“Look for the forest, not just the trees”
Why do we over complicate our food choices?
I ask myself this question often, at times in regard to myself, but mostly when it comes to my clients and so many people I see struggling with this. In my opinion, from working with many individuals looking to “eat better,” I think it mostly has to do with the disconnect between what we eat and how we feel.
It is so easy in our lives today to lose attention on what is going on in the moment for what is going on outside of the moment. It’s like focusing on the trees, but missing the forest.
There are many factors that affect our state in every day life, whether it’s personal matters, business matters, being stuck in traffic, what we ate, how we slept, if we did any physical activity or not, and of course, much, much more. As a result it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to really connect with what is affecting us, especially if we are untrained at correlating our feelings to our actions.
The point is not to constantly monitor and observe every single thing we do, and its effect on us. No on can maintain a nonstop scrutinization of daily inputs and outputs. Rather, I suggest maintaining a loose and general awareness of the state we are in, at any given moment, and what may or may not be causing that.
We ought to start with the most obvious, and discernible states, and what may be causing them. This is especially true for those states which are significantly above or below our “normal,” or baseline state.
“We do not have to do exactly what works all the time to be in a good state most of the time.”
One easy analogy many people can relate to is how we feel after a big meal, like Thanksgiving dinner for example. Somehow we head into Thanksgiving with a slight disconnect from the fact that afterwards we will feel slothful, inflamed, and even irritated. Of course we are still basking in the euphoric feelings of being around family, having a day off, and perhaps traveling, so some of these dysphonic states are counteracted. This is an important detail to note for overall functionality: that we do not have to do exactly what works all the time to be in a good state most of the time. This does not mean that we can just disconnect from our behaviors and observing ourselves, but we also don’t need to be so strict that we start over thinking and questioning every little thing. That said, many times in the beginning before we really have an understanding of what works to produce our desired state and what doesn’t. We will have to almost go into a hyperactive observational/awareness state because we are really just trying to figure out the basics for our own personal wellness blueprint. The good news is, we really don’t have to figure it all out from scratch.
There are many great educators out there sharing information on how to perform and function at a good to great state in our day-to-day life. With sources available, such as Andrew Huberman of the Huberman Lab podcast, rather than what used to just be a pseudo science of performance and well-being, we can more clearly discern and anticipate how various inputs will affect our state, which we can think of as a “living output.”
If we take the information that’s out there and has been given to us from great teachers and well researched studies, along with our personal self observations, we can really start to create a model that when followed, will result in our good, to great, to ideal state, on a regular basis.
With that in mind we must also accept that there will be different “ideal” states depending on when, where, and what we are doing. For example we don’t need to be in the same state to watch a movie, work out, or brush our teeth. We can do different activities in slightly different states, but there are certainly general categories of state that work best for general categories of activity.
“High Energy vs Low Energy States”
We can start to categorize this as a dichotomy, and then further drill down from there. Let’s call the first category a “high energy state”, and the second a “lower energy state.” (I specifically say “lower” because “low energy” can be associated with laziness, boredom, or even depression). High energy state activities would include things like going for a workout, being super focused, giving a presentation, feeling energizer, feeling intensely motivated, and just generally functioning/performing in a way where one feels at least partially, if not fully “engaged.” The lower energy state is necessary for things like chilling out, resting, relaxing, maybe watching a movie or hanging out with friends, and other activities that don’t really require much physical “performance” per se, but more of a restorative, digestive, and overall stat of ease and relaxation.
So therefore, before we can say what we “should do”, we have to first determine the state we want to be in, shortly thereafter, or even later on in the same day, or following day. For example if I eat a very large meal late at night right before going to bed, I can likely expect that the next morning I am not going to feel my absolute best, and jump out of bed feeling focused and energized. On the other hand, if I want to wake up feeling this way, I “should” go to bed early, and on a light stomach. So instead of just “hoping” for the state I want to produce, I calculate accordingly. If I do have a heavy meal late at night, right before going to sleep, I will make sure that the next morning I anticipate this, and start my day with a fast, consisting of liquids only and many micro nutrient and “super food” powders.
The more adept we become at addressing our states in advance for keeping ourselves close to our baseline ideal state, even if not a perfect state, it becomes much easier to get back to it. By contrast, the challenge becomes when we stray far from this ideal state, especially over an extended period of time. Once we are far off course, it becomes much harder to get back on it, with the untold story being a lack of consistent habits and routines around creating our desired state.
“We must learn to continuously do maintenance, even / especially when it doesn’t seem needed.”
Imagine you never take your car in to be serviced, and you’ve had it for 10 years, then finally take it in to the shop. The car will likely need a great deal of maintenance, and it will probably cost a lot of money. So when people get the bill, and realize what it is going to cost, they decide instead, ‘it was running OK beforehand,’ and they will just keep going. Unfortunately this will likely result in even worse performance of the machine, and an even bigger bill, and even more maintenance in due time. Eventually the car will stop working altogether. Rather than. “waiting it out,” or simply hoping that things change, we must learn to continuously do maintenance even when it doesn’t seem “needed.”
In my opinion, this idea of ‘constant ongoing maintenance,’ is the key! If we understand that by doing constant ongoing maintenance, the likelihood of needing major corrections will be decreased significantly. Of course nothing is guaranteed, any of us could get run over by a bus walking out of our front door tomorrow. Many times people examine their lifestyle based on this premise, that eventually something will go wrong, and nothing lasts forever, so what’s the point of doing all of this work?
“If we experience a better version of what our machine, physical and mental, can do, we will often, if not always, seek to go back to that state, once it’s been experienced, and for as long as we can recall it.”
Here is perhaps one of the most important points for long-term lifestyle change and progressive habit development. If we experience a better version of what our machine, physical and mental, can do, we will often, if not always, want to go back to that state, once it’s been experienced, and for as long as we can recall it. On the other hand if we don’t believe that a different functionality is possible, or worth having, we are extremely unlikely to ever make any long-term change because we have lost connection with any possibility of “better.” As much as “feeling” gets downplayed as being too subjective, or even ‘soft’ and unimportant, I believe connecting with feeling is actually one of the main keys to long lasting change.
Feelings tend to resonate much more powerfully than either knowledge or logic. That is why many times people who are stuck in a pattern that they are very aware does not serve them, can be very very difficult to break because they are still connected to the feeling that pattern produces even if it is not always a positive one. As a result, we have to really do everything we can, or at least something, to produce a different physiological, and / or psychological state, so that we / or the person at hand, can experience something significantly different.
“In choice there is power.”
Having a different state to contrast with allows the individual choice. In choice there is power, because now there is an option on the table for two different outcomes. So if I choose to have some food that makes me feel lousy, or maybe even just sluggish or lethargic, and then there is another food that while satiating, gives me energy and puts me into a good mood and an overall state of well-being, then I can make a decision first how I want to feel, and then and only then do I decide what to do and choose. Therefore choice becomes the impetus for change. But I must first realize that choice may take some time to manifest the change.