10 Secrets of a Sustainable Lifestyle

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in Sustainability, Wellness, Writing | 0 comments

10 Secrets of a Sustainable Lifestyle

Wellness is as wellness does.  Preventive care and wellness are hot topics these days, and the essence of these concepts has deep and sustainable ramifications for the health care industry.  As a young person interested in health and focused on her own daily care, I am all too aware of the costs and growing rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, as well as stress and burnout. While some individuals prefer to avoid medical visits and a leave it to fate attitude, others prefer a more active path.  Among the latter group, many individuals are less apt to leave their health up to a physician visit once a year, rather, we want to be involved and take our health into our own hands, so that we may feel well far into the future.  We would prefer self-care to be an act of enjoyment, rather than a process of fear.  Luckily, the field of health has expanded to include wellness and lifestyle programs that not only treat chronic disease, but breed lasting personal results.    Dean Ornish, M.D., founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, is a leading expert on the power of sustainable changes in diet and lifestyle.   Here, everything I learned in 30 minutes from an interview with Dean Ornish, one of the modern fathers of preventive medicine.


6-dustin-scarpitti1. Your body is the healer

Our bodies have a remarkable capacity to heal themselves, if we let them.  No single choice will kill us or save us, but little choices, every day, for or against our health, will add up to big changes over time.  For many, it is the choice to remain unhealthy and treat the consequences with pharmaceuticals or to make necessary lifestyle changes. Change is appealing when we are in pain, and lifestyle changes can be better (and more effective) than drugs.  The first step in realizing change is reconsidering how we think about health.  We often think of medicine as treatment, or as care for those who are sick.  Yet medicine is not a crutch to lean upon when we are sick, nor an excuse for engaging in unhealthy behaviors presently.  Lifestyle isn’t only prevention but treatment, too, and the only side effects are good ones!  Lifestyle can be a conduit to healing for the unhealthy and healthy alike.


Sustainable tip: Your genes are not your fate.  Rather, everyday choices determine your wellness fate.  Your lifestyle behaviors determine the fate of whether your genes express wellness or sickness.  Your health really is in your hands!


Writing_Tea2. Wellness is personal, it is not a bandwagon

When you go on a diet, you’re more likely to go off the diet.  There is no right or wrong approach or diet or lifestyle for everyone.  You have to find what works for your body and your routine.  Learn what your body’s needs are, notice what fuels you and what slows you down.  Practice trial and error.  When something works for you, do it again, and when something doesn’t work, try something else.  It is not about one diet but about finding the spectrum of choices that work for you.  Give yourself time, because there are no quick fixes.  And, most importantly, do what you love.


Sustainable tip: Look inside for solutions.  What do you want to do?  What are the changes and choices you want to make.


8-brian-jimenez3. Restrict the don’ts; Enable yourself

Consider the very first dietary intervention: even Eve couldn’t help herself from biting the apple when she was told not to.  Keep in mind that restriction diets don’t work in the long-term.  We prefer the freedom of choice over being told what to do.  Risk reduction is often communicated through fear-based incentives.  Yet a fear of dying will not motivate successful behaviors.  We call this the “oh-no” response, and it is scary rather than optimistic.  What we are really looking for is the “a-ha!” moment, when you realize the joy of living, when healthy choices beget feelings of freedom.


Knowledge is a powerful source of healing.  To heal yourself, empower yourself with information.  Know the outcomes of dietary and lifestyle choices so that you can make the democratic choices that will work for you.  Healthy choices, like cooking and eating delicious and fresh food, make you feel good, and can even be fun!


Sustainable tip:  Know what personal food felons to avoid, but remember that what you include is just as important as what you exclude.  Choose what you can do.  Use Cleveland Clinic Wellness as a resource for truthful, fresh, inspiring, and actionable information about how to live happy, eat well, be strong, and care for yourself.


9-sonja-langford4. Slow down

How often do we find ourselves looking down at an empty plate after eating mindlessly and asking ourselves, “who ate that?”  According to Dr. Ornish, how you eat is as important as what you eat.  Instead of just consuming calories, practice the art of mindful eating.  Dining, especially with loved ones, can be a pleasurable and joyful experience.  Eating with the seasons, chewing slowly, and enjoying the flavors of food are sustainable lifestyle practices.


Sustainable tip: Dine as the French do!  Try eating with ecstasy, or eating as a form of meditation.  Start by spending 3 minutes meditating on a piece of dark chocolate (extra points for choosing fair trade).  Notice what it looks like, how it feels in your hand, the emotions that it evokes in you, how it smells, how it hits your palate.  This should be fun!


man_stairs5. Be a holistic champion versus a weekend warrior

An hour pushing yourself at the gym after a splurge is like a band-aid over a bullet wound.  Regard wellness choices as an integrative part of your day, rather than a compartmentalized alternative to balance out unhealthful behaviors.  What you do throughout the day in terms of wellness has a ripple effect; yoga practice leads to wise eating, and eating mindfully gives you more energy for exercise.


The more you do, the more you may actually be able to change your body composition.  Our brain cells are more plastic than we once thought which means that lifestyle can improve grey matter, “walking for three hours per week for three months caused so many new neurons to grow that it actually increased the size of peoples brains,” according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Sustainable tip: Take your omega 3 fatty acids for your brain, mood, and heart.  Remember the wisdom of Yoda, “do, or do not do, there is no try.”  Don’t just stand there, take a walk!


plant6. Consider the cost

Our bodies are poorly adapted to malnutrition.  Cheaper calories are the most hurtful.  The less healthy now, the more you will pay in medical costs down the road.  Whereas the side effects of lifestyle decisions like smoking cause you to age faster, constrict your blood flow and make cells impotent, the more healthy lifestyle changes you make, the more blood flow to your skin (side effect: slows aging), the more blood flow to your organs (side effect: increased potency and energy), the more blood flow to your heart (side effect: reverses heart disease).  These side effects are good ones!


High healthcare costs are not sustainable in any case.  75% of the 2.5 trillion spent in healthcare costs are due to chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented or even reversed by changing diet and lifestyle, quitting smoking and managing stress.


Sustainable tip: Plant a garden to grow your own healthy food, save money, relax in nature, and invite friends and family to connect.


8-s-zolkin7. Trust your gut

Remember your motivations.  Success is not just about following the information, but about working at a deeper level with yourself.  Being honest about why we engage in behaviors like smoking, eating fatty foods, over internet use, workaholism, can help us understand whether we are trying to numb the pain, get through the day, or really are enjoying them.  It is important to tune out the “shoulds” and really connect with your personal motivations.  Ask yourself what you want to accomplish, what living well means, how you want to feel.  Remember that lifestyle changes are your decision.  If you don’t want to make them, your efforts won’t work.  If you really do, check in with your resistance and your beliefs.  Ask yourself, “do I think I am likely to do well?  Have I made any changes in my life that I’ve been able to stick with?”  Let your motivations, self-care and choices come from within.


Sustainable tip: Balance your gut bacteria with probiotics.   Eat more fiber and bran which fill you up, slow the absorption of blood sugar into the bloodstream, and naturally cut calories.


fnshkx39yv8-thomas-lefebvre8. Community is the secret to success

It takes a village.  The root of the word yoga means to join, or to align, with yourself, your body, and your environment.  This truth found in all religions has valuable implications for health.

You are more likely to be successful making lifestyle changes if you align yourself with other people who are choosing to live healthful lives, too.  Going it alone makes the challenge of transformation that much harder, and the epidemic rates of loneliness and depression contribute to mortality.  Not only does community support your efforts of being well, but building healthy relationships is a boon to your health.  Intimacy promotes healing, and the difference between illness and wellness is connection (note that the “i” in illness is alone, whereas the “we” in wellness implies connection).  Acts of altruism, forgiveness, compassion, and love promote a sense of inner peace and wellbeing.


Personal sustainability translates to global sustainability.  We often forget that taking care of ourselves is a way of taking care of others.  Wellness has a ripple effect.  Our behaviors have implications for both our health and our environment.  Eating processed foods with many food miles is not only unsustainable for your health, but it contributes to greenhouse gases, water shortages and 20% of fossil fuel use. On the other hand, eating locally, organically supports local economy, environment, and your body.  What’s good for you is good for the planet.


Sustainable tip: Listen closely to what brings you pleasure, such as the joys of cooking together, walking together, relaxing together, listening, communing.


tumblr_mr80f71qQe1st5lhmo1_12809. Be focused

Slow and steady wins the race.  The irony of meditation is that the more we slow down, the more we are able to accomplish.  Stress may shorten the lifespan, and it certainly makes the day to day less enjoyable. The idea that more is better contributes to this stress via the feeling of scarcity.  Yet often when we get what advertizing tells us we want, the good feeling doesn’t last.   It’s like climbing a mountain and not being able to enjoy the view at the top because you are already looking to the next peak to climb.  Meditation can help us enjoy the gifts we already have, and the only side effects are stress relief, transformation, and inner peace.  When we think what we need is outside of ourselves, we give power to what’s outside.  Yet meditation helps us understand and harness the power within.  By focusing your energy on the present moment and feeding your body properly, you gain more power for directing your energy towards what brings you true fulfillment.


Language is powerful.  Not only do our thoughts and feelings influence our communication, but the words we use influence our inner thoughts and feelings.  Our culture loves using combative language.  We are often tackling problems, arming ourselves, fighting disease, fixing issues, striving against one another.  Taking up arms doesn’t help us bridge connection either to others or to ourselves.  Words can harm or heal.  Being kind to ourselves helps in our journey of caring for ourselves.  We are not problems to be solved.  Health exists within, and we can support our body’s efforts to heal by being gentle (but firm) in our behaviors.


Sustainable tip: Practice breathing for 5 breaths when you feel stressed or before you make a decision.  Be mindful about your choices.  Taking a second to breathe before choosing makes it much easier to pick an apple over a candy, or to realize that a walk around the block will feel better than some TV time.  Try using language of love and joy and healing.


tumblr_mr80mqGZC31st5lhmo1_128010. Keep it simple

Wellness is not about a big overhaul.  While there are big problems (obesity, energy crisis, climate change, chronic diseases) to solve, wellness is really about simple choices, every day, “simple choices, especially love and intimacy, can make a powerful difference.”  Change does not have to involve giant leaps.  Baby steps, especially if that involves walking 3 hours a week, can be just as effective, and make you feel good.  Sustainable behavior is founded on joy and pleasure and freedom.  Remember that wellness is a choice and you can choose to have fun in pursuing it.  Be good to the earth and those around you and you also end up being good to yourself.


Sustainable tip: Figure out what practices are good for you and bring you joy.  Practice the art of living well.  Enjoy the pursuit of wellness! And, when in doubt, take a walk.

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