I was asked recently to write an article on staying fit through the holiday season. It got me thinking about how in our culture, wellness is largely thought of as an extra in life. People largely begin to take some initiative with their wellness when there’s a lapse in wellness. They’re tired. They’re having trouble keeping up with their kids or the other demands in their lives. They don’t have much of a sex drive anymore. They have a disease, sometimes small, sometimes big. At that point, they realize that something is out of balance in their lives. Then need to eat better, they need some more physical activity, they need to get better rest, they need more sleep, or all of the above. Or they need to be doing more nourishing activities that they truly love.
It’s when a problem arises that most people become aware of this need. But in other areas of our lives, we mostly take a proactive approach. For example, most people start to get an education when they are five or six years old (these days even younger). Most people bring their cars in for regular maintenance to keep their car running well for years and years. Many people save and invest money for their retirement years as long as 30, 40, or even 50 years before they plan to retire. Many parents do the same to save for the education of their children. Could we apply this approach to wellness?
The way I see it, we sort of do, with young children. Many parents are very careful to create the environment for their child that they grow up healthfully. They’re very careful to feed them on a schedule that is conducive to their well-being. They’re very careful to make sure their home is quiet when their children are sleeping to ensure then get all the high-quality sleep they need. They’re careful to make sure their children don’t spend too much time watching television and are not exposed to troubling material. There’s this awareness that it’s important to take care of their well-being to ensure they grow properly and have the foundation for a lifetime of wellness. But this gradually slips. As a culture, we generally do not do a good job of cultivating these positive wellness behaviors through adolescence and into adulthood. The focus becomes higher education, career, and more. Of course, these are key aspects of a well-lived life, and in fact, contribute in big ways to our wellness. But, the sometimes way too long hours, the sometimes excessive drinking as a way to cope with stress, the sometimes eating anything you can quickly put in your mouth, the sometimes skimping on exercise can take its toll. Truly, it has taken its toll, on many of us at some point in our lives, and surely on our culture as a whole. Let’s consider a few facts:
1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two-thirds (69 percent) of adults are overweight or obese. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of men are overweight or obese. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women are overweight or obese. More than one-third (35 percent) of children are overweight or obese.
2. According to the American Diabetes Association, one in eight adults (and growing according to researchers) have type-2 diabetes. The total cost of treating type-2 diabetes increased 45 percent (from 174 billion dollars to 245 billion dollars) in just the five years between 2007 and 2012.
3. According to the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program, one in two men and one in three women will get cancer in their lives. And, these numbers are predicted to double by 2050.
Many of us are very concerned with our environment. It’s very important to us that our oceans are clean. It’s very important to us that our soil is healthy. It’s very important for us that our air is clean. We want the forests to be robust. Consider that we, us people, are part of the environment. The earth is this big sphere with all kinds of life on it. As part of that life, how are we doing? The seven-plus billion of us walking on this Earth. Are we a thriving rainforest? Are we in balance with the world around us? What would we do if three-quarters of the apple trees were sick? What would we do if three-quarters of our air was unbreathable? What would we do if three-quarters of an animal population were being wiped out by a disease? We’d get to work on fixing that right away. And think about this. As far as we can tell, humans are the creatures on this planet with the greatest problem-solving and creative minds. And consider our bodies to be the vessels for these great minds. What are we doing to our ability to innovate and create with so many of us sick and tired? Our waning wellness is taking away our very ability to be high-performance people who can make a big difference in the world, both locally with our family and friends, and more globally with the work we do in the world. In a closer-to-home look at things, we’re sick-and-tired surgeons and kindergarten teachers and farmers. We’re all here providing services for one another and a large majority of us are working at severely reduced capacity or significantly distracted by issues with their wellness.
I want to make two very important distinctions:
1. With this alarming information, there is nothing to be afraid of. Fear helps nothing. We don’t need a war on obesity or a war on diabetes or any other disease. Mother Theresa, once asked to join an anti-war movement, responded by saying that she does not go to anti-warm movements. She goes to peace rallies. I propose the same approach. We need to cultivate a culture of wellness in our own lives, in our families, in our workplaces, and in our society as a whole.
2. With your wellness, if you are not as well as you’d like to be, there is nothing wrong about this. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Wellness is not about being good or bad. It’s about what works, free of any of these kinds of judgments. Being well feels good. Being well allows you to be the best friend, partner, parent that you can be. Being well allows you to be the best teacher, software engineer, nurse, or physicist that you can be. It’s just true. Things just work better when you are well. Think of wellness as a workability thing, not a right or wrong thing. You can’t create anything great starting from a place of shame. But with a sincere desire to make your world and the world I better place, greatness can be fostered.
Imagine a life where you are full of vitality, sleep great, have awesome sex, feel fulfilled, enjoy your days thoroughly, and disease is the furthest thing from your mind. Imagine a family, group of friends, or workplace where this is the case. Imagine a whole culture like this. Pipe dream? Of course, it seems that way because we’ve accepted a culture of disease as the norm. We’ve given up the power over our wellness. We don’t think there’s much we can do about it. But there is. And with this, I’d like to introduce two big parts of the solution:
1. Look at exercise in a whole new way. Literally, a whole new way. View it as play. Pretend you’re a kid. You’ve been in school for hours, sitting in your chair. And now it’s recess! Yes, you get to go play. Find your play. Maybe it’s racquetball, maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s walking, maybe it’s running, maybe it’s hiking. It’s whatever you actually like. Find some activity that you really enjoy and you have completely obliterated any obstacles to regular exercise in your life. It’s no longer a chore. It’s no longer a means to an end. It’s no longer something your physician or wellness coach is telling you to do. It’s yours. You own it. You want to do it.
2. Look at nutrition in a whole new way. Throw the whole idea of stressful diets away. Become a foodie, to the degree that works for you. What I mean by become a foodie is really get into enjoying food. There are only a few distinctions you need to make to completely move into a life of great nutrition. We have food (like apples, fish, almonds, asparagus, carrots, cilantro, turmeric, beef, yams, etc.) and we have food products (anything that started as food, but was made in a factory). To start to change the paradigm that good nutrition is complicated and hard and no fun, the first thing you need to do is focus on making meals from food, and cut way back on, or eliminate, food products. Really, that’s all. You don’t need to count anything. You don’t need to measure anything. Simple eat whole, natural, real food. Second, make eating a social event. Make it a priority to eat with your family and friends. Find recipes that you enjoy. They don’t need to be complicated. Find simple meals you enjoy making and get in the kitchen with your loved ones and have at it. Now, nutrition is all about fun. Who does not like to eat? Who does not like to be with their family and friends? And with our food-over-food-products distinction, 90 percent of good nutrition is taken care of. (Yes, there is more to good nutrition, but when we make perfect the enemy of excellent, we get paralysis. For most people, eating more whole, natural, real food and less food products (processed food) represents a significant improvement in their eating.)
We currently live in a dysfunctional dichotomy. On the one hand, we have a large percentage of people living in very harmful ways with regards to their exercise and nutrition. Many of these people are aware of this. When they turn to culture at large for some help, for a solution, they are met with intense messages about running marathons, going on a raw, vegan diet, or equivalent extreme approaches to exercise and nutrition. There is no one right approach to exercise or nutrition this is right for all of us. But we need a culture of sustainable practices that can be done for a lifetime. We need to eliminate the gap between being a couch potato who eats fast food and the only solution being to join the latest intense exercise craze and adopt the trendy, super-restrictive diet. The two powerful game-changers I’ve detailed above are simple. This is totally doable. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s a decision we can each make. The only thing stopping us is us and we can change. Let’s live well today.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.