TL;DR: Our lives are filled with ultra-convenient indulgences that are making us fat and sick. Minor tweaks can reverse that trend and help you with Healthy Living.
I love Michael Pollan. I can’t recommend his book Cooked highly enough because of its fascinating content and the way he romanticises the modern cooking experience. Michael Pollan often shares a nutrition adage that he got from another writer (unfortunately the name escapes me), and it goes as such.
You can eat as much apple pie as you want. You can eat it every day, you can even eat it for every meal. The only caveat is that you have to make it yourself… from scratch.
The reality is that despite how much an individual likes apple pie, it’s a very rare person that’s going to make apple pie every day for themselves. The labor of making your own filling by chopping the apples, melting the butter, mixing the spices, simmering the mixture to marry the flavors and thicken up combined with the kneading and the folding and refolding of the pie crust, the baking, the cooling… it all adds up to a grand effort. If you have a hankering or there’s a special event coming up, it’s worth that kind of endeavour. For a random Tuesday night in February, a fresh apple pie probably isn’t worth the effort. And if you still love apple pie (or blueberry pie, my own weakness) enough to make it yourself and have every day, you’re probably going to choose to have smaller slices so that the pie last longer and you avoid that tedious baking task at least another day. You’ll start weighing if something is worth the effort.
And that’s the point!
The things that are the most rewarding to our brains (based on the theory that sugar, fat, and salt give a reward stimulus in the brain) are usually difficult to achieve. Back in humanity’s foraging days, foods that packed the most calories/energy were incredibly valuable and more rare to come across, so our brains gave a strong happiness stimulus to help us remember where to find that energy next time we needed it.
Now that we do our foraging in overstocked and abundant super markets, that reward stimulus is working against us instead of for us. We’re able to buy pies, cookies, ice cream, pizza, all the calorie rich goodies with virtually no effort on our part. Since those foods give us such a strong reward in the brain, we have a tendency to seek them out more often. How many people rave about pizza and tacos versus how many people rave about broccoli and apples? So more often, we choose the calorie heavy foods because we like it and it takes the same amount of effort to buy a frozen pizza and ice cream as it does to buy a rotisserie chicken. Even less effort actually. With the rotisserie chicken, you still have to figure out what to have alongside it. The frozen pizza is already complete. There’s now no burden to overindulgence on food. There’s too much juice, but not enough squeeze.
But desserts and treats aren’t the only place we’ve taken the squeeze out of our juicy lives. Almost every aspect of our lives has been transformed by technology as we’ve created a convenience culture. Our entertainment is more convenient than ever with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, etc. When I was a child, if you wanted to watch a new movie, you had to (1) travel to the video store (R.I.P. Hollywood Video), (2) walk up and down the aisles, (3) squat down to see what’s on the bottom shelf, (4) stand in line (which we saw in my NEAT article, merely standing is far more active than sitting), (5) then go home, (6) squat down to put the VHS into the VCR, (7) push the play button, (8) go sit on the couch, (9) find out the jerkwad that rented this before you didn’t rewind the tape, (10) go back to the VCR, (11) squat to hit the rewind button to the beginning, (12) Go back to the couch and enjoy the movie. That’s TWELVE steps to watch a single movie! Now, we just sit on the couch, hit some buttons on the remote that’s already in our hand, and magic hocus-pocus the movie is playing. That’s like 1 and a half steps versus twelve.
Transportation also has less squeeze than before. People drive over any distance large or small. I couldn’t find the specific data for this article, but the shortest distance people drive continues to shrink (there is a little bounce-back recently in densely populated areas where people have all their necessities within a few block radius). People are more willing to drive short distances of a few blocks than they used to be, or phrased more accurately, people are less willing to walk or bike short distances. To get places, people are squeezing the least amount of effort to get there.
Shopping has gotten absurdly easy. I remember as a teen, my older sister loved the mallー cliché, I know. Anytime I asked her to buy me something or I needed anything (there’s perks to being the youngest), she would take me to the mall. Now, I was my school’s fastest miler in middle school and on a state championship cross country team in highschool (we got 6th in the whole nation my senior year). I was fit and my endurance was insane. Despite this, after walking through 3 floors and a dozen shops over 3 hours or more, the mall always left me gassed and exhausted. Now, instead of traveling from store to store, walking and looking, you can get all of your wants from online retailers while sitting on your butt. The toughest part of shopping these days is clicking your mousepad multiple times. And with Amazon’s 1-click buying, you don’t even have to click that many times!! We’re putting convenience on top of our convenience and taking away all the squeeze you used to need to buy your juice.
Even talking on the phone is too convenient! You don’t need to run across the house to try to catch the ringing phone in the kitchen before the 3rd ring anymore. Your phone is already in your pocket (and probably already in your hand) when someone calls. Or texts. We can’t even be bothered with the inconvenience of waiting for a response, we elect to send a message and move on to come back when it’s more convenient to us.
We’ve made our lives ultra-convenient and taken away all the squeeze from our lives.
This has caused a giant decrease in people’s metabolic rates (calories burned each day) and a spike in our ability to consume extra calories. You can see this effect in the continually rising obesity rates throughout the developed world and the health complications that come with it. To maintain a healthy life and a healthy waistline, you have to intentionally add some squeeze back in.
Luckily, I’m here for you. Let’s look at how we can add some squeeze back in, shall we?
You can add some squeeze back in organically by putting it back in on some of the places we took it out. I highlighted some areas we’ve taken squeeze out, and we can add that back in by reverting to more traditional approaches. Unfortunately, there are some areas we can’t do that (you can’t go back to Blockbuster video no matter how hard you try), so we need additional strategies. You can also add squeeze into your routines inorganically or artificially adding more inconvenience into some process to counter the excessive conveniences we have.
The best place to start is by adding some squeeze back into common practices. Cooking is a great location for this. Cooking homemade meals mostly from scratch gives you better control of the ingredients to control against excess preservatives, additives, enhancers, and calories. There was a study recently showing Home-Cooked Meals linked to fewer harmful chemicals in the body. We talked about how processed foods are engineered and tailored to set off the reward center of your brain enticing you to overeat. When you cook your own food, you can also control the amount of fats and sugars you add in to the recipe thereby controlling total calories. It’s been shown that more frequent consumption of home cooked meals was associated with greater likelihood of having normal range BMI and normal percentage body fat. Home cooked meals is a great place to start adding more squeeze into your life.
Another simple way to add some squeeze back into your life is electing to walk short distances instead of driving. Just this morning, I was at my sister’s house and we choose to go to the local diner for breakfast. It’s 2½ blocks away, but we had to discuss whether we wanted to drive or not (I made us walk, naturally). Walking those five blocks round trip increased our daily calorie burn, increased blood circulation and the myriad of benefits that has, saved us gas money, and reduced carbon emissions. Walking short distances and riding a bike medium distances can be a great way to reintroduce squeeze into your life and combat our convenient transportation tendencies.
Those two ideas, home cooking and avoiding short distance drives, are great to add squeeze back in. We can go further and add squeeze into new areas. As highlighted in my NEAT article, choosing to park further from the store instead of hunting for the closest spot is a great and easy way to add a very small inconvenience into your day (adding more squeeze). Really, most ideas suggested in the NEAT article should be considered here.
One thing that’s been incredibly productive for my clients in the past that confessed to feeling like soda addicts was using magnets as a counter. We would set a weekly limit to how many sodas they would have each week (you can consider soda as our metaphorical juice here). Say they wanted to reduce their soda total to 5 a week instead of 2-3 a day. I would have my client set 5 magnets on their fridge, and each time they went to grab a soda, they had to move a magnet. This adds just a little moments pause, just a little squeeze beforehand, that slowed them down and made them consider if the soda was worth taking from their magnet budget. They would think to themselves “I could have a soda now, but Family Movie Night is Thursday. Do I want this soda now, or do I want to wait? Is this soda worth it right now? Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Eventually, I’m able to get my soda fiend clients where they have 1 or less sodas a week reducing their weekly calories by upwards of 1500 calories or more.
Adding a very small barrier, merely moving a magnet, is enough squeeze to empower people to make positive decisions. If there’s something else that is often derailing your health and fitness goals; sodas, cigarettes, alcohol drinks, cookies, etc., adding a small barrier makes your mindlessly convenient indulgences less convenient and less derailing.
There are other little barriers you can add before enjoying conveniences that was floated to me by Nathaniel Roley of Roley Fitness. He suggests “earning” your treats by doing some light exercises beforehand (ex: “buying” a cookie with 15 pushups, 20 crunches, and 30 squats). I don’t want you to think of this as a calorie offset, I think trying to equate treats with the calorie equivalent of exercise is psychologically damaging and creates an unhealthy relationship to both food and exercise, but rather think of that as adding inconvenience or adding squeeze for your juice.
Netflix loves to ask “Are you still watching ‘The Office’” after every third episode. You can add more squeeze in your life by taking this as an invitation to add some activity into your day. Go out, get some fresh air, and walk around the block before watching your fourth episode (or tenth, if we’re honest). Adding pauses to our entertainment; streaming video, scrolling social media, or playing video games, at regular intervals to add in some extra walking or extra NEAT is a great way to add in some more squeeze into our ultra convenient lives.
You just need more squeeze…
Really, the most important takeaway here is not about making your life an inconvenient mess, but just intentionally adding back in the effort you naturally should be using to enjoy the truly incredible life you enjoy. The reality is we’ve structured life to have a maximum amount of juice with next to zero squeeze by making everything ultra-convenient, and that’s wrecked our waistlines and our health. Just being aware and adding smaller barriers or choosing a more traditional method can do wonders for helping you be active and healthy in your day to day life without needing to destroy yourself with big changes. Just add a little squeeze here and there.
Also, stop shopping on Amazon. You’re spending too much on clothes that don’t fit and stuff you don’t use while ruining the retail job market for millions of workers.