Star Wars Explains Why We’re All Fat

Stop trying so damn hard!

If you’re somebody who has tried to lose weight and exercise more, spend less time watching TV and more time reading books, or eat less candy and more real food – you’re not alone.

However, if your solution for any of those problems above is to “try harder” or “do more,” I’m here today to smack you in the mouth as if I were Neil Diamond.

STOP beating yourself up for lacking the willpower and motivation to make changes, and instead realize you need a new plan.

After all, you’re reading a site called “Nerd Fitness,” a community composed of computer programmers, rocket scientists, doctors, engineers, and everything in between.

We need to stop trying harder and instead start trying smarter.

It turns out that the part of our brain that allowed us to survive as a species for hundreds of thousands of years is the same part that can make us overweight, unfit, and unable to get ahead in life.

It’s just like The Force: Once we have the knowledge, we can either use this decision making process to push us further down the path to the Light Side…or we can become a slave to it and head further down the path to the Dark Side.

In today’s post, we’re going to discuss the importance of delayed gratification in getting healthy, and how we can use this information wisely, for the good of the Galaxy.

Why our brains are stupid

SuperBrain Caffine Fly

Within our brain, there is a built-in reward system involving a hormone called dopamine that has allowed us to survive for hundreds of thousands of years. Think of it like an achievement system for this giant game called life (where have we heard that before?).

As cavemen and cavewomen, our brains were rewarded with pleasure any time we found things that kept us alive (food!), did things that allowed us to reproduce (sex!), or took part in activities that kept us alive (running from predators!).

When our body encountered anything that was biologically helpful to our survival as a species, dopamine would be released in our brain that encouraged us to continue searching out those things.

For thousands of years, this “lizard brain” was freaking awesome. Like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, it was these biological systems that kept us safe, happy, and healthy.

Fast forward a few thousand millennia, and EVERYTHING that gives us pleasure but was only available in limited quantities, is now available everywhere. Depending on your “dopamine/midichlorian” stat, these things will affect you in various ways:

  • Want food NOW? You can order Domino’s pizza WHILE playing World of Warcraft.
  • Want a companion NOW? With a few clicks of a mouse and a credit card you’re good to go.
  • No need to run from predators! We’re now at the top of the food chain.

Our brain’s pleasure center can now get all the pleasure it wants without much effort – it’s like getting a participation trophy or earning achievement points just for turning the game on. Everything is out of whack! Stuart McMillen does a great job of explaining this in a comic.

Think about any free-to-play app-based game these days, like Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, and so on. Sure, you can wait four days for your castle to be built…or you can just spend a few measly bucks and get it RIGHT NOW. South Park absolutely nails this point in this must-watch segment below (obviously a few swears mixed into this):

Just as every Jedi is born with a different amount of Midichlorians (damn you George Lucas, for ruining the Force, by the way), we too are born with varying degrees of influence by this reward system.

So what’s the alternative to embracing our lizard brain and chasing dopamine all day?

Delayed satisfaction and gratification.

I can’t get no delayed satisfaction

Marshmallow

Imagine you are a caveman named Bonk.

You spent all summer and fall eating anything and everything available to you. You instructed the rest of your family to do the same thing, laughing at the Gronks down the dirt path who only ate a bit and stored the rest.

When winter comes (damn you Ned Stark), your family is shit out of luck and you’ll end up as caveman popsicles, while the Gronks will survive and live to pass on their “put things away for the future, and you’ll have a better chance to survive!” genes. This is natural selection at its finest.

It was this skill that allowed certain members of our species to effectively hold off on the “GIMME PLEASURE NOW” part of our brain in favor of the “THIS WILL MAKE ME A BETTER CAVEMAN LATER” part.

Have you heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? No, it’s not a hipster indie band outta Austin (but I bet there IS a band named this).

Here’s the study:

A child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. 

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the two rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

While debate still rages about what the study actually means for dopamine regulation and habits, one thing is clear: some of us are better at this delayed satisfaction thing than others. Just like some of us are more likely to get addicted to alcohol/drugs/food/whatever than others.

It’s also explains, at least in part, why some people are more successful and fit than others:

Can you say no to cake (it’s a lie, after all) every day for the ultimate reward of looking and feeling great in your skin?

Can you say no to watching TV all night and instead read a book or get more sleep for the ultimate reward of increased knowledge, a stronger body, or a better job?

Can you say no to drinking with friends or a video-game binge to you hold out for the ultimate reward of building that business you’ve been working on?

Within our brains right now, there is a battle of epic proportions going on: lizard brain vs logic (aka Lizard vs Spock).

Once we understand how the pleasure and happy parts of our brains work, we can start to think like a Jedi and set ourselves up to have a fighting chance against the Dark Side.

Resist the Empire

JediFight

We’ve said this a few times before on this site, but solely relying on willpower to change habits is like trying to hold back the tide.

Depending on your level of bad habits (aka how strong of a pull the Dark side of the Force has on you), it could be like holding back a tsunami.

So, instead of just “trying harder,” we need to be smarter with our attack plan!

  • We need to cultivate a culture of discipline – small at first, but we are legitimately in a battle over our brain, involving hundreds of thousands of stimuli every day. A well-trained army has a much better chance to succeed in this battle!
  • We need to believe: Just as there is a Dark Side of the Force, so too is there a Light Side. Start proving to yourself that with each decision made to delay gratification for ultimate satisfaction, you are strengthening that part of your brain. Each decision makes it a bit easier, so show yourself that YOU CAN say no.
  • We need to think about systems, and start with identifying the things we can’t stop doing: I am hopelessly addicted to Sour Patch Kids, sunflower seeds, goldfish crackers, and pistachios. If I have just ONE of any of those things, my lizard brain immediately takes over and I cannot think of anything else until I’ve eaten every single one of them. Instead of just “trying harder” not to eat them, I don’t keep ANY of those foods within a hundred yard radius of me.
  • We need to remind ourselves of the long term: Just like keeping short term bad rewards within reach is a recipe for disaster, not making your long term reward a consistent part of your daily plan is a recipe to abandon it at the first sign of “gimme gimme gimme.” If you’re saving up money for a house or vacation, keeping a picture of that house as your computer background will consistently remind you to keep saving rather than spending it on stupid crap 🙂
  • We need allies in this fight: Employ your friends and family, and get them on your side. They can either pull you closer to the Dark Side unknowingly (“come on, just have one. What’s the harm in that? I don’t want to eat dessert/go out/play alone!”), or they can work on your team to help you succeed.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet or how-to list to overcoming environments that are set up to work against us. This is a BIG question. Hell, that’s why I started Nerd Fitness – to give us Rebels a fighting chance.

Remember, we’re all in this fight together, and we’re constantly discovering new strategies and techniques for overcoming the tricks of the Empire. Although these short-term distractions are at every corner, this group of rag-tag Rebels is here to show you that success IS possible.

Down with the Dark SIde

stormtroopers

Nerd Fitness is a site and community built around the long term reward of a healthy, happy life full of the Light Side of the Force.

Every day, we battle the overwhelming propaganda and marketing engine of the Empire to make better decisions, we battle co-workers and friends who unknowingly want us to slip up and join them on the Dark Side, and we battle a part of our brains that so desperately wants short term happiness.

Every day we wage this war, and every day we have the opportunity to get a little bit closer to Jedi, and a little bit further away from Sith.

Eventually, we can break the cycle, and we will defeat the Empire.

Thanks for being here, and thanks for fighting alongside us:

How are you taking a step closer to the Light Side today?

What’s one decision you can make or one change you can manufacture to prove to yourself change can happen?

Let’s hear it in the comments.

-Steve

###

Pascal: Darth, Alan: Jedi, Brad Cerenzla: Caveman, Krissy Venosdale: Marshmallow, James Edwards: Storm Troopers

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  • Bradley NC

    Special, it is not a foregone conclusion 50+ somethings must carry around extra stomach fat, although it is sadly “normal” in our food-saturated culture. It’s not how your body is supposed to go.

    I attended a Vistage (CEO group) meeting with Joe Dillon (thejoedillondifference.com) as the speaker/presenter. I’m not a fitness buff, and I generally ignore all forms of fitness gurus. However, Vistage is a very high quality organization and Joe is a long-time, top-rated presenter. And Joe makes sense. Plus he’s 70-something, his partner/or wife is 60-something, and they both look great. Here are three closely-related pieces of Joe Dillon insight that would be very consistent with nerdfitness. Forgive me if they are obvious.
    1. Yep, body fat is really difficult to burn, but not impossible. It is an incredibly efficient store of energy. A marathoner can run 35 miles on 1 pound of body fat. When we exercise, our body will consume almost everything else (including lean muscle) before it gets down to the business of using fat. So in your exercise routine, you need to train/condition your body to burn fat.
    2. Cardio fitness is paramount, because fat takes more oxygen to burn than other body/food fuels. If your heart can’t supply sustained, requisite oxygen your exercise won’t burn fat. The recommended exercise for “normal” people is 45 minutes of walking PLUS hand weights (1lb working up to 3/5 lbs for women, 5/8 lbs for men over a few months) 4 times per week. There are a few obvious exercises done with the hand weights at intervals (25 reps, then 1 minute “rest”). The hand weights are important to involve more large muscle groups in the workout and help build some muscle mass, which increases oxygen demand and fat burning. The theory is the best cardio-conditioned athletes are cross-country skiers, so the exercise seeks to mimic this activity (I would assume elliptical with hand things is similar). Your pace should be such that your heart rate remains under 75% of max to stay in aerobic mode. The tell tale sign: if you have to huff and puff, you are above 75% of your max heart rate and have gone anaerobic. You should be able to breathe through your nose during your workout. At our age, there is no reason to try to beast it out and grunt like 25-year-old-ex jock. No P90X, no Insanity. You want a big, strong, healthy heart. You can measure as you work your resting heart rate at least into the 60s (50s or lower if you are an athlete). Weight lifting, stretching, etc. should be an addition to the aerobic workout, not a substitute. And don’t work out on an empty stomach.
    3. We have to stop eating things that make us fat. That means all high glycemic load (fast burning carbs). Unfortunately, that means a lot of the stuff I really like: pasta, bread, rice, oatmeal… the list goes on. We need carbs, but not much, and they should be slow-burning carbs like real fruits and vegetables. Obviously, all processed foods are out, as they are guaranteed to be sugared up. Carbs are sugar. Learn all the various words on ingredient lists that mean “sugar.” If you start your day with a glass of orange juice and a bowl of cereal, you have already given your body an overdose of sugar, which means an insulin spike and an putting your body into fat-storing mode. Your body will not burn any fat for 10 to 12 hours. You have to consume lean protein, slow-burn carbs and sufficient essential fat.
    Supplements that help: 1. Protein shakes, but only with protein powder that is 100% whey protein isolate (not protein mix) and is sweetened with stevia (not sucralose or other artificial sweeteners). It’s difficult to consume enough protein (your body weight in grams per day) without the powder shakes. 2. Fish oil capsules–pure, molecularly distilled (pharmaceutical grade). Two capsules with meals…6 to 12 capsules per day. We get more Omega 6 than we need from a variety of foods, but it’s nearly impossible to get enough Omega 3 from foods without supplementing.
    You’re not necessarily losing the battle, you just might not be fighting the right way…yet. Hope this helps.

  • Ann Plicque

    Got up and did body pump for a long, painful miserable hour, but felt proud. Ate good breakfast. Drank plenty of water. Ate good lunch. Bought healthy foods last night. Got bath salts to mix up for destressing. But Mrs. Edwards got me at Wal Mart. I only bought the two piece box, not a whole pie, thank god. Didn’t feel too bad, because I have been running errands all day, put away Xmas everything. Brought out and put up Mardi Gras stuff. Hanged pictures. Soaking red beans. Chopped up Kale lettuce and arugula.

  • D Besson

    BEST article yet! Love this! Thank you!!!

  • Joe

    Here’s an idea. Let’s say you really, really dislike running and you love weightlifting, but you get winded walking up a couple flights of stairs. When you’re at the gym, set up a time(maybe start with 10 or 15 minutes if 25 is too much) and run on the treadmill at the gym, then spend five minutes lifting, and so forth until you’ve completed your workout. Or substitute running with whatever exercise you really don’t like doing and use your five minutes to do something you really enjoy. Or something along those lines, I don’t know, programming isn’t really my strongest point.

  • Mike

    Good luck on the board (or, if you’re Air Force, the test or whatever you flyboys do). As a soldier, though, I have to admit, the Sith hold a certain appeal for me:

    Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
    Through passion, I gain strength.
    Through strength, I gain power.
    Through power, I gain victory.
    Through victory, my chains are broken.
    The Force shall free me.

  • Andurial

    So I know this is a little beside the main point, but I have to say that I am in violent agreement in Steve’s assessment of the addition of Midichlorians to the Star Wars universe. As soon as the force turned out to be something you could take a blood test for, I pretty much checked out of the Star Wars franchise (at least the modern ones), so now LoTR>Star Wars IV, V, VI >>>>>>>>Star Wars I,II, III.

    Steve, thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one who thinks that Jar Jar Binks was not the only problem with the Phantom Menace…..

    BTW, I’m about 12 days into the academy, did the recruit workout 2 days ago and boy are my quads sore (in a good, muscle building way)!

  • Devyn Hedin

    This may sound a bit stupid, but I made one little change today that I’m incredibly proud of.

    I ate a piece of broccoli. Not a plate, or bowl, or serving. Just one piece. I even took the time to steam said piece. But it was easy to eat being only one piece. A bit gross, but easy nonetheless. It was the first veggie I’ve eaten in nearly 7 years.
    Everyday from now on I’ll eat just a little bit. Tomorrow I’ll eat two pieces, the day after three, until one day I’m eating enough to get a daily serving of veggies in my diet.

  • Leo

    I tried for a very long time to like this saying, but I just don’t. My mind always rebels when I say it, simply because it seems silly and untrue.

    You can’t do without first trying. All you can ever do is try. Then you succeed or don’t.

    You can’t decide to succeed. You can only decide to try or not to try. Again and again (and eventually then it’s likely you do succeed or “do”).

    So all that really matters is that you try, because that’s all you can effect.

    I feel this can also make you fear failure more. If trying doesn’t count, then failing becomes a much bigger thing.

    …But I also know that the saying doesn’t necessarily contradict what I’m saying here, and I’m sure it works for some people. Just doesn’t for me.

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  • Mad Mart

    I got one of those cross-fit video series, where you do something for 30 second intervals for 25 minutes every day. I’m at the point now where I know the circuits, and I can do them while I watch TV–usually something educational. I’m 6 weeks in, and I don’t see a whole lot of progress in weight loss, but I’m aware of pushing myself harder every day as I’m more physically capable of doing the exercises. The biggest benefit, however, is my sense of self worth. I’m nowhere near my goal weight, but I feel better knowing that I’m taking action to get there. It’s a lifestyle change, not a temporary solution.

  • TW

    For me it helps to just start/continue with the right stuff. (for example just start working on the paper, instead of playing another round in a game.)

  • ryry

    Wouldnt spacing out your Tv time with more exercise time be able to balance it out and be okay to be able to watch some Tv just not over excessive.

  • fredcandoit

    I am so heading back to the Dark Side and have got to turn it around. Today, I am eating to fuel my strong body and I will get the sleep I need for a good bodyweight workout tomorrow. No room for a Sith in this mind!

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  • FaceAK

    It’s actually not that terribly difficult to get your body to burn fat for fuel. After carbs, fat is our most efficient fuel source and in times of scarcity the body will use fat as a primary fuel in an otherwise healthy individual.

    You can get into fat burning mode by eating whole foods and limiting carbs to 50 to 100 g a day. It only takes 3-5 days for fat burning to kick in, and this is when you should feel more energized throughout the day or even experience a decreased appetite because your body is not experience crazy sugar spikes from carb overload. The caveat is to make sure you eat enough protein to sustain lean muscle mass, and your body will absolutely begin using stored body fat for fuel. It’s called being in ketosis.

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  • Joseph W.

    I’m starting by removing some of those “can’t eat just one” foods taking up space for better snacks in my pantry.

  • https://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve Kamb

    that’s amazing Devyn! Every saga has a beginning…looks like you’re starting your veggie tale 🙂

    Congrats…next week, eat TWO pieces 🙂

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  • bertlink

    I buy sugarfree gum instead of candy when I feel like I need to munch on something while studying

  • Tenaya Hyde

    i did not get anything at wendy’s for dinner even though my hubby did!

  • AW

    This one is SO tough for me, b/c my Dad (who I still live with due to my disability) always wants to fill the house with junk food. He always say, “Well, what happens if you want it & it’s not around?” & is just feeding that lizard brain mentality. I keep telling him not to buy stuff like that, but it doesn’t work. 🙁

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  • https://www.youtube.com/AngelaGraceRose EllaEnchanted13

    Honestly, I should’ve read this first before I just ate like 5 of the danish butter cookies I bought a couple of weeks ago before I signed up for the Academy…. *sigh* tomorrow is a new day and I will succeed!!! It’s just hard when you work in a grocery store and there’s candy not even a foot away from you or your coworkers make fun of you for trying to be Paleo. Or when your aunt gets mad at you for making your own food instead of eating her unhealthy food. I have no one to help me out in the real world; Only online friends who want to see me succeed. Plus I don’t have a Facebook and don’t plan on getting one again since the first time wasn’t successful and I have no friends anyway.. but i can only go on the forums.

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  • Maddie Phelps

    I totally thought this was going to be:
    “I can’t believe it.”
    “That is why you fail.”

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  • Citruss x

    Dopamine doesn’t effect the reward system on the latter half; it’s only active during the *want* part of the reward system. A lot of this article is more or less incorrect (with the actual science part) but it gets the general point across nonetheless; a point that needs to be made more often.

    The reward part of the system isn’t triggered when you receive what you want (dopamine pings your brain every time you desire. satiating that desire or want doesn’t always trigger the actual reward part of your brain, they’re separate structures, and the reward part is much weaker and harder to trigger)

  • http://bodynsoil.com/blog Bodynsoil

    I’ve shut the TV off and turned on lectures relating to health, fitness, and nutrition. It’s just what the doctor ordered.