Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Americans, as a population, are too fat, and obesity is one of the greatest challenges facing us as a society.
Oh, you’ve heard that, too, huh?
The “obesity epidemic” situation is significant enough that military leaders face a growing challenge (pardon the pun) in finding enough recruits to adequately fill the needs of the service. Bleak enough is the outlook that in some circles the ever-expanding U.S. waistline is considered a threat to national security.
“Obesity and the percentage of people overweight in the country has just skyrocketed in the last 10 to 15 years,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr told POLITICO. Gen. Spoehr is the co-author of a new Heritage Foundation paper on the military recruiting challenge titled The Looming National Security Crisis.
Spoehr’s report found that 59% of Americans ages 17-24 would not be able to join the military due to health problems or physical fitness.
So what does this have to do with professional productivity? According to some compelling research, quite a lot. I started pondering this when author and sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer tackled the subject on a recent episode of his Sell or Die podcast.
Nutritionist Margaux Gunning discussed the link between proper nutrition and professional productivity, making the point that, among other things, poor food choices affect more than just our waistline, but how our internal workings… well, work.
“Food affects your hormones dramatically,” she explained. “Cortisol — really, really, really important — is what basically wakes you up in the morning and puts you to bed at night. If our cortisol is at all skewed, we have some serious problems, A, with productivity and then, B, on top of that, with eating properly because when cortisol is out of whack, our cravings go haywire and it turns into a vicious cycle.”
Gunning said that things tend to get “out of hand very fast” in that type of cycle, particularly for professionals and entrepreneurs who regularly work in high-stress situations and environments.
“For example, cortisol is the stress hormone, so it’s the fight or flight hormone,” she continued. “I think a lot of people just think of it as bad like we don’t want stress, bad news. At the end of the day no matter what you’re going to have stress. It’s how you utilize the stress and how you manage the stress to proceed.”
Add to that equation the reality that many professionals in those high-stress roles fail to get a solid eight hours of sleep each night, and the situation goes from bad to worse. Gunning pointed out that the sleep-deficient then become more likely to get up in the morning “wanting to eat everything in sight.”
There’s quite a lot more to the equation than bad food => bad sleep => too much cortisol => unhealthy cravings => weight gain => additional stress => stress eating, rinse and repeat, but you start to see the several connections. High-stress at work, for some of us, leads to poor eating choices, which in turn screws with our stress hormones, exacerbating both the stressful situation and the poor food choices.
“I’m fat because I eat,” as the fellow in the film Austin Powers put it, “and I eat because I’m fat,” in other words.
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here?
For any of us who have ever struggled with weight – and I have for more or less my entire adult life – it all gets a bit depressing, doesn’t it? (Which, of course, tends to monkey with one’s efforts to make better food choices, of course…)
The good news is, in some sense we’ve been looking at things the wrong way all along.
A study published this week in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), suggested that while we’ve tended to focus on the basic calorie as the key variable in controlling our weight, we’ve likely been sabotaging ourselves psychologically.
As reported by the New York Times, the study found that “people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.”
As it turns out, it didn’t matter if the study subjects followed a low-fat or low-carb diet, and genetics and insulin-sensitivity were non-factors. All that mattered, really, was that people ate more good, old-fashioned meats and veggies in lieu of a bunch of junk.
The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”
With that in mind, there’s a bit of an added incentive for those of us in sales, marketing or other similar high-stress roles to get our acts together nutritionally. Being out of optimal physical condition is a stress in and of itself, both physiologically and psychologically. Speaking from prior personal experience, which I’m training consistently and eating according to my nutrition plan, I feel better about myself, body, mind and soul, so to speak.
When I say, “to heck with it,” like I did one day this week with a noon-time run to Skyline for a four-way and a coney, I felt crummy the rest of the afternoon, so much so that I skipped my planned workout in my Iron Dojo. Plus, with swimsuit season just around the corner, I’m likely to be mad at myself that I didn’t loose that last 10 or 100 pounds, which compounds the situation, and with all of these extraneous stressors related to food and physique, that’s emotional energy I’m not expending performing at my best, professionally.
So what’s the answer? Listen to your Mom: eat your meat, fruits and veggies. That’s not that hard to do, and is pretty time-tested advice. And then, get on the bike, take a walk or lift some weights (my personal preference), and think of it as stress relief rather than a way to burn off that coney you shouldn’t have had for lunch that one day.