There is a common saying in the world of health and fitness… ‘every program fails due to compliance’. This is obvious of course -if you don’t do the program you won’t succeed at the program. But the important question is, why don’t people comply.
I have been working with people in the health and fitness industry for twenty years and have had great success with some people and complete failure with others. At first, with those not succeeding, I thought I just needed to write better programs, then I thought I just needed to be tougher and hold people to the programs, that worked for some but it wasn’t until I took a deep look into human behavior that I finally understood why some programs worked and others didn’t.
You see what I discovered was, all humans have behavior traits that we all share. No matter where you are from on the planet if you are a human you have these same traits. They are called Biogenic traits. These traits or behaviors have been passed down for hundreds of thousands of years from our Paleolithic ancestors. They are the behaviors that kept our species alive. It is in a sense a coding in our DNA that tells us what we should do, that is good for the survival of our species and what could potentially be a detriment to our species.
They are things like the desire for high caloric foods, they want to conserve energy, the fundamental fear of isolation from groups, and even the fact that we enjoy the smell of cooked food, which are all biogenic traits. These are just a few examples, there are many, many more. These traits helped us survive in the Paleolithic environment we were designed for. These survival traits we all have are enforced within us by hormones that give us our feelings. So when we perform one of these traits that are good for our species, like eating high caloric foods, we get a cascade of positive hormones and we feel good. If we perform a behavior that is potentially risky for our species like isolating ourselves we get a rush of negative feelings.
Now here is the important part. These biogenic traits, with their built-in positive and negative feedback loops, were very successful in the pre-civilization environment we came from. But, we have manipulated and adapted our environment, and the coding within us was not updated. Let me give you an example, pre-civilization, when there were many human predators, there was more risk for us to go gather food. This meant we needed the motivation to brave the environment, so what happens when we are hungry… we get a negative feeling or ‘hunger pains.’ All this is is our bodies motivating us to go find food. Imagine if we didn’t have these negative feelings back then, we would have probably withered away hiding out in our caves. The same is true for when we get food, when we eat we get rewarded with very positive hormones and we feel happy.
But we don’t live in the same environment anymore. It is not typically risky or difficult for us to go gather food. In-fact for most of us getting food is quite easy and cheap. But the same positive and negative feedback loop is running within us that has been running for thousands of years. So now instead of eating for the necessity for cellular health, also called homeostatic eating, we are eating for the pleasure response, called hedonic eating. We are using food to feel good when we are feeling bad. Eating is only one example, we can relate this to many behaviors. As another quick example, let’s look at exercising. The coding in our DNA is still programmed for food scarcity so our bodies using up calories when we exercise is potentially risky as the body doesn’t know when it’s going to get its next meal. This coding hasn’t adapted for our world of food abundance. That is why exerting effort with exercise usually doesn’t feel great to a lot of us. Back in the day, it would have been a potential risk to us if we couldn’t replenish those calories, and exertion would have been reserved for our fight or flight response.
So when programs fail, they can usually be traced back to one of these biogenic traits that date back thousands of years and that developed for the survival of our species.
What most people don’t understand when they begin a program is that they are trying to force a fitness program on top of this coding. To have success, longevity, and compliance with health programs you have to look at how this coding and your emotions are playing into your success or failure. The programs need to account for all the systems in your body that make you a human. There is often so much guilt around failing with a program and there shouldn’t be. It’s not you, it’s this coding, it’s the way we consume health and fitness that is failing. There just needs to be some understanding and habit change. It’s actually quite simple.