likely not result in any noticeable phenotype (physical) difference, despite what David Wolfe might tell you (f*** that guy, for real). Your genes (specifically, portions of your DNA that code for proteins that carry out specific functions) determine several characteristics of your appearance (including height, body proportion, body type, etc), determines your likelihood of becoming obese, risk of chronic disease, etc. One can have surgical procedures done to change appearance, but it will not alter your DNA. In other words, there is nothing you can do about your genetics and these traits will be passed on to your children.
Epigenetics are modifications to the structure of your genes (not the DNA base sequence itself), occurring in the cell that affect gene expression (whether or not certain proteins will be made and how many will be made). A good majority of epigenetic modifications occur while we are in the womb (again, something we have no control over now). Some modifications are dependent upon the environment and respond in an attempt to save the organism from DRASTIC environmental changes (like famine, drought or moving to a war-torn country, for example) and these modifications can have long lasting effects for decades, but no modifications are permanent and they will not necessarily be passed down to offspring. This is also something you have very little control over but can affect your overall health. It can affect your tendency towards obesity and disease and it can affect your metabolism, sleep cycle, hormone balance, tolerance to pain and drugs, your mental health and much more.
Limbic system modification to motor output
Before you Google search what all that means only to become more confused, the concept is pretty simple. Your mid-brain (specifically your limbic system) is what some refer to as our reptile brain. In a way, it acts instinctively in a threat vs reward system and associates past experiences (particularly emotional and traumatic ones) with new ones. That’s an oversimplification, but let’s say you were in an accident in the water as a child. You may have a large hesitation or even fear being around water as an adult and might avoid things like pool parties.
As far as movement is concerned, unfortunately, before thought in the pre-frontal cortex is turned into movement, the signal passes through this part of the brain first. Our past emotional experiences with movement can prevent us from doing particular movements, influence the movements we choose to do or dictate how we perceive new movement. For instance, if I’m told from a doctor that squatting will re-injure my knees, any time I hear the word “squat” in a fitness class, I may become overly concerned with knee pain or sensations (one can even induce a psychosomatic experience of pain). Similarly, if I was rewarded as a child for certain activities (let’s say I was an award winning gymnast), even if I haven’t worked out for decades, I may favor movement that mimics what I did as a child.
There is also another important factor to consider here. Our limbic system comes from thousands of years of evolution. In order for our species to survive, at one point we had to eat as much as we possibly could while expending as little energy as possible. Because we have not evolved much since that time (evolution takes a REALLY long time), our limbic system still retains this idea. People new to exercise will often subconsciously view exercise and diet as a threat. As soon as any level of discomfort occurs, there is a part of our brain that will try to convince us to stop. Eating less and working out more goes against our instincts. That’s why it is so important to do things we enjoy so that we can override this system. This is one of the factors we can indirectly control. Having this knowledge can help us trick our brains to favor better decisions.
Hormones, hormones, hormones
Ok, admittedly this part is way too complicated to go into in this post, however we can simplify. Without medical intervention we do have some level of control over our production of hormones, indirectly. The problem is that there isn’t a direct equation for optimal hormone balance and this balance depends on environmental stimulus, genetic (or epigenetic) predisposition, age, stress levels, diet, etc. Testosterone, estrogen, thyroid hormones, glucagon and insulin all affect how our body processes food, stores food, how we build muscle, how we maintain tissues, lose or gain body weight, and how quickly we recover. While the levels of these hormones relative to each other will change in response to how we eat, how we work out and how we rest, there is too much variability to imagine we have total control over this process. Consistency seems to help and certainly medical intervention may be needed if our levels of these hormones become pathological.
One hormone that is talked about a lot in fitness is Cortisol. This is a long term stress hormone that comes into play when our bodies are made to think that we are in conditions where food and water may become scarce and we start to stockpile (we keep on added weight). The funny part is that it doesn’t have to be extreme conditions that cause our bodies to pump out this unfriendly hormone. Things like lack of sleep, work-related stress, over-training and poor diet can trigger the release of cortisol. This is something we have control over. While we may not be able to eliminate the stresses of our lives, we can handle how we react to those stresses. Meditation and stress management as well as exercise are shown to lower cortisol levels. So if you aren’t attaining your reasonable fitness goals with hard work and diet, you may want to check your stress levels.
Because the human brain is imperfect, we cannot view reality objectively. Plus if we did, things would be pretty boring. We are all prone to logical fallacies, of which there are hundreds, but there are a few in particular that affect us when trying to accomplish fitness goals. One of the blogs I read a lot, wrote about this as well, “Common Logical Fallacies in the Fitness Industry.”
Appealing to common belief: This fallacy makes us more likely to believe something the more we hear it, despite it being true. That’s why there are SO many fitness myths that people still believe even though science tells us otherwise (the myth that cardio is the best way for women to lose weight, for instance). It’s important to recognize this fallacy so that we don’t waste time doing something dumb like a juice cleanse or anything else Gwenyth Paltrow is selling…..
Mistaking correlation with causation: This is a tricky fallacy. Weight loss and body composition changes are complicated processes and if several factors are changed at once, it may be too hard to determine what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes we may believe that one method worked just because the change we wanted to see occurred at the time we were using that method. Like we have mentioned before, however, changes often take several weeks to show effect so it may have been something we did weeks ago that created a change. Changing one variable at a time and testing it out for a few weeks is best when trying to determine what works and what doesn’t. Have patience.
Confirmation bias: This is where we tend to seek out information that affirms our beliefs. This can get us into a whole world of trouble and not just in fitness. Facebook algorithms fully take advantage of this and we can often find ourselves in an echo chamber, completely oblivious to reality. So if all your friends go Paleo, and all you read about are the benefits of Paleo, you are more likely to adopt this absurd diet and blame your lack of results on something else.
Simply being aware of these fallacies can help us avoid them and luckily this is something we have total control over. Critical thinking is key here and can help you avoid bad fitness information and make more objective decisions about your fitness goals.
Old habits die hard, they say. The good news is that all of the above factors are what create good or bad habits. It is helpful for us to know all of this information so that we know what is stopping us from breaking bad habits. After breaking bad habits, we clean the slate, so to speak, and can begin to create positive change in our lives.