Citizen of the planet

A version of this was also posted today at Sprout Savvy. I'm delighted to share with them, and delighted they invited me to.

One of the first questions people have for me is, Never mind how you lost 155 pounds, how have you been keeping it off for almost 20 years?

I have several answers, depending on how much time we have, but the best, most accurate one is, I finally realized and accepted that I’m a citizen of the planet.

What’s that got to do with weight loss? Well, let’s start with the obvious: If I eat too many calories, I’ll get fat. I knew that, of course, but for years continued to act as though I was somehow exempt from physical law.

My observation is that humans have been doing this for thousands of years: Consider the Biblical assertion that we have dominion over life on Earth, which, to me, includes the assumption that “their” rules don’t apply to us. Western technology continues on this path, seeking to overcome law after law — We can eat whatever we want, regardless of season or climate. We can live in the desert, with lawns, and swimming pools. We can fly! — until we all think we can do whatever the hell we please, without consequence.

I fell in for that as much as anyone, not nearly limited to my actions with food, but certainly reflected there: At 34 years old, I was not only 365 pounds. I was frustrated, isolated, lonely, resentful, and watching most of life’s joy go to others. And yet I was convinced that I could make my life turn out as I wanted it to, just by trying harder.

Had I been attuned to the world, I might have noticed that nature is symbiotic, not self-reliant, and taken my clue from it. I would learn years later that that’s what biomimicry does: Seek solutions in nature, rather trying to defeat or ignore it.

In stumbling, almost-in-spite-of-myself fashion, I did begin reaching out, to professionals but also to those who were more successfully overcoming obesity than I ever had. At an even slower pace, I started adopting what they told me, such as seeking support and therapy. In groups.

Around food specifically, some early advice was to give up refined sugar and refined grain (aka flour), ideas I greeted with reluctance and anger but now consider to have been very helpful. Only in retrospect am I able to see such aggressive food processing as examples of trying to defeat or ignore nature: Only humans would whittle the wheat plant down to practically nothing, and then proclaim its product would “build strong bodies 12 ways” by adding back in bits of niacin and thiamin, whatever they are.

Just as biologists who used to refer to “junk DNA” now recognize that our bodies use all the data, not just the parts we’ve figured out, growing sectors in both science and the community at large — the slow food movement, for example — have recognized that it’s healthier to eat whole foods instead of just the parts that food technologists can make last forever on store shelves.

Similar principles form the battlefields of farming: Industrial ag thinks it can defeat or ignore the virtuous circle of what farming used to be, where one season’s dross is  next season’s gold and where actions bolster natural health instead of depleting it.

Industrial ag boasts its achievements while ignoring the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from fertilizer runoff, or the pools of toxic waste that result from crowding animals into filthy feudal cities, as Michael Pollan so artfully described them in “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Just about everything that industry does to animals flouts nature. Animal rights activists would say that if, in the end, you kill them anyway, how you treat them beforehand won’t matter, but I’m not so sure. We are omnivores by nature, and we don’t attach morality to what the lion does to the wildebeest.

This is a good place for a couple of caveats: I don’t intend to start eating wheat straight from the ground, so I’m not saying, “no processing, ever.” And of carnivorism: Just as nature made us carnivores, it also gave us the power to reason, and maybe we’re supposed to learn to moderate the primal urge. Maybe the lion’s lucky it doesn’t have to face such questions.

But I do believe that every step away from nature is a step further away from wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Before my recovery from obesity began, I was short on all those accounts.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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