Health is constantly evading most of us. We see it on billboards, in advertisements, on the movie screen. Health is everywhere. Yet, for most of us, we can’t find it for ourselves. It starts with the question, of course, what is health?
This answer varies for most of us. If you suffered a spinal cord injury or have a degenerative neurological condition, such as ALS, health may be the absence of pneumonia, life without pain, or simply the emotional stability to get through the day. For people with cancer, it may mean waking up with hope and feeling well enough to participate in the day. We all have limitations, some temporary and some permanent, but we all also need goals.
Goals that guide us to achieving our maximum potential. This doesn’t mean moving beyond impossible limitations, but rather realistically achieving all we seek to accomplish in life. If we have health and wellness, we have the freedom to choose our own adventure in life. We have a bright and effective mind, a strong and productive body and a warm and kind heart. We enjoy life, because life is filled with meaning and purpose. If we are spiritual, we recognize that our bodies are the vehicles to obtain the joy our spirits seek.
Sounds good right? Why do so many of us have trouble? With nearly ¾ of men now overweight or obese and ⅔ of women overweight or obese, the majority of us don’t have the bodies we need to find complete fulfillment in life. This leads to disappointment and we don’t realize our full potential. Obesity and being overweight surely can’t be that hard to fix though. If it mattered enough, everyone would simply not eat, until they achieved their desired weight and then eat again, but much more modestly. This isn’t a “healthy” way to lose weight, nor sustainable, but surely it would work.
People aren’t willing to go that far to achieving their goals, because most of us are willing to change our goals to accommodate our struggles. We live within our means, which means that we accept that we are overweight or obese and so adjust our expectations to this new reality. We live with knowing that we are unhealthy, by changing our definition of health. Like the person who suffers a neurological catastrophe, we accept that we too must live within ourselves. The trouble for the neurologic patient is a real constraint vs. for most of us it’s a perceived constraint.
This wonderful human characteristic of adaptability gives us hope, even when things are not good. We can still find good in the bad. We all really know how to make lemons out of lemonade. But, here’s the thing. Sometimes we get so good at accepting ourselves, that we fail to see that we have the potential to become something else…something, we define as better.
When we are children, we are told that we can do anything we put our mind to. As adults, we seem to forget this. We all too often, accept that we are limited in our potential. For some of us, we even buy into the idea of fatalistic determinism. We believe that fate, genetic determinism and “God’s plan” are all we can ever expect to become. Judeo-Christians believe that God allows for free-will. If Adam and Eve are permitted to eat the forbidden apple, than surely you and I can decide to eat a doughnut. And we do…
It feels good, after all, to give in to our vices. That’s why they are called vices, in the first place. When we choose television over a bike ride or a doughnut over broccoli, we are choosing our fate. It’s not predetermined. We can’t then turn around and say, “well, I can’t help it, it’s in my genes.” Perhaps, you do suffer from a genetic metabolic error or some slowed level of metabolism. If so, clearly, you have your work cut out for you, but are you really prepared to give up? Are you ready to simply accept it and move on? You are NOT just a product of your genes.
The problem that 99% of us have is that we don’t see our perfect selves when we look in the mirror. We accept and love who we are, but set very few goals for the future. If we do set goals, we do them often for the wrong reasons, like “I want to look better in a swimsuit” rather than “my weight is negatively impacting the person I want to become.”
Recently, there was an article I read with interest about fat-shaming by doctors. I was disgusted by the article. No one should ever fat-shame, but the premise of the article was that being overweight or obese is NOT actually associated with any health problems. Obesity and being overweight are strongly associated with chronic pain, joint pains and joint surgeries, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, impotence and reduced sexual performance, numerous cancers, depression, anxiety, and poor self-worth. Even anger, frustration and anhedonia (lack of interest in things you once enjoyed) are all associated with obesity. There is a difference between loving ourselves at all points along the journey to health and failing to set goals that matter. Are you at your optimal health? Be honest. Be kind to yourself. If you love yourself, then you should demand the best for yourself by yourself!
The first thing all of us have to do, when we want to change is to start by asking, “What is my purpose in life?” “Who do I seek to serve?” When we ask these fundamental spiritual questions about ourselves, we find truths that sustain us. Rather than “How will I look in a swimsuit?,” we have decided on a greater purpose to the changes we are about to embark upon. When we do this, the changes we make are not only sustainable, they are sought out daily. We defined our new purpose and have turned our hearts to accomplishing that purpose.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see any opportunity for improvement. We have built walls around our behaviors that are so strong that we can’t even penetrate our own defenses. This happens all the time. We defend our behaviors, thereby becoming impenetrable to any criticism. We expect violence of words for all of those unaccepting, unloving people out there and many of us can list ourselves as one of the worst critics. This makes any call for self-improvement near impossible. Ask someone you love, someone close to you, who will give you honest advice, what opportunities you have to improve your health. They will not only help guide you, but hopefully support you, as they learn of your sincere desire to improve.
If we can commit to our purpose and, with loving support, define health goals, then we are ready to identify opportunities in our lifestyle to moving forward. This is NOT a time to add a bunch of medications, sell-out and call it good. We have resolved to commit to our purpose. Medications are a band-aid on health. If you take a pill for high blood pressure, you can’t turn around and say “I don’t have high blood pressure.” You still have it, it’s just being treated. Meds, by the way are about 30% effective in blood pressure treatment. Yet, 90% of high blood pressure is preventable with a healthy diet.
They say that the definition of insanity is to expect different results from the same behaviors. We, the people of free will, desire the freedom to achieve our dreams, during our short time on Earth. In order to achieve this on your own, you would need to quickly become a MD or DO, master the human body, become an expert in the mind and soul, an expert on nutrition, as well as the impact of physical activity and toxins on the body. Even if you do all of that, try sorting through dozens of studies coming out all the time which contain bogus information. I have defined teaching a healthy lifestyle as my life’s purpose. I spent 13 years in formal post-high school education and have been practicing medicine for 10 years. Having said that, everyday I approach the day with the humility required to learn something new and be awe-inspired. You can do all of that too, but if it’s not your life’s purpose, you will spend a lot of time working on something aside from your life’s purpose.
We ALL need an ounce of humility to admit we don’t know everything. Once you get back to your life’s purpose and you have defined your goals, then it’s time for you to ask for help. There are a number of really amazing physicians out there. Doctor means teacher. Remember that the teacher you pick will teach you in the ways they believe. Make sure you choose a physician that shares your beliefs in life’s purpose, God’s existence, our spiritual nature, the truths about nutrition and physical activity…and an ounce of humility to admit that their way is NOT the only way.
Blessings to all of you this week!