Why it's so damn hard to live healthfully – and how to make it MUCH easier (Part 2)In last week's article I gave you my top 5 reasons why living healthfully is so damn hard, and they're pretty compelling ones. I hope no one has slashed their wrists in despair while waiting for me to share my antidotes for neutralising each of these health-poisoners, and making it MUCH easier to stay on track ;-).
Reason # 1: Our society is deeply sick, and those who are supposed to keep us well are sick themselves.
Antidote # 1: Seek out healthy role models, including health advisors.When you live in a society that frames it as normal to have to take your kids to the doctor every second week; normal for people to be put on mind-altering prescription drugs and told they have a 'biochemical imbalance' when they're experiencing distress from life challenges; normal for the 30-plus years after mid-life to be dogged by physical disability and cognitive decline; and normal for junk food companies to sponsor sporting events, you have to take powerful counter-action.
I have an ever-expanding collection of role models who inspire me to put my health, and my family's health, at the centre of every decision I make. They remind me that I am in control of my life, and it's a responsibilty I take seriously.
I also enjoy reaping the rewards of exercising that responsibility wisely: I'm stronger, fitter, and have more energy and stamina now, in my 40s, than I had in my teens and early 20s, when I didn't prioritise my health. As a result I pack a lot more living into every day! My role models include:
Dr Joel Fuhrman, who turned 61 on 2 December 2014, but shows no signs of retiring from his busy medical practice, prolific article- and book-writing, and public appearances including regular guests spots on the Dr Oz show.
Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, who turned 81 just a few days after Dr Fuhrman on 12 December 2014, and is still taking care of many of the patients whose advanced heart disease he reversed with dietary therapy, as well as speaking at conferences around the world.
Professor T. Colin Campbell, who is also now in his 80s and still active in writing and teaching plant-based nutrition courses.
Dr Pam Popper, who spent the first few decades of her life paying absolutely no attention to her health, then had an epiphany in her late 30s, and went on to establish The Wellness Forum, an organisation devoted to educating both children and adults in how to eat for optimal health.
Dr Pamela Peeke, one of my newest role models, who has conducted pioneering research into food addiction and obesity, and is still running marathons and triathlons in her 60s.
Allan Stewart, who graduated from Southern Cross University with a Master of Clinical Science - Complementary Medicine at the age of 97, having earned his law degree 6 years earlier, in just 4 1/2 years rather than the usual 6.
Dr Ellsworth Wareham, a pioneering heart surgeon who retired at age 95, and at 100, still has the vigour to tend his garden and 2-storey house by himself.
Oh, one more: Leonard Cohen, who turned 81 on 21 September 2015 (what is it about me and 80 year old men???), still writing and performing wonderful music, and flaunting on-stage energy and stamina that would put most people 40 years younger to shame.
What I look for in a role model is a passion for contributing to others through their gifts, a 'life is not a dress rehearsal' attitude, and a healthy disrespect for conventional ideas of aging!
Many of my role models double as health advisors. What I look for in a heath advisor is someone who 'walks their talk' and is a living advertisement for the effectiveness of what they do. If your doctor, personal trainer, naturopath or any other health advisor doesn't inspire you with their health and vitality, find one who does.
Action step: write down the names of people who inspire you to be your best self! Read their books or biographies about them, 'friend' them on Facebook (assuming they're still alive ;-) ), and reflect on the elements of their stories that most uplift you.
Reason # 2: We are constantly bombarded by messages that unhealthy foods are much more fun than healthy ones, and that eating them will make us feel better about ourselves.
Antidote # 2: Learn to prepare healthy foods in delicious ways, and train yourself to notice and talk back to the subliminal messages in food advertisements.One of the aspects of my practice that brings me the greatest joy is running my 6-week cooking course, Healthy Eating - for Life! I get such a kick out of seeing the expressions of surprised delight, and hearing the 'oohs' and 'aahs' as my class participants taste their recipe samples.
Many of them tell me they simply had no idea that food that's good for you could taste so great! The notion that eating for health requires enormous self-discipline and self-sacrifice is just plain WRONG.
Personally, I love food; always have. I learned to cook before I hit my teens, guided by the Margaret Fulton Encyclopedia of Food & Cookery that my Dad bought me in hopes that I would develop the love of cooking that my Mum had completely lost by the time I came along:).
After I started studying nutrition, I realised I'd picked up some very dangerous habits from the venerable Mrs Fulton, so I committed to learning how to prepare wholesome foods in ways that maximised their nutritional value... without compromising on taste. The Healthy Eating - for Life! course and DVD set are the ultimate outcomes of this grand mission.
As for junk food ads, it's one of my family's favourite games - on the rare occasions we watch commercial TV - to develop anti-ads for the junk food ads we see. My 14-year old, extremely media-savvy son has a particular talent for putting a sarcastic spin on ads. Here's one of my favourites:
"Betcha can't eat just one! Yep, that's because we employed an entire team of food technologists and psychologists to make this snack food more addictive than crack."I also get a giggle out of the many wonderful anti-ads sending up nutritionally bereft food and beverages, like these:
And if you don't mind a little bad language, this magnificent anti-ad really sums up what I'm trying to get across to you:
Action step: acquire some healthy recipes that you enjoy (of course, I'd love to see you in my next cooking course :) ), and start noticing the hidden messages in ads.
Reason # 3: Trying to live healthfully feels like being a salmon swimming upstream.
Antidote # 3: Create your own tribe - surround yourself with people who are also committed to living healthy lives rather than joining the lemming-march off the nearest cliff.Did you know that obesity is contagious? Using the subjects recruited for the famed Framingham Heart Study, researchers from Harvard University showed that the more obese social contacts you have, the more likely you are to become obese. Alison Hill, the study's lead author, commented
"We find that having four obese friends doubled people's chance of becoming obese compared to people with no obese friends,"while another researcher involved in the study, David Rand, noted that the more obese people you have contact with in any social capacity, the more likely you are to become obese.
Further research clarified the mechanism behind this intriguing finding: it's the habits that are transmitted person-to-person, in a very similar manner to the transmission of infectious disease.
So if your friends are in the habit of catching up over coffee and cake, or having pizza-and-beer nights, you're likely to develop those habits too. If, on the other hand, your friends decide to meet up at a gym class, or go for a run together along the beach, it's highly likely you'll pick up these good habits.
Habits - not information, beliefs or your dietary philosophy - over time, determine your body weight and health status.
So does this mean you should dump all your overweight friends? Not at all! Our social ties are hugely important to us, and shouldn't be broken unless the relationship is directly toxic to us.
But it makes sense to cultivate social connections with people who are on the same track as you - and that may include overweight or unhealthy friends who are determined to clean up their acts!
I encourage participants in my group intensive The LEAN Program, and my monthly membership program Get LEAN, Stay LEAN, to find a 'buddy' from amongst the other participants, and stay in touch outside of the course. Why? Because hooking up with at least one other person who shares your goals, and making yourself accountable to them, skyrockets your chances of success.
An example: one of my clients, whom I'll call Rochelle, struggled for several years with opposition from her husband and extended family to the dietary habits she adopted in order to overcome her migraines. As a happy coincidence, the same diet I put her on to control her migraines also helped her lose weight and keep it off - something she'd always struggled with.
So it was a no-brainer for her to stick with her healthy lifestyle program... except that her family and friends just didn't 'get it' that if Rochelle strayed off her diet, she would be in bed with a migraine for the next couple of days! She felt like she was under siege, always having to defend her choices.
Finally, she met a woman at the gym who understood what it was like to be constantly battling your weight, and how liberating it was to finally find the answer so you didn't have to struggle anymore. They started hanging out together outside of the gym, and Rochelle felt vastly strengthened in her commitment to maintain the healthy behaviours that were working so well for her.
Action step: make a 'healthy behaviour date' with a friend who's committed to healthy living - you could go for a walk together, have a cooking day where you make wholesome recipes together and divide up the spoils to take home, or watch a documentary such as Forks Over Knives, Food Inc or Food Matters together.
Reason # 4: Your brain is hard-wired to repeat the same behaviours, over and over again.
Antidote # 4: Learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to literally rewire your brain and reprogram your behaviour.I'll never forget working with Amy at an introductory talk I gave on EFT. Amy had what I can only describe as a pathological aversion to eating salad, owing to some traumatic childhood experiences involving, among other things, fungusy-smelling raw mushrooms and mushy alfalfa sprouts!
I used EFT to work on these childhood memories for about 20 minutes. A few days later, Amy wrote me:
I use EFT extensively with my clients (and myself!) to root out old, bad habits and replace them with new, health-supporting habits. Why rely on that extremely unreliable ally, willpower, when you can get your entire mind - the conscious and the unconscious parts - on your side instead?
Reason # 5: You have limiting beliefs that hold you back from being all you can be.
Antidote #5: EFT works brilliantly for overcoming these beliefs, too!You may not realise it, but you are almost certainly holding many unconscious beliefs such as "I don't deserve to have what I want - including a healthy body," "Losing weight will make me feel unsafe," and "There's no point making the effort to get healthy because I'll only fall back into old ways after a while."
I spend a LOT of time with my clients ferreting out their self-defeating beliefs and then tapping them to kingdom come, with EFT. The breakthroughs that flow from this are truly amazing.