Many of us feel like we’re trapped inside of our bodies – like there’s “us” and then there’s “our body”, and the two don’t always agree or get along.
All we want to do is to look good, move well, feel healthy, and get on with our lives, yet we feel like our bodies to only want to be fat, sick, slow, or weak.
Similar to food, we see our bodies as a burden, something we have to deal with, something that gets in the way.
It doesn’t have to, and is not supposed to, be this way.
Our bodies are not burdens or mysterious liabilities; they’re just complex systems operating in an environment of food, movement, and lifestyle stressors for which they aren’t well suited, and we’re not entirely powerless when it comes to curating an environment for our bodies to thrive.
Sure, there are factors outside of our control that influence our fitness, health, and wellbeing, but there are also plenty of factors within our control that we can leverage to stack the cards in our favor.
How we eat, how we move, how we manage stress, how we sleep, and how we interact with our communities and environment can all be powerful tools in improving how we look, how we feel, and how we perform.
Things like cravings, low energy, fat loss and gain, strength development, hunger, consistency, and motivation can all be things that we control – if we understand what our bodies are and how they work.
Demystifying the human body
Now, you might want to jump right into covering specific actions that you can take to dial in these factors.
The thing is, if we go down that road without arming you with the knowledge of why we’re considering such strategies, then we’d be doing nothing different from any other “diet” or “exercise” routine we’ve adopted in the past – following blindly without regard for the “why” behind the “what”.
I’m not about that noise, and you’re not either.
Our ultimate goal isn’t continue to be bound to blindly following seemingly arbitrary rules, but rather to be empowered with an understanding how our bodies work so that we can make educated guesses as to how to promote the changes in them that we desire.
Don’t be overwhelmed or think that this is too much for you to handle.
You don’t need to know all the intricate details and advanced mechanisms involved in nutrition and training, unless, of course, you want to.
It’s true that the human body is complex and often acts in ways that we don’t fully understand, but there are general mechanisms in how our bodies operate that we can use to allow them to develop into the beautiful creations they were meant to be.
If you are still trapped in the mindset that keeps you thinking that your body is a burden, that eating is a necessary evil, and that movement is solely a means to control your gravitational relationship with the earth, then learning more about how your body works will likely be a powerful first step in getting lean, strong, and ridiculously healthy.
Cells to systems
When we look in the mirror, we might see just “our body” on a superficial level – a head, two arms, two legs, a torso, eyes, ears, a nose, etc. – we see “us”.
This body, though – and everything that it does – is an elegant harmonization of trillions of cells.
“What are cells?” you might ask.
I’ll be honest; I’ve struggled all week to come up with a better way to describe these guys than “the most basic unit of life” (as I find that definition lacking).
I considered referring to cells as building blocks, or like the leaves of a tree, or like people running a city, but while all of these descriptions are accurate in some aspects, none really sit well with me.
Rather than serve up some half-baked, sub-par analogy, I figured it might just be best to get a little bit technical.
The US National Library of Medicine defines cells as:
“Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. The human body is composed of trillions of cells. They provide structure for the body, take in nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and carry out specialized functions. Cells also contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves.
Cells have many parts, each with a different function. Some of these parts, called organelles, are specialized structures that perform certain tasks within the cell.”
Try as I might to come up with a witty analogy to explain what cells are, I like this definition and recognize that sometimes there’s benefit to getting a little bit more technical.
Starting at a single cell and zooming out, you’ll see that cells of different types come together to form tissues, which you might think of as the material out of which the rest of our bodies are built.
There are four general types of tissues, based on their structure and function – muscle, epithelial, connective, and nervous (we don’t need to cover these in depth at the moment).
As we zoom out further, we’ll see that these tissues come together to form organs – like the skin, heart, stomach, and liver – all of which serve a specific purpose in the body.
For example, the heart circulates blood through the veins; the stomach secretes acid and other enzymes to digest food; and the liver processes toxins and stores energy in the form of glycogen, in addition to other tasks.
None of these organs work in isolation, but rather as part of what we can call “organ systems”.
One such organ system is the digestive system, including the salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and others, all working together, each performing a specific task, to break down and assimilate useful nutrients from food, protect the rest of the body from pathogens and harmful substances, and discard anything not of use as waste.
We smell, taste, and feel our food in our mouths and begin to produce saliva in our mouths in preparation to begin breaking down the food we’re about to eat.
As we chew, our jaw muscles and tongue break down food while our taste buds signal to us what we might be eating.
As we swallow, the esophagus contracts in waves to control the movement of food down to the stomach, where digestive enzymes are released to break down our food further before entering the intestines for absorption.
Not only do organs work together within their respective systems, but also these systems work together in elaborate coordinated efforts to perform seemingly simple tasks.
Walking is a terrific example of how our different systems function in concert.
The nervous system processes our position, while sending signals to the muscular system to continuously repositions our skeletal system, which keeps as upright as we repeatedly catch ourselves as we fall forward.
All the while, our circulatory and respiratory systems ensure that our muscles are oxygenated and provided the nutrients required for contraction and relaxation.
Signals and responses
There are as many examples of such coordinated efforts as there are actions we take and processes our bodies perform.
These systems don’t just interaction with each other based on hormonal and nervous signals, but also to environmental stimuli and stressors.
When we train, we activate signals that tell our bodies to strengthen bones, muscles, and other tissues, and develop neural pathways to repeat the task we’ve trained.
When we eat, our digestive system senses what we’ve ingested and determines what to do with that food.
When we are caught off guard or feel threatened, our nervous systems sends out a variety of signals that prepare us to either fight or flee from the perceived threat.
When the sun sets and its light fades away, our bodies release hormones to prepare us to rest, repair, and recover from the cumulative stressors to which they were exposed over the course of the day.
While there are myriad details that might vary from one person to another, many of these physical responses are predictable, and are within our control through how we eat, move, and live.
We’re far from powerless
By honoring the way that our bodies work, we can start sending them the signals that promote fat loss, strength development, and optimal health.
Food, sleep, stress management, relationships – all of these are tools in our toolbox for creating change.
This process won’t always be clear, and behavior change is not often easy, but we’re far from powerless when it comes to creating the healthy, strong bodies that we’re meant to have.
Your body does not have to be some mysterious burden – you can recognize it, get to know it, learn to love it, and consistently take action provide it the right signals for fitness, health, and wellbeing.