It’s Deeper Than Calories

Many people have often touted “It’s all about calories in and calories out,” but that doesn’t show the whole picture. If it really was that simple, all anyone would have to do is starve themselves and workout voraciously, but unfortunately — the human body is smarter than that. Hormones play a major role in our everyday lives. All calories aren’t created equal. Everything we consume has a metabolic response, and since everyone’s anatomically different, the effects vary from each individual to the other. Counting calories has been focal point for most of the fitness industry for the past umpteenth years, but somehow we’re the most obese we’ve ever been. Of course cutting back on calories will lead to initial weight loss, but there’s a law of diminishing returns involved if you will. Quality over quantity.

If you walk into any supermarket, you can easily read any nutritional label and check for it’s calorie number. Most people live and die by this. Empty calories often found in snacks and sugary drinks set off a ton of fire alarms in your gut that signal hunger. For example, eating 300 calories of Doritos versus 300 calories of Broccoli has a completely different result, internally. The broccoli will provide satiety, essential vitamins, and dietary fiber; whereas the Doritos will barely fill you up and will increase your hunger hormone Gherlin, leaving you starving again shortly after with no nutritionally value left in your system. Whole, natural foods not only provide you with proper nutrients, they also normalize your hormones.

Weight loss and fat loss are not the same. You can lose weight via dehydration (usually why the scale will often fluctuate day to day) and muscle loss. Doing a ton of cardio will elevate your cortisol hormone which in turn breaks down muscle. You’ll see the weight drop at the expense of your muscles. The more muscle you have on your body the higher your resting metobolic rate (a fancy term for metabolism) will be. If you’re constantly wasting muscle from abusing cardio and elevating your hormones then you’ll slow down your metabolism. On the other hand, fat loss takes time and proper eating. You can’t outrun a bad diet forever. Fat loss also has much to do with hormone stabilization. High levels of your stress hormone cortisol tends to deposit fat in those stubborn areas where you can’t seem to lose fat.

Fat loss is primarily dependent on your insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a storage hormone that gets released when there’s glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. In order to remove the excess sugar in the blood, insulin either uses it to store fat or use it as fuel. The foods that increase blood-sugar and insulin are high-sugar, carb foods. Refined sugar, white flour, and grains all put you at a metabolic pitfall especially if your insulin hormone isn’t sensitive. We desensitize ourselves and become insulin resistent from incessant consumption and overeating simple carbs. Sugar is everywhere and it’s profitable from it’s addictive properties and lengthy shelf life. The food industry is privy to this which is exactly why it’s advertised ad nauseam. Skinny people have great insulin sensitivity and obese people usually suffer from a metabolic syndrome such as insulin resistance or leptin resistance. You can repair yourself and lose fat by eating healthy fats, lean proteins, complex carbs, and by restricting the time you eat i.e, eating from 12-8pm then fast the remaining hours a couple times a week.

On paper, calorie restriction should seem like a surefire way to lose weight right? Just eat less calories a day and workout more, that way you’ll be in a negative energy balance thus the weight will just come off. It’s deeper than that though. Just remember, there’s always a trade off and there’s no free lunches in life. Everything has a reaction and a consequence. To illuminate this fallacy, let me give you a notable example. Contestants on the show “Biggest Loser” were tracked 6 years after participating and losing a wide range of weight. One contestant lost 239 pounds in 7 months. Weight loss that’s done that swiftly is never good because your body is yearning to get back to its body set point, so you have to diligently observe and outsmart your body which your willpower isn’t equipped for. But back to the biggest loser contestants. These people all lost over hundred pounds by severely restricting their calories and working out nonstop. 6 years later, almost all of them had regained the weight and some with interest. What had happened overtime is that their thyroid gland which is the regulator of your metabolism, slowed down. Your body does this when it senses something going awry, so it starts making it harder for you to burn fat in prevention of withering away and food then has double the metabolic response. Their hormones became wonky and food eventually just stuck because it wasn’t being burned as efficiently.

The human body is a complexed machine. Sleep is the best hormone stabilizer. We evolved over millions of years to adapt to our surroundings and to stay true to our genetic and molecular structure. Understanding your body and what your sensitive to will put you in fine health. Calories are just a piece of the puzzle to losing weight. The myriad variables that contribute to your health are all necessary because Rome was not built in a day. Balance and moderation is key. Stepping outside your comfort zone and treating your body as if it’s the only one you’ll ever have will prompt you to act accordingly and healthfully. body-is-a-machine

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

We’ve all pondered the future — a utopia filled with autonomy and convenience at our finger tips — with impunity. Many contemporary pessimists believe that implementing artificial intelligence, which, in this case, may self-replicate itself into “artificial super-intelligence” might just leave humanity vulnerable. Such qualms present themselves in irrational, yet understandable ways. For example, eminent thinkers Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believe, aside from climate change, that the future of AI is grim because robots may end up reconfiguring themselves at an ever-increasing rate; far superior to what any human mind could process in a short period of time. Much akin to the movies I Robot and 2001: A Space odyssey, these thoughts have been infused into our minds and now rattle our brains. Could AI really pose such a dire threat to humanity or are we being unrealistic about it?

As sentient beings who are constrained by emotion, it’s hard to fathom how an autonomous system may be able to supersede us, consciously. I mean, it took evolution millions of years to construct this faulty anatomy we are endowed with; and unfortunately, we are fraught with biological problems throughout life. Thus, building a super-computer machine who doesn’t have to be bounded by withering cells and a fickle brain could easily out-think and out-perform us in no time.

We already have cars that drive themselves and IBM’s Watson that can compile millions of pages of information and piece together a normal answer through hints and clues as it once did against Jeopardy’s most brilliant contestants. That said, super-AI is essentially right around the corner.

The effect of AI on the economy will be substantial. Many menial jobs may be supplanted by robots who will do the job more efficiently and effectively. This could put a giant chasm in our financial distribution; where the divide between the poor and the rich grows alarmingly more distant. But, economists and mathematicians speculate that these problems can be solved by adjusting taxes and being monetarily cautious. The good thing about technology and humanity is that we find a way to coexist without stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve feared many things during our progress as humans, but we always seem to push the envelope without tearing the paper.

Consciousness is a sticky subject because it is highly subjective and brain-based. So, if in time these robots do experience life as we do, they will be highly susceptible to rotten emotions such as envy, hatred, deceit, and jealousy. When these emotions go unnoticed in AI, we could be in for a world of trouble. But who says we have to let these robots get to the same level as us, sentimentally? We could easily put boundaries on their expansiveness and override such self-multiplying type of advancement. Even if they somehow do figure out a way to become nearly all-powerful that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become villainous or malicious. Since humans think like humans, we get a false view that distorts our reality by thinking every organism has to be exactly like us. That’s astoundingly untrue, we are what we are because we are made by building blocks that allow us to be what we are. Robots don’t have to operate on the same bandwidth as us.

Ultimately, I think AI will facilitate humanity in the work area and thus catapult our technology to even greater heights. I’m an optimist: scientists and engineers are wise enough to modify and predict any shortcomings in AI before they transpire. AI won’t destroy us because we won’t let them. There will be ample codes and algorithmic functions that could destruct such a hostile group of robots if need be. Super-AI I’m a bit more weary about because depending on the technological ramifications, this typer of hyper-robot could completely predict how we would look to control it which could open a can of worms. But for now, and in the near future, be jubilant and embrace artificial intelligence! We’ll be completely safe from any unfeeling machines that want to impose their will on the human civilization.

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The Future of Selfies

In a distant, alternate universe, Tami has just snapped and shared her 10,000th selfie. She becomes the first person to do so in a mere 5 years. Tami is lauded by the entire planet; as fans fantasize about being able to achieve such a feat, they begin to try to mimic her perfection. Tami, a 25-year-old self-employed model, feels highly empowered by giving people a chance to witness her unprecedented beauty. Tabloids swoon over catching her in the act of posing for a selfie. She’s a role model. A saint. A woman of valor with a smug attitude that everyone ought to aspire to have. She has told people that her narcissism and self-righteousness can be further extended and she therefore plans on upping her selfie capturing to uncharted heights. Her fans abound, and people can’t wait to see more of her. The future looks bright…

Suppose such a universe did exist; hey, it might be imperceptible and right in our backyard! I doubt it, but selfies have transformed the way you and I perceive each other. The images reflect a “me-first” connotation in an increasingly “me-first” society. We all witness people who post endless photos of themselves in a mild-mannered way. These people are harmless; they’re just presenting the fruits of their labor. It’s good to have confidence and a bit of egotism, which can fuel you to do bigger and better things, but when these habits become visceral compulsions—the need to post pictures of yourself—you need to lighten the load.

Selfies have become commonplace in society. We see them being snapped everywhere from funerals to doctor offices. Think of how rare it was to get a picture of someone back in the AOL instant-messaging days; you would have salivated just to see one selfie taken by the woman or man with whom you were in conversation. But now that technology continues to increase at an alarming rate, we have the resources to present ourselves in a plethora of different ways, and at the most unceremonious times.

Apps like Instagram and Snapchat encourage you to post as much as you can of whatever you want, and the most important “whatever” is yourself. So we are left with people posting the same selfies unendingly, because “it’s not nice to criticize people” and the apps essentially provoke you to share instantaneously. Just remember: anything done in moderation is fine, but, usually, familiarity breeds contempt. Too much of anything gets old really quickly. People who have that mysterious mystique about them tend to keep the audience on their toes.

Let me drop a term I learned in economics some years back that has stuck with me: the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. This basically states that the more you have of a good, the less you desire it the next time. It applies to many things in life: food, music, SELFIES, etc. That said, the more often you post selfies, the less your audience is enraptured by each successive picture, given the short lapse of time in between them. This is not only directed at women; men tend to turn the camera on themselves a lot nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I think most selfies that people take are appealing and worth viewing, but they can quickly become redundant.

When your relationship is seemingly flawless and your partner starts taking selfies, consider that a massive red flag. Selfies are toxic for dating; they can tear down a good relationship faster than a wrecking ball against a Lego set. That is because a selfie is inherently attention-seeking, and creates a chasm of uncertainty and insecurity from your partner who values you the most. You show me a relationship that has a lot of selfie-posting from either ends, and I’ll show you a relationship that has a short lifespan.

Sometimes the prettiest females are the ones who don’t know they’re pretty; the under-the-radar, coy individuals who rarely dive into their egos. Studies have claimed that frequent selfie sharers have a dark underlying factor linked to narcissism and traits of psychopathy. These studies are still in their nascent stages, but evidence is being corroborated by many different outlets. Kim Kardashian is releasing a book titled selfish, which is a compilation of selfies throughout her “hardscrabble” life. This highfalutin tale will probably have a great effect on young, impressionable minds; and, maybe for the worse. I do commend Kim’s ability to promote her brand from a business standpoint, but maybe not in such a gaudy and dishonorable way.

Now, what will happen to future generations who embark in the realm of “selfiedom”? Will there be a backlash against selfies for fear that too much pretention might make one un-relatable to more modest people? It all remains to be seen. Moreover, these apps that unveil our privacy and give constant viewership to our friends and family will not dominate our life forever. There will always be something new and innovative waiting around the corner. Hopefully the avant-garde of that “something” will unshackle us from the depths of conceit in which we’ve been buried. Vanity can be inherent, but that doesn’t mean we should look away from things of great value in life.

In my estimation, extreme selfie shooting will eventually become a diagnosed disorder—a compulsion to exhibit oneself for the approval of others—that will inevitably wane through digital detox. All phones are equipped with cameras, but once we decide to spend less time on the phone because we’re literally wasting our lives away, we’ll naturally see a decline in selfies. Until that time, embrace the countless selfies that people share without any qualms. My advice is to post selfies that are original but to post them infrequently, so your onlookers will eagerly anticipate the next one. The visual aesthetics of a female are one of the greatest sights we can glance at, but we don’t need Tami’s reality to become our own.

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When Does The Party End?

Here I am, Saturday night, listening to music (a constant that’ll forever remain unchanged) and reading articles. Five years ago, at age 21, I would have had a better chance of scoring a date with Beyonce than to be caught doing what I’m doing now. The unwavering ambition to party was unquantifiable. But things change, right? It’s natural; the party cannot last forever. I suppose, growing older does make you more responsible in terms of bodily preservation and the forethought of having to deal with a harrowing hangover makes drinking seem a bit distasteful. Everyone wants to have fun, but everyone’s definition of fun may vary. One avenue of fun we can all agree on is partying; but why is that? Why is it so hard to be sober and have fun while everyone is raging and basking in drunken shenanigans?

Back in college, on the weekends, you can almost guarantee that about 85% of the students on & off campus were devising plans to get rowdy no matter what. If a tornado was on the doppler radar, that just meant to find a basement to imbibe in – where there’s a will, there’s a way. The ‘pleasure demand’ was sky-high. People just wanted to enjoy themselves, whether it be sexually or “alcholically;” this epicurean lifestyle would flourish most in college – where freedom meets a whole lot of raging hormones and peer pressure.

For some people, that behavior can persist throughout a lifetime. For others, the lifestyle may have an expiration date – I guess it has myriad factors all of which lead to how the pleasure affects you. But one thing that is glaring to me when looking back at high school & college was the immediacy of friendship needs which may inevitably engender partying, in one form or another. For example, think about how often you would be hanging out with one of your peers. Even if it were just watching TV or bullshitting over a past-happening, you almost unconsciously gravitated toward your friends. Introspection may be a natural derivative of maturing, but it’s hard not to look back and wish you were still close-linked like you were during those unforgettable days.

Now, when you get with your friends to carouse the town, it doesn’t have the same spark as when you were younger. Well, it’s probably because it has become superfluous, and everyone tends to be scatter-brained; fretting about things that are soon to come. Some people can bury their head in the sand and party daily with no remorse. I commend these brave ragers. But, for me, and many of my counterparts – we’ve curtailed the partying about 65%. Staying in on some weekends is just the way of the future. Being able to be able-bodied and productive without wallowing in bed, unable to sleep, is a major trade-off. However, people grow, things change – our generation of big kids still lusts for happiness and yearns for excitement. That’s how we feel alive. That said, the partying will never end, but for some people past their peak, it will be greatly reduced. Old habits die hard…

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Exercise Your Way to a Better Brain

Motion is self-expanding. We can easily succumb to the nonchalance of sitting on a couch and watching endless hours of Netflix. However, a sedentary approach to life is a shortcut to an accelerated death. To grow and live long, we must stay in motion. Physical activity endeavors from Pilates to sports to yoga all contribute handsomely to enhancing your body not just physically, but mentally. All the small things add up in the end, but we can temporarily obviate our inevitable demise by expending more kinetic energy, daily. The benefits of the impacts that exercise places on your brain are enough to convince any sane person to get moving post-haste. The brain can atrophy (cerebral atrophy) just like muscles can with underuse.

Throughout life we are battered by pangs of distress, emotional despondency, injuries, illnesses, diseases, hapless happenings, brain cell deterioration, etc. Moreover, most of these maladies come at the expense of our own ignorance. We’re taught early in life how important physical activity is in gym class. Some of us adhere, some throw the information in the back of our cerebellum only to be retrieved when it’s too late; or when we’ve been perturbed by unsettling news that an impending problem with our body will soon be taking place.

One of my favorite platitudes that I can’t say enough, “The time is now,” really hits the nail on the head on why we shouldn’t delay the advancement of our mind & bodies because tomorrow is truly not guaranteed. I understand how easy it is to be lazy; the willingness to not unleash any energy seems like a quality that an obese society cherishes. There’s too many avenues of contentment and complacency that, and much to our own chagrin, end up withering us away — even unknowingly.

Neurobiologically, exercise releases cortisol — the stress hormone that increases fat and stifles memory consolidation — which is a major benefit to adapting to stressors that may offset your system’s homeostasis. Along with strengthening your immune system, exercise can increase euphoria and feelings of bliss by the production of endorphins. Hence the term “Runner’s high” that befalls you once you reach a plateau of running and the feeling of comfortability and oneness with the specific activity. Long walks stimulate creativity and de-stress you from whatever may be burdening you at the moment.

Alzheimer’s, the terrible neurodegenerative disease that affects millions of people,  can be slowly prevented by increasing your movement. Scientists and psychologists have proven that a reduction of cognitive decline can be the result of implementing small, 20-30 minute routines into your daily regimen. Obesity is a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so continuing to shed body weight can stave off the eventual disease and lower the incidence rate.

Cognitive functioning and brain plasticity will be expanded 10-fold by instituting any form of aerobic exercise into your lifestyle. The brain will become sharper, motor skills will improve, brain fogginess will subside, the ability to learn new things will increase, and your memory will strengthen. These are advantageous points enough to keep you from ever wanting to take the escalator again.

As time progresses, we slowly lose more and more brain cells. We just aren’t made to last forever. Our bodies fade just as ink does on a sopping wet canvas. Death is inescapable, but we can decelerate the process by becoming more active. A civilization in motion is one that is highly prosperous and productive. Showing our kids the importance of ‘go-getter-ness’ and relaying the undeniable benefits of movement can take our planet to greater heights. As the battle with obesity and decline in brain functioning continues, understand that you choose whether or not you want to make yourself better. Be wise, get moving.

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Appreciating the Moment

Our society prides itself on getting things done in a timely fashion. If we fall behind or procrastinate longer than usual, we feel things such as anxiety and uneasiness. These consequential feelings induce a burden on our shoulders that never seems to be pacified. We make plans. We talk about the future. We promote our aspirations through endless contemplation. But, when things go amiss (which they inevitably will), we notice that we’ve—unbeknownst to ourselves—sacrificed our most precious commodity: time.

Some of us adamantly feel as if we are truly living in the moment, but once we enter that destination, a cascade of thoughts leaves us tumbling down a mountain of unforeseeable anticipation. To actually feel the present moment, we have to relinquish our external world and look inward at our current situation. Whether by recognizing your thoughts or being grateful for what you have right this instant, remaining faithful to the moment on any given day for a certain amount of time will lead to the gratification of your self-worth.

Recently, I had a vivid moment of nostalgia in the shower that was akin to revisiting a dream or getting the unsettling feeling of déjà vu, which left me startled. I was thinking back to a time when I was in the shower—at the inception of my 21st birthday—and thinking, “Wow, 18 felt like it was yesterday.” Now, with me being 26, I got the same feeling about being 21. To summarize those profound but fleeting thoughts: life is a race against time, and things go faster as you get older. I realized that we’re all so inundated with distractions that we continue to shrug off the essence of life: living. Of course, technology presents itself in a way that’s abundantly innovative; thus, it leaves us yearning for what’s to come and how things may change going forward.

What we fail to notice is that the only time is now. Eventually, when we arrive at the future, we lose grip of it quickly, only to forget that we’ve even made it there. Contemplatives—people who practice meditation—understand the value of living by creating circumstances where they can really feel in tune with life. Mindful mediation has steadily become a beneficial practice that can relieve stress and increase brainpower. It’s tantamount to physical exercise for the body, but for the brain. Getting lost in life has been an antiquated endeavor that has lost its flair due to the barrage of social outlets at our fingertips. Life is short, even when it’s long-lived. We ought to appreciate the moment and be grateful for it before we become aware that everything snuck past us.

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Figuring Out Your Body

Many people of all shapes & sizes ring in the new year with an immense amount of confidence. The idea of reforming one’s self and being able to examine how much potential one has can feel extremely uplifting. New Year’s resolutions vary from minute goals such as cursing less than normal to grandiose goals like partaking in an Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, all done successively without a break. But, the most troubling goal that people continually fall short of is weight loss. If you browse any library or Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice a plethora of books pertaining to the subject of “dieting.” Semantically, I try to avoid using the word diet, because it comes with an evanescent connotation. Dieters merely aspire to be lifestyle changers. The path to changing your body composition is no easy task, but the low-hanging fruit must be to understand how your anatomy works and how to do what’s best for your body.

In the past year, I’ve dropped 35 pounds. I’ll tell you this one thing: it was not easy; there were endless nights fraught with hunger pangs and cravings ad nauseam. My plight with weight loss was an ongoing battle with no armistice in sight. I was eternally at war with my mind – in the hope of improving my body, I began to introspect and outsmart myself. But why, all of a sudden, did I have the urge to succeed after many fruitless attempts at dropping weight?

During college, I had many schemes to trick my body into a skinnier physique: eating once a day, working out completely malnourished, drinking booze instead of edible food because “liquid calories can’t be that bad.” All these gimmicks worked, but only for a very short time. As my body would naturally return to homeostasis, I’d eventually be back up to my hefty weight – and with interest! I always thought of it as punishment for trying to cut corners instead of attacking the problem head on. College, in general, is a tough time to lose weight because partying and cheap food is ubiquitous around campus. One night of imbibing various alcoholic concoctions on top of late night eating will set you back a few days. Our bodies can’t overcome the consumed calories in such a short span of time. Having been a college running back, I still would always excuse my bad eating with “I’ll work it off at practice” which, of course, is a zero-sum ideology.

After college, year in and year out, I fought tirelessly. I would have glimpses of weight reduction, but once the friends called me to accompany them on a night out (which comes with a two-day package: the calorie consumption from the revelry that overflows into the following day with horrific, fatty-food cravings), everything would go straight out the window and into the dumpster.

As time progressed, I began to bury my head in articles and books on different ways to alter one’s body composition. From observing tons of workout techniques to noticing the worst times of day for my body to deal with food, I became health-conscious to the utmost degree. Booze is a weight loss impediment. The empty calories and chemical-altering aftereffects will leave you searching for harmful carbs as obsessively as a damn honey badger sniffs out its prey. By cutting down drinking, you’ll notice immediate physiological changes. No more brain fogs. No more eating voraciously as if you’re not in the driver’s seat of your body. No more being tired just enough to keep you from making it to the gym. Water is essential – dehydration thwarts all plans of muscular development and cardiovascular expansion. By lessening my alcohol consumption, I became reinvigorated and ambitious. I also implemented cardio in my weight lifting regimen, which consists of circuit training (3 different workouts then a brief break, repeat, etc.) At first, spending a couple hours in the gym for a session soon would lead to two-a-days. I became infatuated with sweating; a euphoric moisture pouring from my epidermis, which was evidence of the changes taking place anatomically.

I attribute much of my ‘getting-in-shape’ to the stairmaster. The machine is truly transformative and efficient. Since my intensity was increasing 4-fold, I had to figure out a way to mollify my insatiable appetite. This most definitely varies astronomically with people, genetically & biologically. Much of my weight gain was always amplified in the evening hours, when I would get struck by thoughts of sweets that only a crackhead could attest to. Rummaging through cabinets, at the moment, I was sure I had an undiagnosed case of “Night Eating Syndrome.” But all these issues were just bad habits that became enhanced over years of conditioning. If you do something long enough, your body will adapt to it and it will become automatic. Also, when you know you’re susceptible to eating untimely snacks, just banish them from your house. You’ll never have a strong enough hankering to get in your car at 4 am just for some Cool Ranch Doritos, well, unless you’re impaired.

When the weight started steadily dropping, I knew I couldn’t revert to my erstwhile behavior. By inculcating myself with health insights, I soon felt obliged to keep striving for less & less weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect – I still eat unhealthy, but certainly not as much. I’m a sucker for pasta and sweets, but I’m keenly aware of when to eat them: earlier in the day, when my metabolism is still rapidly churning. The metabolism radius is what I call it – the 3-hour period of time that occurs before or after your workout that will basically eliminate what you ate.

My buddy Brandon Wilson – who lost more than 80 pounds all the while still eating voraciously – once told me, “You want to lose weight? Fall in love with exercise.” I echo those sentiments to this day. Exercise and nutritional intake equally play a role with losing weight, and you won’t get too far by adhering to one and neglecting the other.

That said, moving more and getting your body into a flow where everything becomes blissful with your neurotransmitters being fired off in all different directions is a habit that’ll create happiness and a long life. By slowly increasing your willpower from going a minute longer or a second faster will lend you excellent results. The brain is plastic – we have the ability to transform it into something better, stronger, smarter. Become aware of your proclivities and propensities. Fruits and fibers are vastly better than junk food and sodium. Just remember: There are no free lunches in life; everything comes with a cause & effect; a price tag; a consequence. Slow and steady wins the race. There’s no beating nature and there’s no easy way out, because the hard way is how we got here. Understand your body, for it is yours and you occupy it for only so long; appreciate it.

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