Authority and Autonomy

What or whom would you say has a substantial amount of authority over you? Sure the government and police have authority over us all (We are 10 days away from Tax Day…) but aside from that, we really don’t have much else to hold us accountable.

Although Liberty is an ideal I hold very dearly to, I question whether or not it is a good thing to have such freedom from scrutiny. We as humans crave security and guidance and until recently, we have maintained at least some semblance of respect for our elders and cultural hierarchy to make us feel like we are never “out there” all by ourselves. The baby boomers learned to “question authority” and “never trust anybody over 30” during the 60’s and 70’s. In my lifetime, I have seen elementary teachers go from Mrs. Stevens and Mr. Brown to Sally and Bill. Children are constantly told by adults to call them by their first names and give them a high-five rather than a handshake lest they make them feel old. Since when did being old become something ugly?

How does this relate to the life of a mover you ask?…

Sports can provide a person, young or old, a sense of healthy respect for authority. Even the professionals who can buy and sell their coaches and referees ten times over maintain respect (for the most part) and operate under a hierarchical system to perform at an optimal level. So too does a perpetual dieter know the authority that scale has over them if they fail to make their temporary healthy diet a lifestyle change. We all lose that performance potential as the everyday athletes that we are as we eliminate the authority figure in our lives.

Authority need not come from a person. You don’t have to pay someone to scream at you when you come up short. If you are religious, you are accountable to your deity and your religious community. If you are involved in a book club, you are committed to the others for the sake of rich participation at your next meeting. I won’t even mention the work dynamic in this post because work is just that….work. The sad truth is that the majority of us are not doing something we love or would otherwise do for free.

This is where the opposite side of the authority coin comes in; Autonomy. Autonomy is central to your very human experience. It is the subjective enjoyment you get out of doing whatever it is you want to do. This is seemingly paradoxical to authority, but it is not. Authority and autonomy actually co-exist in the healthy psyche of a healthy human being. We need a sense of authority for the aforementioned reasons. We also need autonomy as a way to keep us motivated to practice our trade, stick to that diet, er…ahem…lifestyle change and to keep us curious. Autonomy fosters engagement and does not undermine authority, rather it internalizes it and insulates it from our ethereal social environment.

The Great Ca Calorie Count 2011

A menu at a McDonald’s drive-through window in New York, calorie counts included.

Ed Ou/Associated Press

It has been in effect for almost half a year and many Californians still don’t know what to make of the calorie labeling law.  It seems that more people were up in arms when municipal officials in New York City and San Francisco passed more surgical laws aimed at sugar sweetened beverages and kids meals respectively.  There was a lot of debate going around about personal liberties and other TEA Party ideals, and all that was at stake was the prospect of switching to diet soda and swapping apple sticks for your french fries.

It seems this grand-scale food labeling law was passed and implemented with nothing more than a collective, “hummmmm” as we let these ubiquitous nutritional qualifiers rain all over our lunch-time parades.  I find myself balking at the 4-digit figures on the rare occasions the forces of nature drive me to such an establishment.

Lawmakers and Public Health officials hope that they can lead us to make better choices about our food through, quite literally, “in-your-face” caloric content labeling.  I hope they can, however, even before the latest behavioral studies started trickling in, I had my doubts about the success of this tactic.  Ok, I can’t lead you to believe my doubts were purely intuition and professional prowess.  The sad fact is that New York City has already had a similar law in effect for nearly two years.  So why would CA attempt to pass it across the State after sad reviews from New York City?  Four silly little words that has the power to concentrate more hubris then you’ll find in a back alley pissing contest behind some Texas roadhouse:

More Research is necessary…

Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice to do the research, then pass the laws?  I can tell you right now that even after we spend millions of tax dollars on self-evident research, I will still not incorporate this public calorie count tactic in to the Movement for Wellness.  Food is a very personal thing and needs to be addressed in a highly specific manner.  I applaud those government officials responsible for this law for being progressively minded in that they are looking for ways to improve our overall health using the means available to them.  My regret is that this broad-brush health promotion directs the conversation to a place where we find ourselves stumbling over decisions that in the (rear) end, are of little consequence.

Knowledge ≠ Behavior

I can remember in school, just as we were awakening from the overly romanticized dream of getting an education and being promised the world at our fingertips, our professors would periodically try to pump us up with a little study-related pep-talk.  Being an Exercise Science major, I often heard such studies cited that correlated level of education with longevity and quality of life.  I remember thinking, “If knowledge equates to better health, why are we not doing a better job at spreading the word as a society?”.

The truth is that leading a person to approach their everyday health decisions armed only with a slew of numerical goals and limits reduces the human being to a Newtonian closed-system machine subject only to the ancient physics of yesteryear.  Our relationship with food is one of both emotion, quantum mechanics and finally caloric consumption.

Few scientists have explained this truth better than Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.  In his very long and comprehensive lecture titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, he explains how we obsess over our intake and expenditure of energy when it comes to our diets.  As a specialist of the hormones, Dr. Lustig asserts that when it comes to our food having an impact on our body shape, it’s not the amount of calories that we should worry about; however we should worry about how our body responds on a hormonal level to the type of food we ingest.  The new fixation on calories takes us even further than we already are from the true focus according to so many ant-obesity researchers such as Dr. Lustig.

New loop-holes

It goes without saying that with new legislation comes new possibility to cheat the system.  When the public is lulled in to a false sense of security and they abdicate all of their food consumer responsibility to the suits in the FDA, USDA, NHS, et al., it creates open season on the public for the wiley marketing teams and media manipulators in the food industry.  This has been at work for quite a long time.  How else did we get to a point where we down Anti-oxidant soda, and stuff ourselves with sugary “low-fat” treats in the name of making healthier choices.

Childs Play

Keep in mind that adults are not the only ones exposed to these new social eating norms.  Children learn what is valued in their society by their keen sense of observation.  As they see adults torture themselves over indulging in a calorie-dense meal, they’ll learn to largely base their food choices on caloric values.  Children should be taught to maintain their innate sense of intuitive eating.  Sure we need to limit their affinity to the sugary and salty but they certainly do not need to inherit our obsession with calorie content over quality of food and eating that truly matter; food, farm and family.

Jamie Oliver is on the right track when he partnered up with a Los Angeles fast food restaurant in his latest season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  One of the first questions he asks the owner of the restaurant is, “do you know where your food comes from?”.  It’s sad to hear that the well-meaning guy only stumbles as a response and mentions a guy…in a warehouse…downtown somewhere.  These are the questions we should demand get answered by those who feed us; not the caloric value rather the integrity of the product itself.  Get back to basics and as my good friend Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness says, JERF!…….Just Eat Real Food!