Our body as a horse

So we break the body down as if it were disposable. We have the same attitude to it as a teenager renting a sports car for the weekend; gratification is paramount and long term care can be ignored. We’ve destroyed the inherent intelligence and grace of the body, degrading vehicle and driver too.

In fact many of us treat our physical possessions much better than our bodies in a manner that can only be called bizarre. Enjoyment is obviously possible from car ownership – the act of driving that is, not ownership itself – just as from the body but would you fill the fuel tank with sugary sodas or leave it without maintenance for years? It’s more rational surely to take care of the body the same way a careful horse rider takes care of his animal. Indeed we can think of it as a horse we need to feed well, exercise and groom and that in return will carry us throughout life. It’s a paradox that unwinds a contradiction that in de-personalizing our bodies we care for them better.

Modern living supplies a torrent of excess energy that buoys up the equilibrium bodyweight point to be later defended by automatic reflexes of apparent hunger. This “set point” is naturally low in childhood but usually drifts up with age so universally and inexorably that it’s mistaken for being “natural”. This process of desensitizing may be regarded as physical abuse, no less terrible for being so commonplace. If pushed up while young as in childhood obesity the set-point is particularly hard to move back down and a lifetime of ill-health awaits.

Childhood obesity is indeed a growing worldwide plague but the usual pattern still is to enter adulthood at our lowest weight and then gain relentlessly throughout life till old age prevents it. A passive approach to eating, drifting on the ocean of consumption, almost guarantees this lifelong course.

Every day of its life the body either gains mass or loses it. If it habitually gains even at a very small rate then over time these small changes will quietly accumulate. If we can only be comfortable above the energy equilibrium point even if just slightly then our weight will spiral slowly up year by year. This is a common pattern for people who are not gross eaters but are passive around food nevertheless.

Insight as art and science