Waste Not, Want Not — Not!

January has a recurring Zeitgeist, expressed every year in advertising and store promotions. You need a new storage strategy for your newly acquired stuff — containers that are color-coded, nesting, collapsible, stackable, hangable, durable, and shaped like the few remaining empty spaces in your home. “Under bed, over door, back of closet, back of drawer!” It’s repeated like a nursery rhyme for those converting a walk-in storage room out of their grown children’s nursery.

Comedian Steven Wright put it most directly: “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” (Americans seem determined to find out.) Or my grandmother, describing her trinket-filled home, “A place for everything and a thing for every place.”

Careful listeners will hear a second theme introduced every January. Set contrapuntally against the first, the opposing theme adds tension but also texture. Resolving the dissonance between the two themes can give a melody — or a month — special meaning.

Following December’s exaltation of excess comes January’s resolution to reduce. Athletic clubs, exercise equipment, and all things dietary — books, programs, support groups, websites, supplements.

Taken together, the post-holiday message is clear and consistent, if not exactly cheery. “We’ll make room for more of your stuff, but we’d really prefer to see less of you.”

January is no time to become a zealot for something as controversial as girth control. We’re stuck in the midst of our three chocolatest holidays. Halloween candies, edible valentines and confectionary bunnies conspire each year to widen our load.

Gluttony has always been humanity’s cold-weather hobby.

Human bodies need calories to create warmth. If calories are unavailable, converting fat is the next best option. So bulking up when temperatures go down made good sense when our brains and bodies first teamed up to preserve us.

Starvation has been so common for our species that our brains have overlearned the lesson. Our brains tell us to consume more than we need, just in case. But chasing down big game to stave starvation isn’t the same as picking up a Big Gulp to slake thirst. The drink has more calories.

Think of it this way, because your brain does. Every being inhabits four dimensions: height, width, depth and duration. Growth is survival. Given the four options, we’d prefer to live longer, extending duration. Our second choice would be to become taller.

As Register-Guard Dash columnist (and fellow Comic News alum) Leigh Anne Jasheway once said, “I’m not overweight. I’m underheight.”

Our brain wants confirmation that it’s doing a good job. The quicker the confirmation comes, the better the brain likes it. Growth is survival. Adding height stops after puberty and longevity can’t be directly confirmed, so what’s left? Width and depth.

University of Oregon strength and conditioning trainer extraordinaire Jim Radcliffe teaches athletes to visualize, using the brain’s power to imagine. Harness that, and you can fuel a body’s metabolic change. If you’ve ever watched a marathon and cheered a runner, you were doing the same thing. The runner’s brain weighs its bodily options — burn more fuel or shut down the whole operation. Your cheering “fed” the runner’s brain, which then fueled the runner’s body.

The ads for health clubs do the same, hoping you’ll project a “future you” to shape your decisions today.

Growth and survival are no longer synonymous in an affluent society. The culture of overconsumption shortens life spans, even though the brain’s motivation is just the opposite. To reduce your weight, your brain will have to learn a new trick. That’s difficult and frustrating.

Years ago, we saved pink cotton balls for that first granddaughter’s Easter surprise. We know they’re in one of those boxes in the spare bedroom, but we can’t find them. We rummage around, but quickly give up. It’s easier to just go to the store and buy more. We only need half of the package we buy, so we put the rest in a box that gets stacked in the room. If only our storage boxes were color-coded….

Storing fat has been biologically rewarded for millions of years. It’s only been in the last few decades that we ran out of places to put it.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs