When you KNOW

I worked out this morning, as I’ve done pretty regularly for 15 years. I say I enjoy it, and I do, but I also don’t. It’s hard, it’s strenuous. Pretty often, in the midst of it, I find myself thinking, Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just relax, sleep in, linger at breakfast? Is exercise really so important? No one will judge me if I let go a bit, relax, gain some weight, live how most people live. But then I think, No, I know what I have to do.

It’s the same with eating. Controlling your waistline is quite difficult, as we see from this morning’s CNN report – Obesity among all US adults reaches all-time high. I’m not heavy, but I’m newly refocused on my eating and drinking habits because of a troublesome case of ocular rosacea. I’ve begun supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, which adds considerable calories to my daily intake, and cutting back on snacks and other less healthy fats. It’s not that easy but, once again, I know what I have to do.

Yet we all recognize that knowing isn’t doing. Most people are aware of all sorts of potentially beneficial behavior changes that they find themselves unable to implement. It’s just too hard. Hence the obesity epidemic. Don’t feel bad if this is you. Hey, I’ve been there myself. And of course I’m still there now for some things in my life.

Behavior change is more of a process than an event. Somewhere in this process a transition from simple knowing, or awareness, to a deep KNOWING, a conviction of what we must do, occurs, and that compels us to action. That kind of KNOWING seems to be what I have. I hope you get it too. But where does it come from? How does it happen? Is it just a matter of time?

Honestly, I’m not sure. We’re all different, but it’s not simply a matter of time otherwise everyone would be getting well. I’m giving credit to the Holy Spirit. God removes my shame. He convicts me of what is good and right, and he provides me with the power to act on that conviction. May he do the same for you.

Pete

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At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we KNOW [emphasis mine] you are the Holy One of God.

– John 6:66-69 NLT

Fat – The Enemy Within

Well the new consulting career is officially begun!  I’ve just returned from a two-day engagement as a member of an advisory panel for a pharmaceutical manufacturer seeking input on the future of medical treatment for obesity and its complications. It was an interesting and enjoyable event. Most of what we talked about is confidential of course, but our more general discussions covered much of what is commonly known about the conditions of obesity and overweight. Common or not, two things struck me as worth writing about to an audience interested in health and wellness.

First, if you’re significantly overweight, your fat cells are working against you.  It’s easy to regard fat as just so much excess baggage, perhaps causing some bodily wear and tear, but otherwise inert.  It’s really a much more serious situation.  Fat cells are anything but inert.  They’re highly active metabolically, releasing and causing to be released chemical factors that adversely impact your internal physiology in multiple ways. I’m not going to go into the details, take my word for it, these guys are bad actors. To use an analogy from the headlines, think of your excess fat as tiny cellular Russians working to disrupt your body’s politics. You don’t want Putin hijacking your physiology’s executive branch.

Second, most obese and significantly overweight people suffering from diabetes or other physiologic disruptions never get much better.  Why not?  Well, that was an interesting discussion!  We all have our thoughts.  You’ve heard most of mine before, but here they are again:  People are weak, temptations are hard to resist. Life is hard, people are stressed out, and food is emotionally comforting; often the more comforting, the more unhealthy. Losing weight is hard work, and mostly we don’t like hard work.  Like water, we tend to take the path of least resistance, and the wide river of American popular culture empties its contents into the lake of obesity.  (And there are also some more “hard-wired” biological reasons that it’s very difficult to lose weight – hence the interest of pharmaceutical manufacturers)

But, as we also all know, some people get remarkably better.  We all know a few. How did they succeed where others try and fail or fail to try?  Once again, an interesting topic with no exact answers.  Here are my observations:  Some people simply “wake up” or “snap out of it” – having a sudden recognition and acceptance of their issue along with a willingness to do whatever it takes to get better.  (Maybe caused by a medical event or health crisis – e.g. a heart attack or needing to start insulin.) Some have a more gradual building of their awareness and resolve to levels sufficient to enable positive action. Many appear to need to hit an emotional and/or spiritual “bottom,” admitting their defeat and enlisting the help of God and others. The common theme is that some sort of internal shift occurs and then it’s a whole new ballgame.

If you’re struggling with your weight, or if you’ve even given up the struggle, have hope, because some people get remarkably better.  It can be done.  You too can do it, but first you need to have that mysterious “internal shift” and I can’t give that to you.  However I can invite you to shift, perhaps you’re almost there already and just need a nudge over the line.  Consider yourself invited – snap out of it and get going!

Most importantly, know that God can change you.  God wants to change you, and he has all power.  He never fails.  Turn to him to become the person you can’t be on your own.  And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Grace and peace,

Pete

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PS – for you movie fans – snap out of it!

Getting a Radically Healthy Lifestyle – Bit by Bit

Salad, it’s what’s for dinner

A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend and I got to talking about our respective health. As a reader here, you know that I pay attention to my health and lifestyle. This guy does too. We’re both relatively lean and fit middle-aged men, and we both eat a “healthy diet.” So I was a little surprised to find out that his cholesterol has been “too high” for years and perhaps he was similarly surprised when I revealed that some of my fasting blood sugars have been “too high” off and on. How could that be when we’re doing everything right?

Well… Good question. All is not controllable of course. Metabolic disorders can and do occur, even in folks who are doing “everything right,” for genetic or other reasons. “Just bad luck I guess” summed up the next few minutes’ conversation as we consoled ourselves. But then we came around – “Honestly, are we doing everything right? Are there actions that could improve our health (and bring those lab results back into the ideal range)? What else can we do?”

We came up with the typical list of incremental solutions – lose a couple of pounds, exercise a bit more, reduce snack foods/desserts/simple carbs/etc. – before getting radical. Sure those are all good, but how about eating vegan? No meat, no dairy – that’s radical! Would it help? Almost certainly. Will we do it? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to make such a radical change.

Yet we both have been improving our habits over the years. We both already live lifestyles that represent radical departures from those of average Americans. I do eat a lot less meat and more vegetables than I used to. How did that happen? For me at least, a little at a time. Bit by bit. Learning, growing, adjusting. It’s been a slow process.

Our conversation brought to mind the book Eat to Live by Dr Joel Furman, which I have read several times. If you only want to read one book on healthy eating – this should be the one. It’s radical, too radical for most of us.  Frankly it’s been too radical for me, but eating the way he recommends does cure people. I’ve seen it. Reading it again last week reminded me that I have farther to go. There is more that I can do. There is more I will do. I probably won’t do it all at once, but I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? Not ready to make the big changes that you know are indicated? Fine. Take a small step. Then keep stepping.

Let me know how I can help,

Pete

One Weird Tip For Better Health

weird-old-tip

Are you tired of those “one weird tip…” clickbait ads?  I am.  Unsurprisingly, if you do click, you will find no useful information.  Let’s face it, there is no “one tip” fix for much of anything.

Here’s my one tip – Stop looking for “one tip” solutions!  

There are no shortcuts to health and wellness, but it’s not a mystery either.  It’s just hard.  Relax, repent, trust God and get ready for the long haul.  Of course it will be difficult.  If it wasn’t you would have already done it.  So embrace the suck, and don’t be surprised if you make slow progress.  Think Grace and carry on.

 

22019137

I don’t think so.

 

Eating Mindfully This Thanksgiving

TurkeyHow I love Thanksgiving! It’s a wonderful, low-key holiday typically spent feasting and relaxing with family and friends. No shopping, no pressure for the perfect gift, no fancy clothes, just time together with good food and drink. Our extended family will be gathering at my brother’s lovely home, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everybody.

The one thing I’m not looking forward to is overeating and experiencing that uncomfortable, overstuffed feeling at the end of the evening. Yet, based on years of experience, it’s a near certainty that I will. After the table is cleared, I’ll likely be slumped on the couch unbuckling my belt and thinking to myself, I’m not learning. I did it again!

Insanity being doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, I’m already conceding defeat in the battle to eat “right” on Thursday. I may be a loser but at least I’m sane. And I’m trying to keep my mind right on grace, remembering that God loves me and does not expect me to maintain ideal eating habits at all times. That said, I also know that God empowers me to hang in there and work on better stewardship of my mind, body and spirit. So I am going to try something new.

My new goal is simply to eat mindfully that day. I don’t want to set objectives like keeping a lid on my calories, or avoiding that bloated feeling. That’s what I keep failing at. No, without any guilty feelings, I’m going to let go of those and simply strive to eat mindfully. Here’s my plan:

Before I load up my plate I’m going to ask myself, Am I hungry? How hungry? After reflecting on the answers, I’ll go ahead and serve myself. Then I’m going to eat more slowly, savoring each bite and taking time for conversation during the meal.

I’ll wait a bit before a second helping, and I’ll to repeat the first two questions, Am I hungry? How hungry?  A couple more to ask myself are, How will I feel in 20 minutes if I eat more now? and, very importantly, Will I have room for pie? (Because I will want pie!) Once again I’ll try reflecting on the answers, even just for a moment, before getting another plateful.

If I get to considering a third serving (it’s been known to happen), I intend to keep up the questioning while reminding myself, Hey, I’m going to want to have pie!

Eventually we’ll get to the pie. I know we’ll have at least two versions – pumpkin pie and pecan pie – which are my favorites, because my wife baked them this afternoon. I intend to have a slice of each. My plan is to eat them very, very slowly using very tiny bites and accompanying them with sips of black coffee. I really want to wring maximal enjoyment out of the experience!

That’s the plan. Maybe I’ll overeat and maybe I won’t, but at least I will have been more mindful and intentional about the meal. Over time, cultivating habits like that is of great help in controlling impulsive eating, and I could use the help. Perhaps you’re like me. If so, don’t beat yourself up; we’re both God’s work in progress. Try a little mindful eating this Thursday. Don’t worry too much about how well or poorly it goes on this particular occasion. Just keep at it.

Oh, and have a slice of pie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pete

Sharon's handiwork. Nice!

Sharon’s handiwork. Nice!

 

Do Americans Take Too Many Drugs? “Food & Pharmacy”

IMG_0641American’s prescription drug habits are back in the headlines with the publication of a new study showing that we’re taking more meds than ever before. Is it because we’re sicker than ever and need more medicine? Possibly, says Newsweek,

“But the researchers also point out one overarching theme: The drugs that are most commonly prescribed right now are used for medical conditions that tend to afflict people who are overweight or obese. The study found that 8 of the 10 most commonly used drugs are used to manage heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all conditions and health complications that may develop as a person gains weight.”

Or is it because we turn to medicines as a default option for our physical, emotional and spiritual conditions? Yes, says me. Collectively, we choose anxiolytics and antidepressants over the hard work of talk therapy; and antihypertensives, lipid lowering agents, and hypoglycemics over lifestyle change.

Modern pharmaceuticals are great blessings from God, capable of helping us to live longer and healthier lives. But, in general, we shouldn’t use them to minimize consequences of an ongoing unhealthy lifestyle. As followers of Jesus, if personal change is indicated, let’s admit it, accept it and begin the hard work of changing – with the help of the Holy Spirit. We may well need pills, either temporarily or for the long-term, but let’s make sure we’re doing our best to be well too.

Once again, we need to be careful of mindlessly adopting the prevailing American culture and worldview, which teaches us that many life problems are “medical problems” and that “healthcare” or “treatment” is our best (or only) answer. As I’ve been thinking about this topic, I noticed Publix’ (our local grocery chain) signage advertising “Food & Pharmacy.” Yep, that about sums it up. There’s nothing really wrong with that advertising of course, and it is convenient to be able to pick up a prescription when you’re there, but it also clearly reinforces the great importance of pills. Heck, they’re as important as your food! Or maybe not. You decide.

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Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.
– Hippocrates

Just the food for me, please.

Just the food for me, please.

UPDATE 11/11/15 – I saw this New York Times blog story, “Defeating My Anxiety,” this morning and wanted to recommend it.

How to Think About “Superfoods” and Supplements

My personal supplement regimen

My personal supplement regimen

Most Americans seem to be waking up to finally grasp the critical role that diet plays in their overall health. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s eating better. Knowing is one thing and doing is quite another. Changing from burgers and fries to a plant-based diet, and avoiding processed foods, snack foods and high-calorie beverages is a difficult lifestyle transition. I think that explains the appeal of “superfoods” and supplements. Hope springs eternal for an easy way to health.

The Orlando Sentinel, my local paper, recently ran an a piece titled “A New Crop of Superfoods” about freekeh, turkey tail mushrooms, blue-green algae, and seven other crops now being marketed as nutritional answers. Marketing being the key point. These are just more plants, people! In the article an expert explained, “It’s human nature to want a quick fix. So there’s always great appeal when a new superfood is introduced, but they’re really not superior to any of the other fruits and vegetable we can get in the grocery store.” I think so too.

That doesn’t mean that some of these individual crops, consumed in quantity, don’t have measurable beneficial health effects. Certainly they do. I’m saying that superfoods can’t make up for the deficiencies of a generally poor diet, and also don’t add much to the benefits of a robust plant-based diet. Eating them is certainly good for you, just like eating more ordinary fruits and vegetables is good for you. So eat them if you like them but don’t get sucked into the marketing hype.

Supplements are marketed in a similar way – as the extracts, compounds or vitamins that will make you healthy. And more is usually better. I don’t think so. That’s not to say that some supplements aren’t helpful, but that, as with superfoods, a healthy plant-based diet should be the foundation of our nutrition. Then supplements may be used with careful judgment as to their appropriateness.

In my case, I used to take multivitamins, but concluded that, based on my diet, I really wasn’t benefitting from them. On the other hand, my serum vitamin D level proved to be low, and I now take a vitamin D supplement. Also, as I have a family history of macular degeneration, I have decided to take lutein, which may have some benefit in preventing that condition.

There are many other supplements that may be useful for particular problems or issues. Creatine for strength training, and chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis are two examples. Sometimes the evidence for efficacy is pretty good, sometimes not. Study the matter and make your own informed decision.

Here’s how I would sum up my approach to superfoods and supplements:

  • Don’t buy in to the marketing the hype. Research the facts for yourself.
  • Eat the best diet you can right now, and keep working to improve it
  • Eat superfoods if you like them. Don’t if you don’t.
  • If your diet is terrible, take a multivitamin. If it’s good, don’t.
  • Use supplements judiciously for an indentified health need or purpose

These foods are not magic or miraculous.  In lifestyle change, slow progress is often the rule.  Don’t be lured off of your health improvement path by false promises.  Slow and steady is a fine way to get better.  Eat as healthy as you can right now, don’t look for a quick fix, and just keep at it.

Best wishes for healthy eating!