Sunday, January 27, 2013

Desires: inborn or learned?

A while back I realized that unless I ate some kind of sugar during a meal, I didn't feel full afterward.  Most often it was fruit, which seemed ok because the old food pyramid suggested 2-3 servings per day.  But I felt wary about the need to do it, the compulsion.  At the same time my brother Wade was on a diet that required cutting out all sugar, so I wondered if it was healthy for me to be eating it as often as I was.

I decided to start leaving sugar out of every other meal just to see how it felt.  Under-eating is a risky business for me because I get migraines if I'm hungry for too long, so at first I was little nervous.  What I immediately found was how hard it was to abstain.  Even though I was eating a large, full meal with plenty of complex carbohydrates, that desire for something sweet was strong and I had to fight it off.  But I didn't get any headaches so I felt it was worth pursuing.

After a couple of weeks I found myself wanting sugar less.  It still tasted good and I still ate plenty of fruit and the occasional dessert, but the expectation of having it be part of every eating experience had subsided.  What surprised me about this was that I had always thought that this specific desire was inherent, somehow coded into my DNA and a normal part of being a human.  Clearly it wasn't: it was buttressed up, inflated by my behavior.

Every desire fits into one of those two categories: inborn or learned.  And I think that more of them are learned.  But it can be so easy to think something has always been a part of you if your behavior has always enforced it.  Take the need for sugar; I'm sure that many of us have eaten sugar constantly almost since birth.  If the first thing in your toddler-age sippy-cup was juice, then you wouldn't be able to remember a time without that sweet substance coursing through your bloodstream.  With no sugar-free period as a comparison, how can you tell that the desire was inborn instead of learned?  Using the scientist parlance, there was no control group in that experiment.

We all have things about ourselves that we wish were different.  A negative thought process, a bad habit, an addiction.  But many people give up on trying to change with the defense, "it's just who I am."  Sometimes I'm sure that's true.  Genes are a powerful force in determining who we are.  But I think most of our desires come from the constant stream of small, simple choices that we make usually without thought.  The only way to tell the difference is to change your behavior long enough until it forms a habit and see how you feel.  I think we will all be surprised by how much is within our control.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Winter Break

I finally found the source of the lingering hip pain: it was my piriformis muscle.  This is a small muscle in your butt that is responsible for the lateral movement of the leg.  While I was cruising videos on I found a way to self-massage the piriformis by sitting on the ground and pulling the foot up toward your face while rocking back, and as soon as I did it I felt the most awesome muscle pain ever.  But it was a good kind of pain, because I could feel the knotted muscle slowly unwind.

But after cutting my running back to a couple days a week and doing lots of stretching, I still couldn't quite shake the soreness.  I decided I just needed to do a full stop and halt any running or stretching to aggravate the piriformis.  Thinking back on the year I realized that I had been training hard for about eight months without taking any serious time off, so a long winter break was due.

I've been keeping up my fitness by swimming, yoga, and weight lifting, basically anything that doesn't use my afflicted backside.  And after two weeks I'm starting to feel great.  With each day the pain in my hip recedes, and my energy is starting to peak.  After all of the success I had in the fall I thought I would be really missing my runs, but I don't.  I think it's because all of the other little things I do to stay in shape that are part of the running lifestyle: cross training, weight-lifting, stretching, diet, rest.  What I mean to say is that even though I haven't laced up in almost two weeks, I still feel like a runner.

This is a big change.  When I was forced to take time off before I would feel this terrible sense of loss, this emptiness.  Maybe my perspective has changed a little and I see the big picture more clearly now.  Anyway, I'm going to keep resting for another week, maybe two.  Based on how my body has reacted to rest in the past this can only be good for me.

P.S.  The weather in Provo has been wild lately, so perhaps this is why I don't mind taking a break (notice Monday, -13 degrees!  What?!)