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Diet and Exercise Evolution: Adaptation (part I) -- Theory
Adaptation is the most important concept I teach. The human body adapts to the pressures it is put under with the goal of prolonging life. Your body wants to survive as long as possible, and it will adjust its internal workings quickly if it is presented with changes. So, everything that happens to you - especially things that happen regularly, like eating habits, sleep cycles and general activity - will have two effects on your body. 1) An immediate effect in the short term, then 2) for the long term, your body will adapt to it to better perform the next time. It is this adaptation that most people forget about.
Your thoughts have little effect on what happens in your body at the level of your organs, and even less at the level of your cells. You are always in mental control of your muscles except for built-in reactions, and you can consciously take control of your breathing. However, none of your other systems can be consciously controlled. That's why you can't will yourself thin. So, never mistake by doing something that you "intend" to lose weight, but instead think of how your body will adapt to your performing the action.
If the boss of this company needs more production or more profits, he can't just tell the workers to work harder. That never works! He could raise their pay, or give them more breaks, or just put some music over the intercom. There are many ways to communicate to your workers, but you have to send the message that has the right effect. What about giving the workers fewer breaks so that they'll have a better output? They're not wasting time, after all! But we all know that workers need breaks or else they slow down, get tired, get angry, and maybe quit from the stress. The same applies to lowering wages. The bad boss thinks that he can make more money if he pays his workers less. As the boss of the cells in your body, you shouldn't just eat less, because that's like lowering the salary of your working cells. You have to get your cells to adapt in the direction you want, and the tactics to do that may not be obvious. You have to do the cellular equivalent of improving morale and increasing worker satisfaction.
The key to understanding adaptation is to think of yourself living in the African savanna, and what your activities would mean if they were applied only to your survival. When you run, your cells think, "We must be running to catch food, or to escape death!" That's all that cells know: survival.
To the bodybuilder, the question becomes, "Will lifting a heavy weight make me stronger?" The answer is No! The immediate effect is that it will make you weaker. If you lift 100 lbs 10 times, does that mean that you can then lift 120 lbs right away? No, you're weaker and tired from your previous work. But your body will think that it needs to lift 100 lbs 10 times in order to survive, so it will adapt to make that a little easier for you next time. Taking a week off and allowing time for your muscle to grow a little bit will mean that you are stronger. So, the next week you lift 120 lbs, and your body needs to adapt AGAIN, thinking that you now need to lift 120 lbs to survive. This makes you stronger week by week. "Will lifting a light weight 50 times make me stronger?" No! Your muscle will be exhausted, but you're asking for it to be able to last longer, not grow stronger. How will your body last longer? By adapting your energy stores (fat) to release more slowly and gradually. This is great for your endurance, but BAD NEWS if you want to look "ripped" with little body fat.
But adaptation does not only apply in this case. Your body adapts to everything. Everything you do and eat. So, you have to ask yourself, "Am I sending my cells the right message in the things I do and the food I eat?"
Look for the sequel to this article, Adaptation II, for tons of examples and practical advice based on the principle of Adaptation.
David McCormick is the founder of Weightless Products. His Mr. Weightless site is dedicated to free weight loss articles and advice, primarily targeted to men. There are no banners, no pop-ups, and you will never be asked for your email address.
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