Lifestyle Medicine and Rebellious Acts of Independence

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My “Why”

I had intended to talk about different types of motivation in detail today, but when this question was posed in response to a post I did on ways to reduce saturated fat, I thought it would be a good time to answer it. Not to be argumentative, but because I’m sure this Isn’t the first time these sentiments have been felt about something I’ve posted. So let’s talk about it. My “why” – and your “why” – will ultimately be a primary source of internal motivation, so though this isn’t the direction I thought I’d be going today, it’s still heavily related.

Let me start by saying: I’m not here to direct or tell people what is “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”. My goal is to provide information to make the best decision for you. Maybe you decide you want to eat all the saturated fat in the world; maybe you don’t. That’s not my business; I’m strictly looking to provide reliable information to be used if desired. I don’t make money from sharing this information. I do it because I think it’s incredibly unfair that there are so many easy, cost-effective (if not free) ways to improve our health that aren’t widely known. I do it because so many of us unnecessarily suffer from the symptoms caused by chronic diseases without knowing how much power we possess to prevent it while remaining true to who we are.

Yes, I want us to survive, but it’s not just enough to survive; I want us to THRIVE. I think quality of life gets lost in translation because it can seem like we’re being told to chase a specific, pre-defined quality of life. I’m not here to advocate for that; I don’t know what is best for you. I want you to function at your best and I want you to feel amazing. In spite of all the obstacles and crap thrown at you on a daily basis, I want you to t-h-r-i-v-e.

My message is about advocating for ourselves through small, self-identified goals developed based on facts and personal needs. Changes and adjustments should honor who we are – our culture(s) and traditions; options are meant to take this diversity into account. Let’s acknowledge that I am a white woman talking about diversity and inclusion in health, which can be an eye-roll in and of itself. I know. But I’m not here to tell anyone they need to abandon their identity/values in exchange for mine; I’m not here to tell anyone their lifestyle is “bad” or “wrong”. I’m here to provide information to find ways to make adjustments that feel true to you, your identity, your desired lifestyle, and your goals. True to your “why”.

Okay, back to motivation. We are often internally motivated by things connected to our personal values. I try to stay healthy for my family; for myself; to better help others, not just through this part of life that you’re seeing online, but every facet. I’m a friend, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, a stepdaughter, a special-needs pet caretaker. I need to be available for them. They are a large part of my “why”.

I also look at the reality of my own susceptibility to certain chronic diseases based on family history. I’m trying to do what I can to prevent my odds of chronic disease and not be reliant on pharmaceuticals to keep me healthy if possible, so I pay attention to family history. I want to feel empowered. I want to do what I can to fight the cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease that runs in my family. Although genetics are not the primary link to likelihood for chronic diseases, it is something to consider as a whole. Why consider genetics even if they don’t play a huge role in causation of chronic disease? Let’s address this common misconception.

First, cancer is the one chronic disease that has been most strongly linked to genetics; however, lifestyle factors can still work to prevent the odds. Other chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure do have linkage, but probably not as high as we may assume. Rather than genetics being the primary link, we have to consider shared lifestyles and their impact on health.

Think about it: we often end up with the same lifestyle habits as our families; it’s what we know. It’s woven into the fabric of our daily lives; our identities. We learned from our parents who learned from theirs; our kids will learn from us and theirs from them. But that also means we may be functioning off of information and lifestyle habits developed over a hundred years ago. Research has come a long way since then; we know so much more now about prevention and management. This culminates in what is known as lifestyle medicine, defined by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine as “the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention—including a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection—as a primary modality, delivered by clinicians trained and certified in this specialty, to prevent, treat, and often reverse chronic disease”.

Chronic disease prevention can be about breaking cycles and taking control of our own health outcomes, about changing the trajectory of family health outcomes. Not because anyone has been doing anything wrong, but because maybe we can feel a little better and live a little longer with improved information; because change doesn’t have to be big and overwhelming, devoid of identity while destroying or devaluing traditions; because often we don’t realize how small, incremental progress can have the greatest impacts; and because we may have far greater control over our health than we realized.

Okay, back to my “why”. I try to incorporate positive lifestyle behaviors, not just to support everyone I listed above, but to support myself. I’d argue the importance of being strong for ourselves increases in proportion to others’ reliance on us: the more pressure, the more responsibility, the more lives that depend on us, the more imperative it is that we take care of ourselves because we need it most. This isn’t about pretentious, out-of-touch solutions. My entire purpose here is to fight that idea; to fight the idea that taking care of yourself is only for certain people and has to be done certain ways.

Last, let’s not discount quality of life, you know? I lived the first 20 years of my life without any thought toward healthy behaviors or disease prevention. It just wasn’t part of our lives. I’ve spent the next almost 20 years since then slowly making changes. I’m not perfect and there are still so many improvements I can make, but I’ve come a hell of a long way.

I know what it feels like to be a smoker that never exercises, lives mostly off of fast food when not intentionally restricting calories, drinks primarily soda and never water, and couldn’t be bothered with letting sleep interfere with a social life. I know that I feel better at 39 than I felt at 19. I know that small changes can add up until you don’t even know how you lived your life feeling as crappy as you did, because you didn’t know how good you can feel. I know what it’s like to have mental health drastically improved through various aspects of lifestyle medicine. I know what it’s like to be more physically and emotionally available to people I love by periodizing what I need for my own health.  I know the positive impacts because I have lived it.

So why would I even do this? Why would I bother eating just a little less saturated fat? Why would I bother committing to taking a 10-minute walk each day? Why would I make stress management a priority?

Because it’s about so much more than just swapping out a couple of items high in saturated fat. It’s an expression of love to everyone in my life.

Rebellious Acts of Independence

I also want to address this from another perspective. I had the unique opportunity of working in a place where I was a spectator to legislation being debated and reviewed. I’ve been to more events than I can count, and I’ve seen the relationship between money, lobbying, and what’s disseminated to us. I know there are industries and people with the best of intentions, and I know there are very powerful industries and people whose existence relies on people being sick and needing them. The ugly truth is when people need something, they’ll eventually have to pay one way or another.

Lifestyle medicine is a long game to address the root causes. Quick fixes usually aren’t cheap and often keep us sick working to mask symptoms until another symptom appears. I don’t want others profiting off of an illness or disease I could have prevented myself – often for free. I’ll be damned if I’m giving that power and autonomy away. And I don’t want anyone else to do it either. I don’t want anyone taken advantage of or to feel powerless. I don’t want people going into debt to treat diseases that could have been prevented through series of small adjustments at little to no cost. I hate it.

Prioritizing my health has become a rebellious act of independence rooted in self-advocacy. It is a form of self-expression.

By the Numbers

Look, we need to take a dark turn here for a moment. I am a realist, not an alarmist, but I cannot change the numbers. We need to consider these statistics with the understanding that preventing and managing chronic disease through lifestyle medicine affects more than a small fraction of people. I work to provide this information because of the overwhelming number of people this does impact. And hey, if it doesn’t affect us directly, we should first consider ourselves lucky, then think about prevention; we may not always be on this side of the statistic*.

Volume

  • 45% – percentage of population that currently has at least 1 chronic disease

    • 131 million people

  • 49% – percentage of population that will have at least 1 chronic disease by 2025

    • 162 million people

  • 7 in 10 – number of deaths caused by chronic disease

  • 30 seconds – time between each lower limb amputation due to diabetes

  • 1 in 3 – number of children born in 2000 who will eventually develop diabetes based on current trends

Cost

  • Chronic diseases account for

    • 81% of hospital admissions

    • 91% of pharmaceutical prescriptions filled

    • 76% of all doctors’ visits

  • Over $400/month, per person, spent on chronic disease treatment each year (average)

Prevention/Delay/Management

  • Eliminating 3 risk factors (poor nutrition, inactivity, and smoking) prevents

    • 80% of stroke & heart disease (reflective of improved blood pressure & cholesterol)

    • 80% of type 2 diabetes

    • 40% of cancer

Statistics provided by Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease

Again, this is not meant to alarm; this is meant to empower. Eighty freaking percent reduction for metabolic diseases through lifestyle medicine?! That’s incredible and we should breathe a sigh of relief knowing we yield that amount of power over our own health.

We have the power to prevent and/or manage these devastating diseases. We have the power to revolt against the assumption that we’ll choose to pay for the quick fix to mask symptoms, continuing to line others’ pockets while we remain sick or get sicker. We have the power to feel better than we thought we could. We have the power to prove people wrong by knowing what’s right for us and going after our own version of optimum health – mind, body, and soul. We owe it to ourselves, and those that depend on us.

We owe it to our “why”.

REFERENCES

https://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/GrowingCrisisofChronicDiseaseintheUSfactsheet_81009.pdf

https://www.fightchronicdisease.org/

https://lifestylemedicine.org/about

About shauna@reyoutotalhealth.com

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