There seems to be a constant debate on the American diet, the quality of our food supply, and the healthiest eating style. There seems to be a parallel debate over the rising rates of our major medical illnesses from heart disease to cancer to diabetes to dementia. At the same time there is an awareness that most Americans do not know if they are eating the healthiest diet. In fact, recent statistics show that 25% of Americans with diabetes do not even know they have diabetes. So, the question arises: what can you do to gain a clearer awareness of your current state of health and determine the best eating style for you?
There is another reality. Not all of us have easy access to a physician and their battery of tests. Not all of us have the financial resources to spend money on a medical check-up unless we find ourselves in a medical crisis where we have no choice. My position is simple. I am a strong proponent of taking care of your own health. For me, that means taking ownership of your assessment of your physical health, plus taking equal ownership of clarifying your best eating style for sustained good health. We can do it on our own, without that visit to the doctor’s office, but many of us do not know even where to start.
So, here’s where I would start. We need to ask ourselves some basic questions to clarify our physical health. Are our hands and feet typically warm? Is our body warm or do we often feel cold with chills? Our temperature should run 98 – 99 degrees; and a lower temperature is just as important a signal (that something is wrong with our health) as a high temperature. Do we sleep through the night? Are we able to fall asleep within 15 minutes? Do we typically go four hours without urinating? Do we have a bowel movement every day without straining? Do we have to sit on the toilet for more than a couple of minutes? Personal questions, but important questions.
There are some additional questions of value. How is our energy level during the day? Are we dragging or do we have sufficient vitality? How much of the day do we spend sitting and how much of the day do we spend standing or walking? Dr. Cooper recommended 10,000 steps a day. People who move around during the day are typically much healthier than those people who sit at a desk. Or spend hours stationary at some committee meeting. Active people stay in good health. They live longer. When we exercise, do we find ourselves short of breath? Are we able to talk while taking a brisk walk for a mile?
These are a lot of basic physical health questions. However, if we can respond with positive answers to each of these questions, then we are probably in good health. And if we are in good health, then we do not need to become obsessed with any diet or any eating style change. If we are in good health with positive answers to the above questions, then we can just follow our natural instincts when it comes to eating. Don’t listen to all of the debate. Keep eating what our body urges us to eat. We do not have to be on the perfect diet. Yes, I still think there is value, especially as you grow older, in reducing our amount of meat and dairy products and shifting to more of a plant-slanted eating style. But I am not recommending any strictly enforced eating style. If we feel in good health, and if we are showing the signs of good health, we can relax. We are taking care of our body and our health.
Now, what happens if our answers to the above physical health questions are not so positive? What if our hands are often cold? What if we do not sleep through the night? What if we are experiencing problems with your elimination? My first suggestion is not a change in our eating style. Instead, my first suggestion is to pause and take inventory of our level of stress. Stress can disrupt all of our body’s typical physiology, leading to all of the above symptoms. Can we reduce our level of stress? No? The job is the job. Well, before switching diets, try to take more pauses in our day (or breaks from our stress). Turn off the cell phone for half an hour. Take a walk in a nearby park. Relax with a good book, not with another TV show. Yes, there are ways to reduce stress outside of the work place.
If we have reduced our level of stress, and if we are still exhibiting some of the above symptoms, which are associated with poor health, then I would progress to an examination of our eating style. Just start with the basics. We do not need to jump into a vegan life style. Think of the physiologic stress caused by some food choices. Those “S” (stress) food choices include salt, sugar, starch, and saturated fat. Those foods are easy to reduce in our diet. At first, leave everything else unchanged. Still eat what we want to eat – just reduce those four “S” foods. It’s pretty simple. Now, after making that adjustment for several weeks, go back to those initial physical health questions. Are our hands warmer? Are our intestines working better? Are we sleeping better? If yes, then we have improved our health – all on our own.
That’s the approach for better physical health. If we cannot access health care, then we need to rely on our own assessments and our own small changes. The key is to make small changes and re-assess. Too many people rush through life without pausing to assess any of the above questions. Too many people fail to make an attempt on their own to improve their answers. We do not need more pills. We need more self-assessment, more life changes, and finally some small eating style adjustments. For most people, those easy steps will be sufficient. However, if we are still struggling, then I suggest more education. No obsession, just education. Together, we can learn how to take even more ownership of our life and our health.
Doesn’t that sound worth the effort?