Thinking Backwards – Introduction

A hello? A yelp of pain? Territorial growls? Barking can mean many things…

This series is not about weight loss.

I know this is contradictory to what I mentioned recently on twitter, wherein I floated an idea about writing a blog series on my strategy/philosophy surrounding weight/fat loss, but trust me on this one. It will make sense as we move forward.

Often, I see the same situation occur again and again, both in mainstream perceptions of health, as well as in communities that I quite like. People start from a point of identifying a problem (aesthetic problem, symptom, disease pathology, etc) and think forward to a solution. Too fat? Eat less. Low carb and too fat? Energy restrict. Inflamed? Anti-inflame. Signs of oxidation? Take some anti-oxidants. So it continues on, seemingly forever.

I sometimes imagine this scenario like hearing a dog bark all the time, and thinking forward to the “solution” – the barking is a problem, so inhibit it. Chastise the dog for barking to make them stop, cover their mouth so they can’t let the sound out, get a variety of gadgets and toys to distract them from barking, perform surgery to remove their vocal cords as a last resort.

Now, imagine that there was a barking epidemic in a neighborhood, and not only barking but whining, and growling too. The people in the neighborhood were becoming increasingly agitated as they lost sleep, and became fed up with their pets’ behavior. The problem was beginning to take its toll on people’s wallets, as well, what with the cost of surgeries, medications, and behavioral interventions trying to stop the emotionally and financially costly problem in its tracks.

The proposed solutions did little to quell the problem, however, and the neighborhood became noisier and noisier as the results of thinking forward inevitably failed. Eventually, it was proposed that the dogs were just genetically barkier, or perhaps their vocal cords were malfunctioning for some reason, or maybe the dogs were spoiled in modern environments and erroneous barking occurred as a result.

What would it look like, I wonder, if the residents of the neighborhood had instead started from the identifiable problem- the barking – and thought backwards to try to identify the cause? In other words, what if they tried to understand why seemingly inappropriate barking happens? What if they assumed that the barking was supposed to act as something beneficial, but for some reason, was needed all the time?

If dogs hadn’t always barked all the time, and this changed over the course of a few generations, perhaps something in the environment had changed to necessitate it, or cause a situation where this behavior seemed appropriate to the animals? Perhaps the barking was actually a symptom of an underlying problem, and only by identifying that problem and resolving it could you have a truly positive, long-lasting outcome for the dogs and owners alike.

What if at the start, the people in the neighborhood had noticed the dogs were barking more, and decided to try and identify other situations that may cause dogs to exhibit this symptom? If they had this information, perhaps they could have tried to see if any of these possible causes were reflected by changes in the environment that may have triggered the problem.

Perhaps they’d find it related to degrading quality in care, resulting in injury – in this case, the barking may have been a vocalization of pain from the dogs were experiencing. Perhaps abuse or neglect was the cause – resulting in unwanted behaviors as the dogs vented their emotional turmoil. Or, perhaps it related to poor nutrition causing irritability and poor social behavior – a symptom of their sickness caused by inadequate diet.

If the people in the neighborhood identified these situations accurately, they could quickly rule in or out possibilities, based on whether they fit what was happening in the neighborhood. They could get further context by comparing their dogs to healthy dogs who only barked every now and again and quickly were able to quiet themselves as the situation that necessitated the barking passed on its own.

Once the actual issue was found, they could work as a community to resolve it. Better yet, they could ensure nothing similar happened again as they now truly understood what caused this unfavorable situation in the first place, instead of merely trying to suppress the symptom that annoyed them.

This is the concept of thinking backwards – assuming an identifiable problem is a sign of an underlying problem (not necessarily the problem needing to be directly addressed), and tracing backwards to identify what it could be a reaction to. In doing so, you can hopefully work to fix the environment to stop the behavior or symptom.

Thus, this series is not about weight loss, or fat loss, or fitting into a pair of jeans from high school. Overfatness (or perhaps behavior that leads to fatness, appropriate to a situation you don’t want to be in all the time) is merely one bark amidst a cacophony of howls, growls, and whimpering made by own our own bodies all too often. Although it will be one part of the series, there will be others as well, which we’ll begin to outline in part 2 – Society’s Barking Dogs.

With that in mind, we’re ready to start thinking backwards.

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