The HARD Way In
We recently had a family fun Friday night with one of my dearest old friends. We have known each other since we were Fourteen or so and we are lucky to still live close to each other. Yet life gets in the way sometimes, and we don't see each other as often as we would like. But it is the type of friendship that she can call me early (like when roosters start crowing, and the time your kid wakes up early) on a Friday morning to make plans for that night, and I am going to find a way to make it work. It's that kind of friendship.
To say I am grateful for our friendship would be an understatement. I would also say I am proud of our relationship, especially the way that we support each other in the messy-ness that is motherhood.
Long gone are our youth filled days that were narrowly focused on softball, boys, and partying (well unless you count planning our little boys birthdays?!?) Rather than growing apart as we grew up, I would say our lifestyle and values have brought us even closer together.
So during our Family night, it was no wonder that we found ourselves engaged in a conversation about said shared interests and values. Granted it was a typical mom conversation broken and disrupted by the sounds of joyful play between our children, our train of thought repeatedly derailed by their intermittent demands for a drink or help with a puzzle, but hey we are mom's, we have divided attention on lockdown.
Our disjointed conversation was based around living the happiest and healthiest lives for ourselves and our families, and the sense of purpose we feel about supporting others in doing the same.
You see, both my friend and I have worked in different parts of the Healthcare world for over a decade, both on the front lines of our nation's obesity epidemic. Both of us bearing witness to the flaws of our system, both with the sincere desire to see peoples health change for the better, for the sake of humanity's best interests not for the sake of the corruption and greed that currently controls our healthcare system (The ring leader pharmaceuticals, health insurance and their many bed buddies.)
We both have tried (and will continue) to effect change amongst the illness focused treatment and the symptom management approach, we have done what we can to offer small glimmers of the preventative and behavioral strategies that are needed. It is an uphill battle, in that there is little incentive for healthcare to take a preventative approach when so much profit lies in people staying ill. And honestly, all the blame doesn't fall on healthcare, the food industries profits made on highly processed food-like products must also be accounted for, as well as consumer choice.
So, we talked and talked and talked about the rise of obesity, about the shortcomings of the healthcare systems approach to tackling the issue, and we discussed the solutions that lie in the science of behavior change, epigenetics, the microbiome, and we can't forget what that super smart guy Hippocrates knew long ago.
In the midst of our passionate convo, my husband a very thoughtful listener chimed in "Yeah all of these aspects of our healthcare are a problem but what about the fact that most people just want a quick fix?"
Too which I promptly responded "Well that may have been the case, but I believe that many people are waking up, collective consciousness is shifting, and people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are feeling let down by the system, so they are bound to be more accountable to the fact that they themselves have to change."
But is this true?
I can't help but feel that since we all share the basic human need to feel capable and in control of our own lives, that has got to count for something. Right?
Yes and no.
I genuinely believe that people are not looking for quick fixes but rather that they have lost the belief in themselves and just need to be empowered and supported to do the HARD work that comes with healing from illness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Although, we all want to prove ourselves capable and in control, when push comes to shove, changing thought patterns and behaviors is HARD work. And with so many sources of false hope and magic bullet gimmicks, many of us do tend to reach for the pill for our ill because the allure that we can be ‘cured' is just so dang tempting.
The sad and alarming truth is that the majority of chronic diseases and health conditions most frequently treated are considered lifestyle diseases-- due to poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and stress. We are sick as a result of our behaviors. What's worse and profoundly concerning is the rates of childhood obesity and illness are skyrocketing too. Data taken between 1999-00 and 2015-16 showed an increase in obesity from 14.8% to 20.6%, meaning 1 in 5 children between the ages of 12-19y/o are now obese (and that was three years ago now.)
I am certainly not ignoring or going to negate the socio-economic component to our health crisis, and how difficult it is to eat healthier when the cheapest foods are the worst available. I am not suggesting that lack of education and the inability to access affordable support for the improvement of health is not part of the huge problem (here's where the joke that is our government plays their part, talk about needing to re-prioritize.)
I understand that It is incredibly tough when you are sick to look beyond treating your symptoms, and yet without changing behaviors, without getting to the root cause of dis-ease, the probability of feeling better and living a healthier life is slim.
So how do we get healthy?
Improving health is not a simple task, poor health is a complex issue that can be attributed to so many factors. We tend to think of the most noticeable changes that we need to make like diet and exercise — which are only two components of a healthy lifestyle and for most people, they are the hardest habits to stay consistent with because it is really the mindset behind our behavior that has to be dealt with.
The negative beliefs that we hold about ourselves (that we are mostly not even aware of because they live deep in our subconscious.) The unhealed traumas of our lives (and believe me everyone has encountered trauma of some kind, I mean all of us were born, and that is a traumatic event.) And the numerous stressors we face on a daily basis; these I believe, are the triggers for our actions, and the most challenging and compelling things to tackle to achieve to healthier living.
Additionally, focusing solely on the physical aspects of our health is a one-dimensional approach, lost on the fact that we are multi-dimensional beings. We have a physical body with tissues and organs that need movement and fresh air, circulation, hydration, nutrients and sleep; but we are also-- emotional, energetic, social, intelligent, occupational, and spiritual beings. So consider this, you have good health habits, you've been exercising and eating your veggies, and you're still suffering from chronic fatigue and other ailments; perhaps it is another aspect of your being that needs your attention. Or maybe you have an underlying hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficiency, yeast overgrowth or a leaky gut, and all your getting is a prescription for yadda yadda that comes with some special side effects.
All that being said, I am not blaming or judging anyone for falling into the traps of our current healthcare system or for consuming "health" products and programs that offer overnight life-changing results-- only to find yourself cycling back into old behaviors because the whatever you bought just wasn't sustainable as a lifestyle. I have ridden the rollercoaster of diets and exercise programs, purchased a gadget or a gizmo, taken a magic potion because I was externally seeking the elusive unicorn of health and happiness. Somewhere along the way, I realized that the wounds underlying what I was seeking hadn't been healed, that the beliefs about myself and emotions that I wasn't dealing with led me right back to the box of cookies and bottle of wine (which are fine on occasion but perhaps not daily.)
Believe me, I recognize and have lived that it is especially hard as a mother to make yourself your TOP PRIORITY, and at the same time, it could not be more critical! We Mama's have such an important role to play in our current health crisis. First and foremost our HEALTH AND HAPPINESS MATTERS--plain and simple. Secondly for the sake of our families health. Beyond that, we have the ability to MODEL and to whatever capacity they accept it, we can teach our children the value and importance of exercise, proper nutrition, and other self-care practices. Sharing and embodying those values and behaviors with our children will impact generations to come.
So that brings me to my conclusion and nearly the end of my rant.
The reality is, there are NO QUICK FIXES, only many many false promises, and temporary solutions. There is no easy way to healthy living in the world that we live in. Let's face it it is far easier to be unhealthy these days then it is to put in the time, effort and consistency that it takes to live well. The fact is the more you look externally for health, the more damage that is done. It is like trying to put a bandaid on internal bleeding; eventually, you are gonna bleed out.
We all have to take responsibility for our health.
The tough pill to swallow, YOU have to CHANGE to improve your health, but if you think about it, that is also good news. It means you have CONTROL of your health destiny. Yes, it means you have to say no to convenience, limit distractions and temptations in your environment, and MAKE the time for yourself to do the hard work in the midst of your busy life. You have to CONSISTENTLY make the CHOICES that are in ALIGNMENT with your GREATEST WELL-BEING. You have to become CONNECTED enough to the BELIEFS and EMOTIONS that trigger you to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors and be AWARE enough to call yourself out on your own bullshit.
There is more good news, you don't have to make any of these big changes on your own! There are many resources (even free ones) available to aid you, and not the gimmicky traps I alluded to before-- there are coaches, teachers, fitness specialists, group fitness classes, nutrition experts, therapists, behavioral specialists, holistic doctors, and healers-- all willing and eager to take the journey to better health with you. You can call in a tribe of support and do the hard work, you can make changes alongside your friends and family, you can take back your power and realize your full health potential!
But, I am not going to sugar coat it, which you probably gathered by now, it is going to be challenging.
That means doing the INNER WORK, time and time again making sure we are prioritizing our health and staying HONEST with ourselves about the role we play in our wellness.
We must learn to stay committed to showing up for ourselves even when we are low on time and energy, also when (especially when) we are stressed to the max.
Taking your health into your own hands means taking the HARD WAY IN rather than the easy way out.
The reward though, being FULLY ALIVE, I am sure we can all agree, is well worth the effort.