Good Health. If it’s so easy, why is it so hard?

Eleanor Leonard“Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” ~ Henry Ford

In 2009 Rip Esselstyn published The Engine 2 Diet – The Texas Firefighter’s 28-day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds. He had followed a plant-based diet most of his life and credits it with giving him the necessary strength and stamina to be a successful world-class triathlete and later a firefighter. His Engine 2 Diet is the result of his offer – and promise – to help a fellow firefighter lower a dangerously high cholesterol level. The dramatic results prompted him to share his concepts and recipes with a larger audience. His website will guide anyone wishing to improve their life by “redefining their relationship with food.”

That redefinition starts in the mind and is probably the toughest challenge to getting through those first 15 days we are told it takes to change a habit. But “old habits die hard” as the saying goes and we are really good at defending them and crafting clever excuses. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer knows something about excuses. As a leading proponent of the self-help human potential movement, his relaxed, approachable demeanor that many came to know during PBS television pledge drives, made his books and seminars accessible to millions. Dr. Dyer died this past August yet continues to inspire via his website which includes an archive of his blogposts.

In No Excuses, Your Body Wants To Be Healthy – How I Dropped My Waistline for Good, Dr. Dyer wrote: “I had been carrying an extra 15 to 17 pounds around my waist for about 10 years, using the excuse that this is what happens when you get old.” After publishing his book Excuses Begone!, he met Jorge Cruise, author of The Belly Fat Cure, who forced him to “test my own paradigm in my own life.” Letting go of his “old-age” excuse, he lowered his sugar consumption and “In 30 days that 17 pounds had melted off my waist.” He writes, “The fact is we can do this with anything – from belly fat to any excuse-bound situation that is blocking our health and/or happiness.”

GoodHealth2Sounds simple enough, right? So why do so many of us fail at similar attempts? The relevant point is not his physical act of cutting back on sugar, but the mental adjustment that preceded it. He had to stop replicating the excuse for those extra pounds. And therein lies the basis “truth” in all self-help, self-improvement teachings: It all starts in the mind. Coincidentally, Dr. Dyer’s “Daily Inspiration” for January 11th was this: “In order to optimize your health, begin noticing the frequency of any thoughts that support the idea of sickness as something to be expected – and eliminate them from your mind.”

In another post, Let Your Food Be Your Medicine, he introduces Dr. Joan Borysenko’s book, The Plant Plus Diet Solution: Personalized Nutrition for Life. Trained at Harvard Medical School in cell biology, she is a licensed psychologist internationally known in integrative medicine and mind-body work. The book sorts through the confusing and contradictory information about wellness plus asks us to consider the humane treatment of animals that become our food. “Personalized nutrition” asserts that no matter how seductive the promise of any health plan, no one solution is right for everyone. Individual body chemistry varies and fluctuates so that a program that works for you may not work for your partner or your children; and something that works today may no longer be adequate in five years.

Louise Hay, a colleague of Dr. Dyer and life-long proponent of positive thinking, will turn 90 next October. In 2014 she published Loving Yourself to Great Health – Thoughts & Food – The Ultimate Diet. Co-authored with two health and wellness practitioners, the book goes beyond life-affirming quotes to include nutrition as vital for a happy life. In her preface she writes: “It is only a thought, and a thought can be changed. I believe this is true for your health, too.”

Celebrities such as former President Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, country singer Carrie Underwood, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, to name just a few, speak openly about their vegan and vegetarian diets, to which they unambiguously attribute their excellent health, high energy and mental acuity. Granted, a plant-based diet is not for everyone. Suggesting the topic often prompts the rolled eyes or dismissive comments such as “That’s food for cows and rabbits, not humans.” After all, we’ve relied on meat and dairy as basic sustenance for many generations. Only recently, as evidence-based statistics reveal the benefits, have we been encouraged to include more vegetables and fruit in our diets.

We all want to live our fullest lives without pain and to grow into old age with a functioning healthy mind and there is no shortage of information on how to do that. Why then do we have record levels of obesity with all the associated health issues – high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart problems? Why is prescription drug usage at record highs?

New York Times author Eldon Taylor, in his book, Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will, addresses how attractive sound bites, repeated often enough, become social and cultural dogma. Dr. Norman Shealy, a leading world expert in pain and depression management says, “The overwhelming lesson of this book might be called ‘Subliminal Seduction,’ which has gradually overwhelmed free will and critical thinking.”

Which brings us to new year resolutions. When have we heard one of those “sound bites” suggest a resolve to memorize a poem, learn to play the harmonica, volunteer at a homeless shelter or smile more? Instead, year after year, we get the dizzying repetition of the new year/new you with a media blitz featuring attractive, toned, athletic bodies. We are assured that some gizmo or equipment will help us achieve those bodies and that we’ll be healthier, happier and living to our full potential. Who doesn’t want all that? So if help comes in the form of a gadget that can track our steps walked, how long it took to walk them or whether we had a good night’s sleep, of course, we must need it!

GoodHealth5But have we, as Dr. Shealy suggests, been seduced by the coolness factor of all that paraphernalia and allure of glowing digital icons? If I note the time on my kitchen clock as I go out the door for a walk down a tree-lined parkway, enjoying the sun and birds singing, talk to a few dogs, return home and check the clock again, I see that I’ve walked for 55 minutes. Call me naïve, but is my life enhanced knowing how many steps I took? When my feet slide over the side of the bed in the morning and slow-shuffle to the kitchen, do I need a wristband to tell me I could have used more sleep? Absolutely, I get it: the technology is fun and can be beneficial. But it is not free. For many, a gym membership is simply not affordable; nor is an $800 elliptical machine or $114 wireless activity tracker armband or $125 exercise shoes. If we buy into the belief that these things drive the activity, it is easy to “excuse” ourselves from working out if we can’t afford them. Likewise healthy eating gets deferred because we “can’t afford to buy all that fancy food.” Here’s the thing: physical activity and healthy eating depend on the mind, not equipment and gadgets or expensive food. The simplest, most beneficial exercise continually recommended is walking – put one foot in front of the other and just walk. Leave the phone and earbuds at home; engage your surroundings. Do some stretching, yoga or pilates.  Bodyweight workouts use your own body weight for tension and resistance. Meditation reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. Plenty of guidance and information is obtainable online, in books and videos. Yoga instruction is even available early morning on public television.

Healthier foods can actually be less expensive. Compare one pound of ground beef costing $8.00 that serves 3 at $2.67 each with a pound of dried beans at $2.79 which will provide at least six servings at $.47 each or a 15-oz. can of beans at $.50 per serving. Firefighter Esselstyn promotes “feasting on jillions of plant-diverse foods.”

So go ahead, experiment. It took me a while to try kale and now it’s one of my favorite greens. If one recipe doesn’t work, rather than pitch the food, try a different version of the recipe.

Optimum health starts in the mind. Commit to not making excuses, to resist getting sucked into the hype of the current fad or trend. Pushing past the mental hurdle is the biggest step on the journey toward a healthy, vibrant you. The possibilities are as limitless as your enthusiasm, curiosity and willingness to own your power.

As Wayne Dyer says, “The teachers have arrived, so we the students must be ready to take charge.”

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