As personal trainers we are in an industry where we are trying to influence people towards healthy choices and habits. However the standards and perceptions of the people in our communities, in our client’s circles of influence, often disrupt what we are trying to achieve with them, because what we are recommending is not “normal”. Some people are openly judged or criticized for trying to make healthy choices, but the person who is doing the judging doesn’t know what healthy is. Banana bread is a classic example. We see it as cake, and advise our clients to avoid it; “normal” people see it as a healthy breakfast because it has banana in it.
Just because something is “common”, doesn’t mean it’s right, good for you, or “normal”. Common isn’t normal. In fact, some common things we do are downright abnormal when taken in context with what we are evolved to do! Let’s take reading*, as an example. It doesn’t take a textbook to understand that our eyes aren’t made for staring at a fixed distance for hours a day… they’re meant to look at things close and far, to scan our surroundings, to be exposed to a variety of colours, lights, and textures. Therefore, when we do something like read, or stare at a screen, there will be consequences as the body tries to adapt to this strange activity (which stays strange even as it becomes more common). Some consequences that spring to mind are headaches and nearsightedness!
Or wearing shoes… We have 1/4 of all bones and joints of our body, in our feet, which in turn store the most fabulous elastic energy, which we case up in stiff shoes and literally never utilize! We have as many sensory organs in our feet as we do our hands, yet we cover them up and dumb down those senses. Beyond keeping our feet warm, there’s not much evidence that wearing shoes protects our feet, in fact the reverse is true when you include injuries caused or exacerbated by shoes (like bunions). Shutting someone in a cell doesn’t protect them from life, it cuts them off from living. That’s what we do to our feet. Yet it is SO COMMON, so USUAL, so everywhere that we think nothing of it!
Incontinence is another common issue with post natal women, and because it’s common, we treat it like “normal” and fail to encourage those women to seek help. In fact, there are companies openly exploiting women’s ignorance and selling incontinence pads (which is necessary in SOME cases, but not before seeing a physio!). Experiencing incontinence in the post natal period is common, but not normal. There are things we can do to alleviate, and in many cases cure it all together!
Plastic is another “new normal” that irritates me to no end. How “normal” is it to dig up vast tracts of forest (or drill down under the ocean and pollute everything around it when you make a mistake), and extract oil to turn in to containers which go on to leach hormone disrupting chemicals in to our drinking water? Read the study in that link! It should be noted that BPA plastics are included in this, they just leech different, just as disruptive, chemicals. This is our “normal”; as is acne, infertility, certain cancers, PCOS, and other hormone-related disorders. It’s quite possible that we would see a change in the incidence of these disorders, or treat them better, if we could “clear the plate”, so to speak, to figure out what exactly we are dealing with – what is internal (ie. normal) and what is external (ie. common… not normal).
How about something as eating dessert after every meal? Do you think that people in the Paleolithic era had access to apples after every steak? Common, yes. Normal, erm no. Don’t get me started on the “paleo” diet, I am pretty sure Paleolithic people didn’t have blenders with which to make almond meal… But if it stops you eating banana bread everyday i’m all for it!
The point is, you can’t be pressured by your peers when you’re trying to make positive changes in your life. What is “normal” around you isn’t necessarily right for you. The Paleo diet mentioned above works great for some people, others not so well. Living in Mongolia and eating nothing but goats and goat products works well for the Mongolians, but would it work as well for an Indigenous Australian or Western European?
So what do you want your normal to look like? If your version of “healthy” isn’t what other people perceive as normal – who cares? When we live in a society so far removed from what is normal, healthy, and okay for our bodies and brains, it takes an outlier like YOU (and me!) to start influencing change.
Follow @makeonechangeamonth on Facebook or @make_one_change on Instagram to participate in a group change program where we work together to increase the health of ourselves, our children, and the planet, one change at a time.
* The information regarding reading and shoes comes from “The Story of the Human Body” by Evolutionary Biologist, Daniel Leiberman