Thinking about the 4 levels of thinking

Level 1. What do I need? That is, how can I get the things I want? What’s in it for me? How does it affect me? Will I get caught or punished if I do not follow the rules?

Level 2. What do others think? That is, will they still like and approve of me? Will they still think that I am a good person? How do I fit in and avoid criticism? How will they feel if I tell them what I really think?

Level 3. What do I think? That is, am I maintaining and staying true to my own personal integrity, standards, and internal values? Am I achieving my goals and being guided by my ideals and values? How can I get them to subscribe to my belief system? Am I living, working and loving to the best of my ability and potential?

Level 4. What do we both need? That is, how can other people’s thinking and actions help me to develop and grow? How can I seek out information and opinions from others to help me modify my own ways of understanding? How can conflict and adversity be an opportunity to inform and shape my thinking? Where is the interconnectedness between us, and how can we best support each other as growing, learning human beings?

It turns out that our greatest adversities and most complex problems in life are best overcome when we look at them with the next level of thinking.

[Note: In my previous post, Why there is nothing wrong with being fat, I claimed, “There is zero scientific evidence that diet and exercise results in significant weight loss in the long-term.” In hindsight, this was an exaggeration of the evidence and it has been changed to, “There is minimal scientific evidence that diet results in substantial weight loss in the long-term (greater than 2 years).”]

Why there is nothing wrong with being fat

Little over 3 generations ago, women could not succeed in business, politics or academia.

Little over 2 generations ago, we may have finally realised there is nothing that makes women incapable, but black people were still not deserving of the vote.

Little over 1 generation ago, we may have finally realised there is nothing wrong with being black, but homosexuality was still both a mental disorder and a crime.

Today, we may have finally realised there is nothing wrong with someone’s sexuality, but there is still something wrong with being fat.

And yet…

  • In today’s obesogenic environment, the most potent predictor of fatness is actually one’s genes.
  • There is minimal scientific evidence that diet results in substantial weight loss in the long-term (greater than 2 years).
  • Being fat and being healthy are not mutually exclusive events. Your eating and physical activity habits are (far) more important predictors of your health than a number on the scales.
  • Since we live in a time that says our body is an important part of who we are, believing or promoting this idea that fatness is bad is a recipe for body shame and emotional stress – two potent risk factors for overeating, fad dieting, mental illness, suicide and chronic disease.
  • Helping fat people to practice body and self-acceptance has been proven to enhance physical and mental health more so than dieting does. And no, self-acceptance does not make people eat ‘worse’ – research demonstrates the very opposite is actually true.

The idea that who we are is equal and enough may just be the most powerful tool we have invented to improve the health and wellbeing of our society as a whole.

And this time, the wellbeing of future generations falls on us.

[Note: This post originally claimed, “There is zero scientific evidence that diet and exercise results in significant weight loss in the long-term.” This was an exaggeration of the evidence and thus has been edited accordingly.]

Getting nutrition facts and judgements confused

This is what nutrition science can tell us:

  • The average nutrient content of a particular food, and the average effect a food or nutrient has on particular health biomarkers for a group of people under experimental conditions.

This is what nutrition science can’t tell us:

  • That a food or nutrient is good or bad.
  • How you should and shouldn’t be eating.
  • That you can’t eat a particular food or nutrient if you want to.
  • That not eating a certain way means you have failed or are wrong.
  • That physical health must be your most important life value.
  • That a lower body weight is superior to a heavier body weight.

[Note: Overeating, food cravings, meal skipping, eating disorders and feelings of stress around food often start to resolve, once we stop confusing the two.]

Appreciating the complexity in nutrition

I was cleaning out my study the other day when I came across a dated nutrition book. Flicking through the pages, its central theme was one you have surely heard of: eating less fat will help you to lose weight and find better health.

It may vary between fat, sugar, carbohydrate or fructose, but my experience is that most popular nutrition books are based on this idea.

Important to understand, then, that nutrition is never actually linear, and always far more complex. For example, our current understanding of the relationship between fat, weight gain and health changes according to numerous variables. Here are just a few:

  • There are many different types of fatty acids, some which have vastly different health effects from others.
  • The quantity of fat that is consumed changes the health effect; consuming some fat is healthier than avoiding it entirely or consuming it in excess.
  • Foods contain much more than just fat, and some high-fat foods can be rich (or poor) sources of health-promoting nutrients like dietary fibre and antioxidants.
  • Eating less fat typically means that we will eat more of something else, and the health consequences of eating less fat are very dependant on what that something else is.
  • Fat consumption can improve the absorption of other essential nutrients, and the health consequence of this depends on your current intake of these nutrients.
  • Believing a low-fat diet is ‘good’ can actually increase our consumption of low-fat cookies and other low-fat discretionary foods.
  • How fat is cooked can change its chemical nature and subsequent health effect.
  • There is a wide variation in the metabolic response between individuals, even after digestion of the very same food. What works for one individual may not work for another.
  • Telling people to avoid the foods they enjoy can make them crave and overeat them even more.
  • Our beliefs about the health effects of what we eat likely affect their actual health outcome.

We live in a complex world, and it’s human nature to try and simplify it. To remove the many moving variables at play so that it fits into our current level of understanding. I think that’s why we mostly look at nutrition through a linear lens, arguing that the solution lies in avoiding fat, sugar, starch, salt, grains, dairy, soft drink or bread.

In reality, though, the better solution exists at the higher levels of thinking.

Thinking that considers the wider variables, understands their interconnectedness, recognises the ambiguity and appreciates the complex.

2 ways to overcome a problem

One is to learn. The other is to grow.

We learn when we look at our problem with our existing perspective, but develop our knowledge and skills to overcome it.

“I want to lose weight for my wedding day, so I’m reading the newest detox diet book to find out how.”

We grow, on the other hand, when we reach an entirely new perspective in order for a better solution to be found.

“How much I weigh at my wedding will not actually influence my experience, as I see that, 1) I am so much more than my body, and 2) the possible judgements of others do not define who I am.”

Sometimes, of course, learning is exactly what is required.

But much of the time, the universe is full of wondrous things that are patiently waiting for our minds to grow, in order for us to see them.

4 protein swaps that will improve your health

1. Swap processed red meats (such as sausages, bacon, ham and salami) for unprocessed red meats (such as beef, lamb and pork) and reduce your intake of preservatives, salt and nitrates, improve heart and metabolic health, and prolong your life.

2. Swap unprocessed red meats for poultry or eggs and reduce your intake of heme iron, and improve bowel and heart health.

3. Swap poultry or eggs for seafood (particularly oily fish) and increase your intake of iodine, selenium and omega-3, and improve heart health.

4. Swap seafood for legumes (such as baked beans, chickpeas, red kidney beans and lentils) and increase your intake of plant protein and dietary fibre, improve heart and metabolic health, and prolong your life.

Yes, protein can promote fullness, increase metabolic rate, stimulate the growth of muscle, and support weight management.

But food, of course, is much more than just protein.

Spreading the kindness-happiness bug

Want to make not only yourself happier and kinder, but also the world around you?

Here’s one way: Keep track of every act of kindness you perform today, recording your total number before you go to bed tonight. Do this every day, starting today, for the next 7 days.

(And if you’re stuck for ideas, here you go.)

How does this simple exercise work? Consider the following (and quite remarkable) scientific research:

Kindness increases happiness. Just thinking about sending kindness to others rewires the brain in a positive way, and doing the exercise I described here boosts happiness levels, on average, by more than 10%.

Happiness, in turn, further increases kindness. For example, in controlled research it has been shown that you are 4 times more likely to help another after you have been made to feel good.

Kindness is highly contagious. If you act kindly, you not only encourage the recipient of your behaviours to act more kindly. You encourage the recipient of the recipient of the recipient to act more kindly, too.

Happiness is highly contagious. If you become happy, you increase the probability that your next-door neighbour is happy by some 34%. Furthermore, becoming a new happy friend to someone can boost not only their long-term happiness by more than 4 times what them winning $15 000* would, it can even significantly boost the happiness of a friend, of a friend, of your friend!

Your emotions and behaviours are highly contagious. And because we live in extraordinarily complex social systems, they will spread far beyond what you can see, and have an impact on people who you will never meet.

How you live your life, matters.

More so than you can ever know.

[*estimated value after converting to $AU and accounting for inflation.]

The comfort zone paradox

Is that the people who make it a habit to step outside their comfort zone – who say yes to experiencing fear and discomfort – are the people who live more comfortably.

They are more happy, less stressed, have better health and a higher quality of life.

Why?

First, staying within your comfort zone means you hide, of course, from the very situations, people, experiences and places that make life joyful, rich and meaningful.

Some examples:

The person who isn’t their true self because it feels scary, risky and uncertain, also misses out on excitement, purpose and growth.

The person who doesn’t show vulnerability because it exposes them to fear, rejection and hurt, also misses out on belonging, creativity and courage.

The person who doesn’t allow their self to fall in love because it’s scary and exposes them to conflict, pain and heartbreak, also misses out on joy, meaning and connection.

Second, and this is most important: your comfort zone isn’t actually comfortable.

That’s right. It’s a myth.

Sadness, stress, setbacks and conflicts are a package deal that come with the gift of living. The truth is all of us experience discomfort, irrespective of how much we live in our comfort zone.

And if the comfort zone isn’t comfy, where are you going to live?

3 things you should know about dairy

To understand how dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and cheese) affect health, consider these 3 nutrition principles:

1. Foods are much more than negative nutrients.

Yes, dairy foods are typically rich in saturated fat. But consider recent scientific research:

The health benefits of dairy, including lower and higher fat ones, makes sense: dairy foods can contain magnesium, calcium, protein, riboflavin, Vitamin B12, conjugated linoleic acid, and fermentation by-products, including probiotics, prebiotics and bioactive peptides, too.

2. Moderation in all things.

The relationship between dairy and health changes according to the amount that is consumed. Consider:

  • The relationship between cheese and heart health appears to be somewhat curvilinear, with the healthiest intake around 40 grams.
  • Large quantities of dairy may slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer.

3. There is no perfect diet.

Instead, there are many different ways to eat healthily, and no ‘best’ recommendation with regards to dairy. Consider:

  • Our body adapts according to what we eat: it has long been known that the absorption of numerous minerals is improved when their intake is low.
  • Nutrients are typically found in array of different foods, and dairy is not required for adequate calcium intake (just consume other calcium rich foods), nor is milk required for optimal bone health.
  • Dairy is not an essential food group, and the health benefits associated with its consumption can be found from eating a variety of other foods, particularly minimally processed plants.

I’ve heard advice not to eat full cream dairy (it’s high in fat!), not to eat low-fat dairy (it’s high in sugar!), not to eat cheese (it’s high in calories!), not to have cow’s milk (it’s not fermented!), and not to eat any dairy at all (it’s not natural!).

Yet my interpretation of the nutrition research is that all can be compatible with good health; yet none are essential for it.

Eat more from what you do enjoy, and enjoy more from what you do eat.

7 questions to ask if you’re struggling with your weight

Q1. What would weight loss make more possible?

It might be body satisfaction, better health or more happiness. It is different for everyone, so list whatever it would truly make possible for you.

Q2. What would achieving these things make more possible?

It might be more confidence, more energy, or even being a better parent. Again, list whatever it would make possible for you.

Q3. What would achieving these things make more possible?

And keep on asking this same question until it no longer makes sense, you can’t answer it after considered thought, or you start repeating what you’ve already said. The purpose here is to thoroughly explore the energy that is sitting behind your weight loss goal.

Q4. Now, of all the things you’ve written (body satisfaction, more energy, being a better parent, etc, etc.) which is the deal-breaker or deal-breakers?

Which one or ones pull on your heart, and make you feel that you cannot live without? Be selective here. Which is truly most important to you?

Q5. For this chosen item or items, brainstorm: how else could you achieve this, if weight loss wasn’t an option?

What are all the other ways you can improve your body satisfaction, get more energy or be a better parent, for example, if you couldn’t lose weight?

Q6. Out of all of these new strategies, which one jumps out at you?

What new strategy excites you and really helps you to achieve what you selected?

Q7. What action steps are required to achieve this newly chosen strategy?

Be specific here, and put a timeline in place stating when you will complete it.

Then start.

When you have the willingness to turn your struggles upside down, you’ll likely discover a greater sense of purpose, motivation and hope. 

As all of a sudden, you see more clearly what it is that you are actually struggling with.

[PS. i) Yes, you can still have a weight loss goal, if it is helpful, as part of this new bigger picture. ii) You can also try asking these 7 questions for just about any other goal you’ve been struggling with. Their usefulness certainly exceed weight loss.]

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