Last summer, I was having some problems with my eye, which led to me getting an MRI of my head and brain. (Fortunately, I have no more news to report on that note.)
In any case, I was given a disc copy of the imaging and pretty much immediately brought it home to start studying it for myself. Throughout my schooling, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading X-rays and MRIs, writing reports and interpreting the findings written by others. But there’s something completely mind-blowing about looking at a picture of my own brain.
I came across this side-by-side picture on my phone that I’d made as a joke, but seeing it again caused me to realize that there’s a lot I don’t know about myself, despite the exorbitant amount of time we spend together — me, myself, and I.
For example — why do I do the things I do? Honestly, no clue. But I’m trying to learn, mostly for the sake of my relationships. How am I really doing, spiritually? I wish I had a better handle on that one, too. As far as what’s going on inside my body at any given moment? Nearly four years of medical education later, I still have very little understanding.
Of course, I have general knowledge, courtesy of modern science. I know a lot about nutrition, hormones, my immune system, etc. But at any given moment, I couldn’t tell you what’s going on in my metabolic environment. And neither can anyone else.
How many calories did my body burn today? How much protein does my body need to repair my tissues? How much energy to fuel my brain? Which vitamins were depleted today, and in what levels? Exactly how much sleep do I need? Should I have ideally exercised for 5 minutes more? 5 minutes less?
Some of these questions might seem a little insane. But they actually reflect the whole premise of dieting in general: trying to manipulate our bodies based off information we don’t actually have.
I do not have an accurate measure of exactly how much food I eat, though at one point in my life, I took every possible measure to try. In doing so, I completely missed to purpose of eating in the first place, which was to provide my body with food in response to its signals, and then allow it to do its job.
Our metabolic environments are constantly in flux, and they use “resources” like vitamins, protein, and calories in varying proportions depending on availability. The more external control we try to exert over our bodies, the more it becomes clear how very little control we actually have: gaining weight despite dieting attempts, chronic fatigue despite dedicated fitness training, binge eating despite rigid restriction, getting sicker despite painstaking efforts to eat healthfully.
I truly don’t believe that science will ever reach a point when it can trump the natural design of the human body, offering perfectly optimized diets for our individual goals, whether they be athletic performance, physique/body sculpting, or weight gains/losses. And I think that it’s a huge waste of time and effort to try. Because we don’t really need to use quite so much brain power to feed ourselves.
The fact that our scientific understanding is limited is actually quite a freedom. See, instead of needing to micromanage every little detail of what we put in our mouths, our bodies self-regulate. They don’t need us to tell them how to digest, secrete, absorb, or stabilize. They already know how to do those things, just fine. In fact, they do those things better the less we meddle. Extreme diets create metabolic shifts, high levels of stress hormones, and other imbalances that make it harder for our bodies to do the jobs that they were designed to do.
I’ve given up on trying to calculate every little detail of my diet and exercise regime. Or rather, I’ve found a better way to build my meals, a more balanced perspective towards the size and shape of my body, and more fulfilling things to fill my life with (read: relationships) that better align with my values.