A recent article in the New Yorker combined with trying to get used to my post-partum body, has gotten me thinking. The article opens with research showing that Americans started gaining weight in the early 80s, after remaining relatively stable through the 60s and 70s, and that we've kept on gaining, and then launches into reviews of several books that purport to explain the increase. One of the main arguments is that we are evolutionarily primed to seek out calories from sugar and fat, since putting on concentrated calories when they were available helped us survive lean times. Now that calories (especially from fat and sugar) are so cheap, we pack on the pounds.
But the article also points out that the economic part of this argument may be a bit flawed. After all, if calories are cheap, fewer calories are even cheaper. That got me wondering what else has changed in the 80s and 90s. What I came up with is the rise in personal computing. Cheap computers have dramatically changed the way that we make a living and the way we spend our recreation time. Even jobs that used to involve a fair amount of physical activity, like nursing, have been changed by technology. With the introduction of electronic medical records, any nurse will tell you that they tend to gain weight if they aren't careful (My mom's a nurse, so I have that on authority). The structure of our down time has changed, too. Here I sit blogging in my "free time." We spend time on facebook, twitter and message boards, perhaps instead of (not in addition to) more active pursuits. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think computers are bad. I (mostly) like them, and rely on them for my livelihood. But many of us sit around all day working on a computer, and then come home to sit around playing on the computer.
I've been blessedly spared much angst over my body, but not because I've always been in great shape. Even when I wasn't in good shape, I was frequently using my body for transportation, by walking and biking. My body served me well, got me efficiently from point A to point B, and other than that I didn't worry much about it. I think using my body to do something useful helped me skip some of the worry about appearance.
But here I am, done with pregnancy, and my body is different. It is a little bigger and a different shape, and even though I'm nursing, I'm not finding that those extra pounds are coming off. After stepping on the scale the other night, I had to admit that I might have to work at getting back into shape, which caused me to exclaim in an exasperated tone "But I don't diet! I should get to eat as much sour cream as I want!"
The birth left me with a lot of recovery to do and my body still isn't ready for biking. So, in contrast to my pre-pregnancy life, I now find that I am fairly sedentary, with a few extra pounds I'd rather not have, and not exercising enough to justify my love of sour cream. I'd certainly buy the evolutionary argument that we love our fat and sugar (I sure do), but for me at least, the bigger problem may be that I'm not using up those calories in satisfying or useful pursuits. Even if I still had these pounds, if I were biking, I don't think I would be bothered as much. If my body felt strong and functional, I think I could recapture that blithe disregard for my body image.
Back when we were hunters, gatherers, or farmers, we didn't have time to obsess over our bodies. We just used them. I'm guessing neither anorexia nor excessive weight were big problems. Other than having recently grown a pretty fabulous baby, my body isn't doing anything for me right now. I'm not using it for work; I'm not using it for recreation; and I'm not using it much for transportation (though I do still walk some), and those cheap calories are not helping. I think the way for me to feel more satisfied with my post-pregnancy body isn't to diet or to "exercise," but to start using my body in ways that feel productive.