Filling the Tank

The human body is a collection of many interdependent systems. Each one can be very intricate on its own, and the complexity is multiplied by their interaction. Analogies to other well known and simpler systems can be helpful in analyzing and predicting the reaction to a given input. Care must always be taken to not carry an analogy to detail beyond that which is appropriate, and the details must be logical and simple enough to insure that sensationalism is avoided and that applications are reasonable. With that out of the way, here’s a little satirical story that I think makes a point.


Years ago I had a job that required me to drive 50 miles per day round trip. I drove a pickup truck that could travel 20 miles on a gallon of gas. All of the numbers here will be rounded to make the math less complicated.  It’s not about the numbers, it’s about reasoning. With other trips included, I routinely drove 400 miles per week. Since the truck had a tank that held 20 gallons, I filled up once a week with 20 gallons and my world was in perfect harmony.

I bought a sedan for commuting to work because I rarely needed to haul a load with the pickup. The car uses gas more efficiently; it can travel 30 miles on a gallon, but it has a smaller tank; only 15 gallons. After one week with the new car, driving my usual 400 miles, when I pumped the normal 20 gallons, some gas, more than 6 gallons, spilled onto the ground. Yes, that is ridiculous; this is where the satire begins.

The next week I was prepared with a couple of 5 gallon portable tanks to hold the spillage. It wasn’t long before space in the car was becoming limited due to the number of gas containers I was carrying around. A few months later, my job location changed and I was routinely driving only 300 miles per week. Now at fill up time there was only space for 10 gallons in the tank, and my 20 gallon weekly fill up was requiring more and more containers. Why not simply put less in since more is being stored than is being used? That’s a good question, but old habits die hard.

Finally, I decided to mount a trailer hitch to the car and buy a trailer to haul all of the containers. This helped to ease my storage problem since I hadn’t considered that overconsumption might be my real problem. After all, I wasn’t pumping that much gas, at least not any more than the amount to which I had become accustomed. The best part was that now with all the added weight, my gas mileage was down to 25 miles per gallon. The more I accumulate the more it takes to haul it all around. I know it sounds wasteful, but it does seem to work out doesn’t it?

I solved the issue completely by driving a good little bit out of my way on every trip. Just an extra 200 miles per week and I’ve got my world back in harmony. About half way through each week I top of the tank from the storage containers and by the end of the week my 20 gallon fill up is just enough for the tank and containers.


This ludicrous tale is intentionally frustrating to read in order to illustrate how silly some very common thinking is in regards to fueling the human body for our intended activity. To suggest that the body is fueled as simply and directly as an automobile is way off the mark. How many times have you heard someone refer to planning some activity to burn off excess calories being consumed? Usually this idea involves a gross exaggeration of the number of additional calories used during any activity, and the body’s storage and energy systems are far more complex than a tank, pump and injectors.

The majority of energy used by the body is not evident in physical activity. The cellular activities that go on beyond our consciousness are very expensive metabolically and their levels vary throughout the stages of life. The notion that we can control our fat storage significantly by adding activity is misguided. No amount of exercise can make up for the overeating that can be done in just a few minutes.

One simple strategy remains effective. Exercise to stimulate muscle growth. Improve the strength of the mechanism. Eat to fuel the mechanism according to need. This requires balance of quality and quantity. If the storage tank is becoming more full than desired, then consider whether more fuel is being put in than required or is the balance of fuel improper so that energy production is hindered. Continually reassess and adjust as needed.

To attempt to calculate energy expenditure in activity and balance it to overconsumption is a blatant fallacy. It makes no more sense than to waste time driving extra mileage in order to use up a predetermined amount of fuel.

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