Last weekend, we celebrated my uncle’s 65th birthday. Besides the usual family, they’d also invited a friend from South Tyrol. A region in Northern Italy I’ve been to a couple of times as it’s not far away from where I live. With his 62 years old, he looked crazy fit. Did he know the secret to lasting fitness and nutrition results?
I was curious, so I asked him what his nutrition was like. He told me that he had recently learned how to cook all the traditional dishes from his mom, mostly using flour, eggs, and butter, and even lard for frying. I looked at him with utter disbelief (how could you possibly look this way and eat all of these rather fattening foods). He then explained to me that this kind of food was vital to provide him with enough energy for his day-to-day activities.
The village he comes from is located 2.500 m above sea level. Temperatures rarely rise above 70 degrees in Summer and drop very low during winter. He spends the entire day outside, working with his hands as a forest ranger. ‘I need fat that is slowly burning to give me sustained energy throughout the day’, he said.
Big a-ha moment right there!
Our labor changed so our eating style had to change as well
For the longest time, I had to argue with the members in my family (especially the older ones) why I didn’t eat their fattening food and rather preferred some grilled veggies. In short, why would I rather eat the Mediterranean cuisine instead of the traditional German one?
I was never really able to give them a fundamental answer other than that I didn’t want to gain weight. This notion was met with incomprehensive eyes and the remark that I didn’t have to worry as I was still young. Now, I finally had the explanation why I ate the way I did (to be honest I never like the German cuisine anyways).
Simply put, we don’t eat like our ancestors anymore because we don’t need it. During our grandparents’ age, people needed food that would give them enough energy to make it through the day. They mostly had jobs that required physical activities such as farming. And they also didn’t have all the amenities we have today such as central heating. If they wanted a warm house, they had to get wooden logs and chip them before making a fire.
Nowadays, we wake up in the morning, sit down for breakfast, get into our cars, drive to work, sit 8 hours at a desk, get back into the car, drive home, sit down to dinner, and then lounge on the couch until we go to sleep.
Eating more than your body needs will lead to weight gain
Our body only burns the calories it needs to function well throughout the day. Not more! Our eating style had to change in order to maintain a healthy weight. Since we are mostly working with our brains, we also had to incorporate foods into our diets that feed the brain instead of muscles.
It is so simple but still was a huge revelation to me. I now finally know that my food choices just reflected my body’s needs. This doesn’t mean I don’t have the occasional traditional dish cooked with flour and butter. Especially during winter, I need more carbs and fat to keep warm. But I have it in moderation and only if my body really needs it. I also stop when I’m full (something I also had to learn again).
This also got me thinking about the way we work out. Of course, we need to move our bodies. One, to have the calorie surplus to occasionally treat ourselves, and two, to stay healthy. But is it really that beneficial to get into a car to drive to a place to use machines to be active? How much more unnatural can it get?
Movement outside the gym is still exercise
I looked at my aunt and uncle’s friend again and his very strong and muscular body. Yes, his work already required him to be active. But besides that, he moved his body going skiing and hiking. Two totally natural forms of exercise that a) used the entire body and b) where practiced outside.
I also looked back on how my exercise regime had changed over the past couple of years and how it had affected my body. From going to the gym three times a week to doing a combination of HIIT and strength training exercises 7 days a week, I must say that now that I narrowed it down to running, walking, light pilates moves, yoga, and stretching I feel better than ever.
The more I got into the fitness scene, the more I realized how much more beneficial natural forms of exercise are not only physically but also mentally.
Exercise puts stress on your body if overdone
You have to understand that we are all living very stressful lives per se. Clocking down hours in the gym or forcing our bodies through extreme forms of exercises only puts additional stress on us. Instead of feeling better and more energized, we feel drained and fatigued.
Unfortunately, natural forms of exercise haven’t been perceived as real exercise anymore as we are being brainwashed by the fitness industry. And understandably so. They make the big buck by selling us workout programs that promise breathtaking results in a short amount of time (if someone promise you that, run for the hills!). All of it accompanied by equipment and supplements that you definitely need to achieve the required results. The only one who doesn’t benefit from it in the long run is you!
I recently talked to a friend of mine who is just recovering from workout addiction. She would force herself to go to the gym or take a workout class every day after work. It didn’t give her the results she was looking for. All the additional stress raised her cortisol levels and caused her body to hold onto the excess fat. And then she realized that by taking her bike to and from work she was already being active. Crazy, right? We don’t see naturally moving our bodies as exercise anymore, but it is!
Your body naturally tells you the form of exercise it needs
I’m not saying that taking a dance or kickboxing class is not beneficial to your body. I just think we need to shift the way we think about exercise to take the stressor out of it. Because in the end, going for a brisk walk on your lunch break or a light jog followed with some soothing stretches after work is totally enough to keep your body strong and healthy.
In a very noisy world where we are bombarded with a thousand fitness and diet trends on the daily, it’s sometimes hard to tune into our bodies. But it’s important to gain back control over our lives and move our bodies in ways that we like and that fits into our lifestyle. The same goes for food. Only then we are more inclined to stick to it in the long run, giving us true and lasting fitness and nutrition results!
What is your experience with fitness programs and diets?