Sidewalk-less suburban cul-de-sacs keep you from walking. If you do walk, you face having to cross a four-lane highway to get to a store. Once at that store you are presented with a mile long row of boxed options disappearing into the horizon, all of them packaged with bright, distracting colors and most of them containing a great deal of sugar and fat. If this becomes overwhelming, as it often does, you just scuttle home, get in your car, drive to a Mickey D’s or TGIF’s, consume enough calories to see you through a day of strenuous farm labor, get in your car and drive home. You haven’t really moved much at all, but you find yourself exhausted–the parking hassle, the line, the inevitable “aggro” of dealing with people who are as little accustomed as you are to “dealing” in public: everyone wanting to get a seat, a table, their place in line, their “space”–and you fall into the welcoming, oversized swells of your overstuffed, supersized, leather like couch….and you swear, for the fiftieth time that tomorrow you will start getting “healthy”. The next morning you think about what getting healthy entails, and your nerve fails, because getting healthy, you know, is very, very complicated.
Except this is a lie. Getting healthy is simple. It’s no wonder, however, that you’re intimidated. You are inundated with images and phrases, top volume, supra-bold, underlined Logo Font snatches: ROCK HARD ABS, ONE TRICK TO A FLAT STOMACH, HOW TO GET MORE OF THE GOOD CARBS…. you see pictures of people with impossibly fit bodies…you look at the one neighbor you know who runs five miles every morning before work…. you try to run around the block, get out of breath and red-faced, ashamed if anyone sees you…. And then there’s the food. Spelt, the ancient wonder-wheat. Small batch, artisanal, locally grown, hormone free…. all of it costs extra and where do you start? And all of this is a distraction; all of it is a lie. All of it, in fact is nothing but the yammering of our binge/purge, perfect or awful, all or nothing American state of mind slithering in through your eyes and ears. Because the fact is, health is NOT complicated, it is simple. Once you realize that you will not very likely, be perfectly healthy, ever, you can concentrate on the simple goal of being healthy-er.
It’s hard to accept, I know. In all of our minds there is an Olympic athlete with a stomach you could bounce a dime off who is also the CEO of her/his own innovative communication revolution. And if you can’t be that person, what hope is there for you? You might as well have that fourth bowl of Honey Smacks and call it a day. But that, right there, is where the 12 steps come in handy. Because the American attitude towards the human body is the attitude of an addict; all pipe dreams of instant perfection, shame spirals, denial, and powerlessness. It’s an attitude maintained and encouraged because nobody in the history of the human race ever said to themselves “you know, I’m feeling just fine about myself today, have what I need to be satisfied so I think I’ll go buy something”. The truth is, though, you do NOT have to jog five miles before work. Start with parking a little farther from the office door.
Counting calories, they tell you is out. Count carbs. This exercise is no longer in vogue, that one is better. Do this, that or the other thing to avoid early onset Alzheimer’s. The truth is, if you have read this far, you are a literate adult and you know exactly what to do for yourself. Move a bit more, eat a bit less. That in of itself is difficult at times and requires help, but it’s not complex. Unrealistic goals are probably the number one reason for the failure not just of plans, but also of dreams. People who decide being a movie star is the only way to be an actor bypass a whole lot of interesting regional theatre and spend the rest of their lives trying not to admit they feel like a failure.
Here’s an alternative to the agonized ideals of perfection that the American marketing complex calls health. I once misheard the phrase “progress not perfection” as “process not perfection.” Instead of telling myself to do three hours of cardio a week, I decided to walk to work. It wasn’t easy at first, because I was the only moving figure on the landscape that wasn’t an automobile, but I had heard that the process, not perfection, was my goal. I paid attention to the way the grass looked, silvered with condensation, the way the air smelled unused, the cool hand of a breeze stroking my face. At lunch, instead of trying to drink the wheatgrass smoothie that left me grossed out and hungry, I just took the bread off my sandwich.
Being healthier is not easy because we are in a battle against things as personal as our inner demons and as structural as a hundred years of mistaken civic planning, but it is simple. Our bodies know what is best for us. We quickly feel better when we take better care of them. Ever had the orange juice rush? You know, when you are dehydrated, or perhaps in need of vitamin C? You can feel the receptors and peptides just opening their million little mouths and gulping it in, you can almost hear a chorus of thank you’s. I trust that feeling.
Of course, with all that “eat a little less move a little more” what I’m really talking about is moderation, never an easy concept for those of us “in the rooms” to master. It’s not easy, but it’s also not complicated and we should not feel intimidated by too much “information” or “expectations”. Let’s go a little easier on ourselves. Forget the marathon; let’s take a walk around the block first. On that walk, we can observe our block, the trees, the buildings, the sunlight or shade. Let process, not perfection, be our goal. In other words, enjoy the walk.
And if you can’t be that person, what hope is there for you? You might as well have that fourth bowl of Honey Smacks and call it a day.