Health: More than just food & exercise

When we think of health, we often think of food and exercise. If both are perfect, then I’ll be healthy – right? But it’s just not that simple. Food and exercise are the best places to start for most people, but often other factors will make the difference.

True wellness is a lifestyle. Many wellness advocates now teach that there are seven factors to complete health: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and environmental. Each piece hinges on and impacts the others.

Physical. This is what we first think of as health: the absence of injury and the presence of every proper function. I remember two boys when I was in high school who’d both lost the use of their legs in accidents, who switched gears and became athletes, accomplishing more in their handicaps than they ever had before. It made me rethink my definition of health and wholeness. Physical health is using what you have to the best of your ability. It is also caring for the seemingly lesser parts of you so that they can continue being the unseen necessity (because your pancreas may seem insignificant until it doesn’t work.) This means watching your food intake and your exercise output, and being intentional about what you do with your vessel.

Intellectual. This is making sure your mind is stimulated, that you are learning new things and using your mind productively. It usually has to do with your career path, and making sure that you aren’t allowing your knowledge base to stagnate. Keeping your mind healthy also means that you aren’t allowing negative voices (your own or others’) to stifle your efforts toward productivity.

Emotional. Are you solid? Or do you fall asleep too many nights worrying? Emotional health impacts your nervous system, your bodily pH, and the strength of your immune system. Love heals a multitude of ills. Depression affects your sleep and eating habits, most notably, and other aspects of overall health, which then impacts your physical health and contribution to society. Anything that takes you down emotionally literally drains your life. Alternatively, anything that feeds your soul really does build you up.

Spiritual. This is where you stand with your god. Either you follow your own god or you follow the one God. Whatever you choose, this will govern your worldview and priorities. Are you living according to what you believe? If there is discord here – like when I professed to be a Christian during college, I was doing Campus Crusade rallies on Tuesday and frat parties on Thursday – I couldn’t stand myself. Your body is a sensible organism, taking cues from all sources and deriving balance and health from every input. With contradictory inputs, health suffers. Choose your way and ensure that all of your beliefs and actions are in accord with one another.

Financial. If you don’t have enough money to get by, you cannot eat well or sleep in security. The worries of daily necessities will overwhelm your best intentions, if you even have the energy for good intentions. You’re more likely just trying to make ends come together. Your financial health can make or break the best health regime.

Social. Do you have people who care about you, who will be there if you have a flat tire or a birth to celebrate? Loneliness is a disease of epidemic proportions in our media-saturated world. Although it hinges on the mental and emotional factors, it has more to do with the support structure of your safety net. We were designed for communication, with language and a need to love and be loved, face to face. Social contact helps us to know that we exist, and that we matter. It is a foundational need. This is also where the need to give back, be productive and make a positive difference in our world comes into play. A peaceful, interworking internal environment is a reflection of a strong, solid external network.

Environmental. This is our world. If the skies or soils are full of poison, nobody is healthy. I live in Central Texas, where seasons are determined by which tree is debilitating the population. If the world outside (or inside your house) isn’t conducive to being well, our bodily systems are completely occupied with maintaining homeostasis. The slightest bacteria or virus, when the body is already drowning in toxins, can become the final straw. Clean air and pure water are the baseline from which we derive vitality in all other areas.

True health comes from taking care of what matters. Making sure that you are fed and clothed well enough to do what you love for people who matter. It means doing what is right when nobody sees. It’s being able to look yourself in the mirror and achieving your purpose in life. It’s finding the road of life to be rough and long and desolate and finishing well anyway. True health is looking at the endgame and doing what needs done today to reach it.

Do the best you can with what you have today.

It’s all you have to work with.

Getting the Most Out of Your Food: Practical Nutrition

Celeste is a beautiful young lady who is going places. She probably has too many irons in the fire, but that’s what the college years are about. The only thing that holds her back is her energy level – and, if you talk to others, she’s a bit snappy at times. She doesn’t handle stress well. I talked with her a bit, and she said she ate well, with very little soda or sugar, and took her daily multi-vitamin. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

The more I talked with her, I found that she had a very routine diet, nearly the same every day, heavy on pasta with few vegetables and no shortage of ice cream. I suggested she try to eat something colorful – explore new foods – several times a week. She instantly snapped, and insisted her daily vitamin was sufficient to cover anything she’d missed. She wanted help, but didn’t want to change anything.

I understand that change is hard, especially if you’re low on energy. But in some respects, the body isn’t much different from a car: if you don’t have the output you expect, you need to start running premium fuels.

Being healthy is about more than popping a Hit-What’s-Missing pill on the way to wherever. Multi-vitamins are designed to fill the needs of a statistical norm. But statistical norms are numbers, not actual persons. Your personal needs change with the seasons, with the years, and with the demands placed on you. There may be nutrients in the formulation that you don’t need, or not enough of what you do. Most multi-vitamins also contain synthetic nutrients, which your body may or may not be able to utilize the same way as their naturally occurring counterparts.

Proper nutrition is a keystone of health, and comes from fresh, colorful foods and pure water. Just like us as the seasons change, different vegetables wax and wane. Lettuce, for instance, is pitiful through the winter and irresistible in the spring. Oranges contain abundant Vitamin C and pure hydration to carry us through the cold and flu season when we don’t want a glass of water. In this way, our foods themselves encourage us to diversify what we eat. Knowing what you need is simple, too. If it doesn’t taste good or upsets your stomach, you don’t need it. If it tastes amazing, you probably do.

Of course, this doesn’t work with processed “junk” foods, which trick your system with chemically engineered tastes. Processed foods, in effect, “steal” good nutrients from your body: they displace better foods from your diet and require extra effort to process through your body.

Sugar is not among the recommended foods. Its recent rationing will not provoke a hardship, for sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories. (Wilder—Handbook of Nutrition)*

Simply put, the sugar we know today is a highly concentrated byproduct of the original plants from which it comes. It is closer to a drug than a food. It promises much and demands more. Devoid of any accompanying fiber or nutrients, the sheer flood of pure crystalline sugar overwhelms our metabolic processes. (The average person consumes 800 calories of sugar daily. On a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that represents 40% displacement of actual food.) B-vitamins and phosphates, necessary for the mitigation of stress and production of energy, are used up in its digestion. Sugar contributes nothing to the transaction but a short burst of energy, then nothing more. The body has no choice but to store the excess calories as fat as actual energy becomes more depleted.

In order to get the best transfer of energy, we must eat real food, defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Sugar flaunts the defining characteristics of real food and hijacks the body’s natural response to it.. We are then less able to sense what is good, what is not, and when we’ve had enough. Real food provides everything we need for productive living and doesn’t require more than it gives. Real food doesn’t wear an ingredient label. Real food obviously goes bad after a few days.

The body requires glucose for life, but there is no evidence that dietary sugar is necessary. Most diets attribute their successes to limitation of sugars, whether they are for losing weight or controlling blood pressure or other issues that define metabolic syndrome. With a proper diet of real foods, your body can produce exactly what it needs for real health – along with plenty of energy to get everything done.

If you’re struggling with flagging energy, stop and calculate what percentage of your food today came from the outside perimeter of the grocery store and how much from the interior aisles. The higher the first number is will probably tell you a lot about your health and weight. But if you’re like me, this is a number that can improve. Because your health is not fixed in stone; it is a work in progress. Make it your aim to try something new from the produce section this week!

*Moose RM. Sugar a “diluting agent”. JAMA 1944;125:738–9. 10.1001/jama.1944.02850280054021

(For further details on what I’ve written here, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/)

Achieving Real Health

Who are you? How do others see you? Do you reflect everything you were created to be?

We’re embarking on the second week of 2019. The ramifications of our resolutions are becoming clear, and making this change permanent is looking to be more difficult than we’d hoped. Resolutions, because they are effecting change, take us out of our comfort zone. But if it were easy, we would not be making progress. But what is the real goal, and what will carry us through the obstacles on our path?

The reason for any lasting change has to be solid. Just fitting into that sexy dress isn’t enough – at the moment of truth, I don’t care about that dress. I care about who I am, and how I am perceived by others. I want people to treat me with respect because of what they see. A person with presence doesn’t deal with the same petty nuisances that others do.

So who are you? How do others see you? I knew a man who stopped to look at himself and the imprint he made on his young daughter. Did he want her growing up with a picture of Dad in her head, looking for a similar foul-mouthed, beer drinking jerk for a husband? He changed overnight and never looked back.

He knew that his image was not how he wanted to be remembered. But more, he cared about who she saw herself to be, how worthy she was, and what her children would become. How often do we stop and wonder how that amazing ancestor we all have would think about us? Are we everything he dreamed we would be? Do we represent his lineage well?

Life is a gift. We did not create ourselves. All we can do is maintain what we have, and maybe do a complete restoration at some point (or points.) Many years ago, my dad gave me an old bicycle. He had picked it up at a garage sale some time back, a few years old but very neglected. He stripped it to its beautiful frame, painted it black, and applied the decals that would’ve been proper when it was new. He polished its chrome rims and fenders, and bought new whitewall tires. That bike was gorgeous, and I received lots of compliments. But it’s been hanging in my shed for a long time now. The decals are chipped, the chain and hubs are dry, and the rims no longer shine. It now shows my neglect more clearly than my dad’s handiwork.

Has putting others’ needs ahead of your own left you forgotten and rusty? It may be time for a resto. But to what? If you were stripped down to the basics of who you should be, what would you build on?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Scripture says your body is a temple, in which God’s Spirit lives. I picture the supermodel that a company hires to be the faceplate for the brand. God chose you as His faceplate. You are the very image of God. That is buildable.

God is the author of health. If we are reflecting Him properly in the world, we should look like the intricately designed and tuned vessels they are. It’s more than just food and exercise that makes us healthy. Professional, social and spiritual pursuits also impact who we are. Everything we put into our lives should be whole, hearty and life-giving if we are to truly shine with health. Health, like beauty, is a total package, both inside and out.

The image must have integrity.

Once you recognize who you really are, who you were created to be, and how important you are, resolutions become more achievable. Stop and think, at various points in the day, if you are reflecting your design clearly. Is this what a temple of God looks like and accomplishes? Is this how a temple of God stands in the midst of trouble? Is this what a temple of God is used for? The closer you get to ‘yes’ on these questions, the closer you are to real health.