Getting Back to Basics

by DavalosMcCormack on September 29, 2008

A few years ago, when I was working as a producer in TV, doing health and medical news, my reporter and I used to joke that our health segment every day could consist of her sitting on the set and saying “eat right, exercise regularly, see you tomorrow.” That’s because most of the issues and problems we were reporting on involved those two elements.

For instance, if we were talking about a new approach to treating diabetes, unless it was type 1 diabetes we would always mention that the best way to keep the disease under control, or even prevent it in the first place was to eat a balanced diet and to lead an active lifestyle.

The same applied to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and the list goes on and on. It really is the most basic of all medical advice, and the best. Eat right, exercise regularly. Doing those two things can reduce your risk of some of the deadliest and most disabling diseases out there.

Now I know it sounds simple but clearly it’s not, if it were 60 percent of American adults would not be overweight or even obese. Knowing this stuff is one thing, putting it into action is another. So how do we change that?

A colleague of mine at the hospital where I now work, Dr. Bill Stewart, has written a book called “Deep Medicine”. It is a very thoughtful book on many levels but it’s basic premise can be boiled down to one phrase, ‘everything we do is about health, every decision we make is about health.’

Say, for example, you are in the grocery store and are trying to decide if you should get low fat or full fat milk for your breakfast cereal. Getting the low fat version is better for you so deciding to do that is a healthy decision. Getting the full fat is not so healthy. As you then head to the cereal isle do you get your usual box of “Super Fruity Extra Chocklity Cinnamon Hoops’ or granola. Well, maybe you should read the labels on both boxes to see which has more fat, sugar, even sodium. Then decide which is healthiest.

We make decisions like this dozens of time every day; do we get the snickerdoodle to go with our morning cup of coffee, do we have a slice of chocolate cake that someone at the office bought to celebrate a birthday, do we take the elevator up one flight or the stairs. Most of the time we don’t think about these decisions, they are automatic, we follow the patterns that we laid down years ago. The problem is, if those patterns are bad ones and become regular habits, if they lead us into making bad health decisions then it’s no wonder we’re out of shape and overweight.

What we have to do now is get back to basics, to think about the things we do everyday, and make a conscious decision whether to opt for the healthy one or the other one. Now, clearly we are not going to change every single thing we do in one day. Not only is that impractical it’s also unsustainable. By day three we’d be feeling so deprived we would be smashing open the vending machine in the office so we could scarf down every bit of chocolate and deep-fried salt-laden snack inside.

No, the secret is to start first by just being aware of these decisions, to recognize whether we tend to opt for the healthy one, or the other one. Once you do that  you can start by making small changes. One at a time. Get used to that, then make another. Add things in as you feel comfortable with them. Create positive habits little by little.
For instance if you cut out salt completely a lot of food is going to taste really bland for about two weeks until your taste buds adjust. So instead of stopping cold turkey (and even cold turkey can taste bland if you are used to smothering it in salt) cut back bit by bit, so that you gradually wean yourself off it.

Remember, no one builds up bad habits overnight, so you are not going to change them overnight. Take your time. One decision at a time. You’ll be surprised how even small things can quickly add up to big results.

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