Earlier this week, while out on a long run, I listened to an NPR podcast that discussed the capacity for different animals to think and process thoughts. One of the key points the researchers were trying to make is that unlike other animals who think very concretely, humans are uniquely capable of thinking in abstract terms. We are able to dream, imagine and ponder possibilities and make real-life choices based on these machinations. Our capacity for abstract thought also gives us the ability to approach a problem from a variety of perspectives in order to arrive at an optimal solution.
This past week, with the announcement of Michelle Obama's campaign to fight childhood obesity by promoting health and wellness in America's communities, I've been finding myself having to discuss and teach this power of perspective to many of my obese patients who have been curious about the message but do not see themselves as avenues for change. Because most of the kids/parents I see come from obese families and underserved communities where the norm is to be on the heavier side, it is extremely difficult to impress upon them that their overweight is a detriment to their health, both old and young. It doesn't help either that some social advocates, researchers, and doctors choose to focus on the fact that obesity is in large part is a genetic disease and ignore the contribution of behavior and the environment entirely. As a specialist who sees and deals with pediatric obesity on a daily basis, I fail to see how impressing on my patients the message that certain genetic mutations that are largely unidentified that they may or may not have are causing them to eat more and metabolize less and become obese will help in any way to improving their long term health. It is somewhat of a fatalistic approach to take in my opinion. Instead, I choose to tell my patients that although genetics has predisposed them to a certain body habitus with its inherent increased risk for metabolic and cardiovascular complications, the lifestyle they lead and the dietary choices they make will go a long way in determining how those risks will play out. For families who have to fight this battle on a daily basis, it is much more heartening and inspiring to hear what can be done instead of focusing on things that cannot be changed. Let the experts and researches work on the gene and the genetics, I say. I'll help my patients modify what they can their everyday life to improve their health today. Sometimes, all it takes is a little change in perspective.
Lest you think that this obesity debate has nothing to do with running, have you ever not wonder how far/fast you could theoretically go? Science would have you believe that your ultimate speed is encoded in your genes. No matter how fast you train or how many weekly miles you put in, there's no possible way for us to outrun the Kenyans. On top of that, if you are in your mid-30s or older, science also says you've likely reached your max in terms of speed and efficiency. It's right there in your genes. You should just give up. But those of us who know better know that the training, the lifestyle, attitude, and the nutrition really does matter. We can maximize our athletic prowess by being diligent in the way we train, smart in the way we prepare, and healthy in the way we eat. Why else are there so many "older" elite athletes defying their age, crushing their races and taking home medals in the national and world stage?
So thanks for all the scientists and researches working hard everyday to define and limit our potential. I'm going to do my best to teach my patients the power of perspective and afterwards go out for a run!
For my sanity, please share stories of how the power of perspective resulted in success in your life - whether obesity related, running related, or something else entirely. Maybe somebody will read and be inspired to make a change. Thanks!