We have a growing health crisis in America. Millions of us are chronically ill because of all the sugar and processed foods we eat. The food industry makes billions of dollars a year in profits by producing, marketing and selling foods that make us sick. They have a vested interest in continuing business as usual. The healthcare industry treats the sick, not the healthy; and it now represents almost 20% of the American economy. It would be foolhardy to wait for Healthcare leaders to develop wellness programs.
It is up to us to change the way we eat. Food is the basis of community and culture. It is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our daily lives. We eat or we die, it’s that simple. Our relationship to each other and to our planet therefore begins with food. When such a foundational aspect of our existence is damaging the health and lives of millions, and when those responsible for it cannot or will not solve the crisis, we as individuals are compelled to do what we can to make it right.
It is apparent that very few of us as individuals can avoid the unhealthy choices with which we are bombarded every day. To find the power to make better choices, I would suggest, we should seek to live as members of thriving and healthy groups. We could then leverage the power of community and science to collapse the present, corrupt structure.
Dr. Robert Lustig has written a book explaining the science that allows our food industry to keep us eating poorly, as well as the science that could help to beat the food producers at their own game. Here’s how he does it: He explains the difference between happiness and pleasure in terms of neuroscience. Happiness is the feeling of contentment that comes from things like connecting with others. It is chemically driven by the release of serotonin. Pleasure, by contrast, is the short-lived feeling derived from getting what we want. It is chemically driven by the release of dopamine. When that system gets out of whack, it causes addiction. We want the addictive substance more and more and derive less and less pleasure from it when we get it.
Dr. Lustig shows us that the food industry sells us foods laced with sugar, which triggers the dopamine system and leads to addiction for millions of us. The result? They become rich while we become chronically ill. But he also points us to a way out. We can do the things that drive our serotonin instead of our dopamine. He gives us his “four C’s”: Connecting with others, cooking for others, contributing to the lives of others and coping with life by exercising, practicing mindfulness and taking adequate rest.
Unfortunately, Dr. Lustig doesn’t suggest a model that could help people to do this on a large scale. Here is where CrossFit can close the gap. The CrossFit model is fundamentally tribal, which is to say, it is an approach driven by the power of a community to positively impact the lives of its members. At CrossFit, we show up more often, we work out harder and we feel so much better because we are building connections with people as we become fit. CrossFit gets results by building community instead of addiction. It is an elegant solution because it does not require directly taking on the countless corporate products that keep us sedentary. It just gives us what we want and need at a deeper level – it increases our serotonin instead of spiking our dopamine – which over time dampens the temptations of unhealthy pursuits.
A community based model for creating healthy food habits could do for food what CrossFit has done for exercise. It could give people the power to overcome addiction by participating in a vibrant community. Our challenge is to offer healthy eating habits in a way that is powerful enough to overcome the unhealthy choices marketed to us by the food industry. The model pioneered by CrossFit just may be that powerful. The result could be a fundamental shift towards healthier food and healthier communities. Given the stakes and given the opportunity, I cannot think of a better use of our time or a more fundamentally healthy model for promoting positive change.
*This is the third in a series of four articles.