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.

 

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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!

Training to be Well – Remembering, Repetition, Reminders

file6771268338549Last week I was talking with a friend who’s been struggling with a variety of health issues for a long time, and her frustration was apparent. I listened, but I didn’t have much helpful advice except to hang in there and keep doing what she was doing. If I was in her shoes, I’d be frustrated too. One thing I did mention was that God has a plan and we can be sure it’s a good one. She responded, “I know, but why can’t I remember that?” Well, because you’re human, that’s why. Humans need reminders. Then I thought I should also remind her that there is no condemnation for frustration, or anything else, for those in Christ, and that nothing she may do or not do can cause her to lose the love of God. (Romans 8:1, 38-39) It’s hard not to feel better when you’re reminded of that. Just writing it is making me happy now.

Her question, “Why don’t I remember?” is one we all could ask about many things we’ve learned. But maybe we should rephrase the query to ask instead, “How can I remember?” or, more to the point, “How can I embed new learning and important facts into my everyday thoughts and behavior?” Repetition and reminders are part of the answer.

Often people think that just “learning” something, that is understanding and agreeing with the concepts, means they’ve “got it.” That’s true, so far as it goes, but “getting it” may not help you actually live it. Under stress, or just by habit, we live according to deeply ingrained thought and behavior patterns, and any new thoughts are going to have be thoroughly embedded before they become our default mode. That’s why Christians are advised to read and reread God’s word and meditate on his character and his works. Once through is not enough for the gospel, or anything else really, to be embedded. It takes repetition.

Consider training. Training, of all types, is necessary in most work settings today.   Pilots, police officers, fire fighters, medical personnel, and soldiers are some roles that come to mind when I think of training, but almost all of us have had some sort of training in our careers. The course work is usually both didactic and hands-on with a great deal of repetition to reinforce the learning. For many skills, periodic refresher training or recertification is also required. With time the learning becomes second nature. Eventually the emergency arrives and the firefighter saves a child from the burning building or the hospital “code team” saves a heart attack victim as the correct actions are taken. Invariably, when asked about it later, the hero always says some version of “I didn’t have time to think. The training just kicked in.

And so it is with living a healthy lifestyle. It’s great that you read a good book on healthy eating, but how about reading it once a month, over and over, for a year? What about designing specific “training exercises” for your desired new lifestyle? For example preparing a healthy meal, the exact same meal, over and over again until you’re an expert at it. You’ve got to embed the knowledge and the actions until they become ordinary. The most helpful books in your wellness library should become your old friends, having been read many, many times. Similarly, making and eating the same few healthy meals fairly often may be much more helpful to you than “dabbling” with multiple recipes that never become your new normal.

This concept may sound strange, but realize that you are in lifestyle training of some sort. Everyone is. Whatever you’re doing repeatedly is training. Perhaps you’re training to be a couch potato, watching several hours of television each evening. During that time you’re undergoing intensive education and reinforcement to drink more beer, eat more chips, buy more stuff, and especially to keep watching more TV. TV’s the worst, but other forms of mass media aren’t much better. If you don’t choose your training regimen, the American culture will choose it for you. Choose wisely.

Reminders are also important. I’m glad I was able to remind to my friend about what she believes and the attitude she wants to maintain. I’ve built reminders into my life in the form of daily email thoughts, notes written to myself and posted on my bulletin board, and quotes and pictures on the wall. Even my Facebook news feed is designed partly as to remind me of what’s important and how I’d like to live. But people are the most important part of this plan. We are created to be in community, helping and encouraging one another, and I have worked to build trusted relationships with a small group of friends who’ve become my training partners.

Of course, there is no perfect in this lifetime. You and I are God’s works in progress. With the right training program we can hope to continue to improve in mind, body and spirit. My training seems to be going okay. How’s yours?

Let me know if I can help.