We love to hear good things about our bad habits. Its one of the take away messages from a book I read recently, The China Study. It is a summary of the author T. Colin Campbell’s discoveries and nutritional recommendations accumulated over his long career as a biochemist and nutritional scientist. It is a poignant observation about which inputs from the outside world we digest the quickest and trust versus the ones we discard as irrelevant and background noise. In the context of the book he is explaining the reasoning behind why fad diets like the Atkin’s diet gain meteoric public appeal and prevalence in our society.
So you are telling me that not only can I eat more of the meats, fatty foods, and cheeses that I love, but that it is actually good for me and can lead to long term health and weight loss? Sign me up!
How can a message like that not make an impression? We are bombarded by these messages constantly via sensationalized news stories or buzzfeed articles in our Facebook feed with titles like “Drinking Beer is Good for You? Yes says Guy with PhD!”. I am as guilty as any for clicking on those links and thinking, “oh cool, some reinforcement for something I already enjoy, better keep going because… science.”
We know many of the these messages are unsubstantiated and pandering to our vices but we add them to our internal ammunition of reason to keep our bad habits intact anyway. I am not asking that we give up those activities which we enjoy the most but I am asking that we not kid ourselves about why we do them.
I enjoy beer and wine as much as anyone. Having a drink among friends and family holds a great deal of cultural significance to me. That is why I enjoy drinking and not because I believe it is beneficial to my well-being or health. I have gathered my own empirical evidence that says when I drink too much I feel worse and gain weight. Not exactly the pillars of a healthy activity but for me the cultural and relaxing physical effects outweigh the negatives.
You can seek and find permission for just about any activity you want to engage in. When you start asking “this is ok… right?” it is easy enough to know the answer. We all have bad habits… so just call them that instead of cloaking them in rationalizations.
Let’s declutter our motives. Clean out the false information and outside inputs we want to hear and figure out why we really do things. If after that inflection the habit can stand on its own merits then by all means continue. But if not then let’s clean that out as well.