Stages of Consciousness, Obesity and The First Law of Thermodynamics

food pyramidIn this paper I will argue that, as we unquestionably believe stories that are told by others we disempower ourselves. We also divest ourselves from power when we unquestionably believe our own stories. We make them dogmatic truths rather than questionable assumptions. I will argue that questioning, both others’ and own stories, coming to informed, independent and grounded conclusions, will make you powerful.

And I have the theory that that will create a richer context for your life, making you more fulfilled, happier.

Of course this is also a story. So please, question every word I say, don’t take me for granted. Challenge my ideas. Every statement I make is based on my own conclusions based on my own research. And I could be completely, dead wrong… So here we go.

“A calorie is a calorie, if you eat it and you don’t burn it, you will store it”.

For an engineer by formation such as myself this remits me to the First Law of Thermodynamics, that states that “the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed”. The implications of such statement are enormous. For example, for someone that is struggling with his or her weight and wants to reduce it, it boils down to something like “eat less, exercise more”. And when you fail at your attempt, such as over 90% of those who start diets, the reasons you hear from your doctor or nutritionist is that you did not cut back on your calories enough or that you did not exercise enough.

In other words, we are blamed of being sloths and gluttons.

The story is very convenient, it makes logical sense; it just has a minor problem. It is wrong.

As you start to exercise more, you may have noticed that you work up an appetite. This is the body responding to an energetic imbalance, replacing the extra calories spent. That is why being on a calorie deprived diet is not sustainable, as countless diet followers can attest; the body goes into “survival mode”, fighting back starvation. You become hungrier as you exercise more. Fighting starvation is a losing proposition, a battle impossible to win.

Gaining weight (or losing it) is not a physical process, as the “calories in-calories out” story seems to suggest, but a hormonal one. When we eat our pancreas secretes insulin, when we eat carbohydrates our pancreas secretes lots of insulin. Insulin’s function is to remove the glucose from the blood stream and store it, as fat, inside the cells, making sure it stays there. During eons humans lived through periods of plenty followed by periods of famine. Storing fat was the body’s way of preparing to survive. The problem is that while our genetic constitution has not changed much, our diet and the food supply have. Today there is an over supply of food and processed foods (which are basically different forms of carbohydrates), every day of the year. An additional effect of insulin is that it suppresses another hormone, leptin, called the “satiety hormone”. Leptin is the hormone that sends the signal to the brain saying “we had plenty to eat, we can stop now”. The consequence is we eat hundreds of extra calories per day just by suppressing leptin via high insulin levels.

What causes the insulin to spike in our bloodstream? The answer is dietary carbohydrates, not fat.

I am not a doctor, but got interested in the subject. I have practiced sports for many years, and started to notice a creeping body weight despite my daily calorie expenditure and apparent healthy diet based on low fat, high carbs. I was getting fitter and heavier by the day. In my research I discovered the science of nutrition has been known for many years and is quite compelling and solid. However, in 1992 the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) issued what is known as “the food pyramid”, that provided advice to the population on what to eat and what not to eat. Saturated Fat became the big villain to blame for us becoming fatter and sicker.

The solution was to cut back on the saturated fat and increase the intake of carbohydrates.

The story went something like this: to lose the fat we have stored in our bodies, we have to “logically” cut back on the dietary fat we ingest. The recommendation was to reduce the intake of saturated fats from 40% to 30% and increase the servings of whole grains. They promised that would solve the growing obesity problem in America. Guess what, people did just as they were told, cutting fat in their diets to 30%. And while that happened the percentage of obesity in the United States grew at rates never seen before in the history of that nation. Today 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight and 1 out of 3 is obese.

The MD community, the government, the scientists and the laboratories were advising us on how to eat to bring our waists down and become healthier, while the effects were going exactly in the opposite direction.

Another very well articulated story we were told. Very consistent, with only a small hiccup… It didn’t work!

I’ve been on a High Fat Low Carb (HFLC) diet for four years now. My nutritional pyramid is the traditional one turned on its head. I literally eat everything forbidden by the USDA and do not eat any of what is recommended there.

The effects have been fabulous. My blood pressure dropped from 130/90 to 110/70, I have more stamina and vitality; can stay focused for hours on end. My body has keto-adapted (learned to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose); I can bike, run or exercise tirelessly. My skin rashes are completely gone. My body weight is the same as when I was in my twenties. I have sons that age and people tell us our bodies look alike.

By now you may be asking yourselves “what do Stages of Development have to do with all this?” Let me try to offer an explanation.

As you move into the business arena, similar patterns of believing stories without questioning subsist. Stories that when not questioned created havoc in individuals, teams and organizations. Two professors from Harvard Business School, Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey, have studied deeply the way human beings make sense of the world, as they grow, mature and become more complex. They speak of three stages of mind complexity, the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind and the self-transforming mind.

When operating from a socialized mind, I place a lot of emphasis and importance on what values are espoused by and the opinions given by those whom I see as “the authority” in a certain field. This explains what happens with the “expert” opinions of MDs and other health and nutrition specialists.

Similarly, in my work with senior leadership teams, I often find situations where silo thinking and behaviors of competition rather than collaboration create suboptimal performance at best and dismal results at worst. When you research into its reasons, many times you find out that team members were operating from the perspective of what they thought the leader expected from them.

While operating from a self-authoring mind I have ingrained a set of values and principles, of what is good and bad, what is true and false, embedded in my own self. My strategies and behaviors are designed to further that inner agenda. I have an inner direction. The problem becomes when these stories, now my own, become dogma, not subject to inquiry. Let me clarify that this is a completely unconscious process. We don’t put away those stories knowingly, they just become part of who we are, we never ever question them (because they are ours and they must be right, right?) and then they condition the way we can operate in the world and take action.

Kegan and Lahey developed a very effective human technology called The Immunity to Change Process (ITC for short), that helps us surface the “competing commitments” that hold us back from achieving certain wanted yet elusive changes in our lives. Such as eating more healthily, start to exercise, reducing your body weight, quit smoking; you know what I mean.

By shedding light on the shadow competing commitments, they created a process to allow the light of consciousness shine on the system; then offer a series of tools and processes to practice, gently and compassionately. As you keep at it, the stories that have you start to become the stories that you have; they slowly start to lose their grip, and you can set free capabilities that were completely beyond you. And then change happens, naturally.

When you look at this process, the mechanism at work is exactly the same as the one I mentioned at the beginning of this article. You have to question the stories; shed on them the light of consciousness. You do your research, come to your own independent conclusions. These will many times challenge mainstream stories you have heard over and over again.

Simple not easy. I think we have a wonderful opportunity in front of us. So we can live happier, healthier, more conscious lives.

Bibliography

  1. Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis MD. (http://www.wheatbellyblog.com)
  2. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living , Jeff Volek PhD D.Pinney, MD, PhD (http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com)
  3. Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes (http://garytaubes.com/works/books/good-calories-bad-calories)
  4. Why we get Fat, and what to do about it, Gary Taubes, science writer
  5. The Low Carb Revolution, John McLean
  6. Immunity to Change, Bob Kegan PhD, and Lisa Lahey PhD

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About the author

Richi is Axialent’s Managing Director and Chief Culture Officer. He is a seasoned executive with more than 20 years in global organizations and extensive experience in leadership development, organizational effectiveness, and the corporate world. Read more>

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  2. Thank you, Richi, for sharing your story of inquiry and effectiveness. A great example of the consequences of following the “conventional wisdom” and the power of positive choice.

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