What Are They Eating?

“Give it another few weeks,” I offered, “generally by mid-February things are back to normal.” My friend was lamenting the fact that he actually had to wait for a treadmill at the gym. All those “New Year’s Resolutioners” were cramping his style. And style he does have. His clothes always fit nicely over his well-chiseled physique, an apparently obvious reflection of his daily workouts.

Then he said something that sent prickles down my spine. “Yeah, back to just us regulars. You know I see these same guys day in and day out and they are still so overweight. The only thing I can think when I see them is, ‘what are you eating’?”

And this is the perfect remark to illustrate the problem with the traditional diet and exercise consciousness in our culture.

I’ve been one of those people – someone who religiously hits the gym day in and day out – and you would have never known it by looking at my body. Oh and by the way, salads and lean proteins were the staple of my diet at the time. I was actually embarrassed to admit how much I worked out and how carefully I ate. Anyone looking at me could have easily assumed my daily routine consisted of junk food and channel surfing. And they could have easily assumed that because our cultural understanding is that one’s body shape and size is simply some combination of dietary and exercise habits.

The conventional diet and exercise consciousness that permeates our culture essentially reduces our being to a balance sheet of calories in versus calories out – and there are some problems with that logic. First off, calories are a man-made invention. They were originally defined as the unit of heat required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius, and they were used to explain the theory of heat conservation in steam engines. Calories were invented by scientists – our bodies have no idea what a calorie is.

Furthermore, our bodies aren’t steam engines – they run on chemical energy. And even if we were to use the term calorie simply to define a unit measurement of energy, we are an entire system of energy! We’ve also got emotional energy, mental energy and spiritual energy.

The system that is our being not only considers the physical energy expended through a given workout – it also considers the energy associated with all of our various thoughts, feelings and beliefs about said workout. If we truly hate running, but do it anyway simply to burn calories to lose weight, we might indeed expend physical energy. But we’ll also build up polarizing, contradictory emotional and spiritual energy. As a consequence, it is entirely possible to run miles and miles a day and not lose any weight.

So when I hear that someone is engaging in fairly intense daily workouts and their body doesn’t appear to reflect that, I ask a different set of questions. I ask what they feel about those workouts. I ask if they enjoy them. I ask what activities they would be doing if weight-loss weren’t a concern. When we align all our energies in a harmonious and congruent way, we can quit exercising in ways we despise – despite how many calories the computer display claims the activity burns – and find activities that we do enjoy. Not only will we feel happier, we can also experience dramatic weight-loss.