The New Year calls forth many resolutions regarding diet and exercise. Most are broken rather quickly. One reason is that resolutions are often made without an understanding of the sound principles that are necessary to help motivate a sustained commitment.
Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, argues that the cultivation of what he calls physical intelligence is an essential element towards achieving other purposes:
If we can subordinate the body to the spirit—that is, our appetites and passions to our conscience—we become masters of ourselves. People whose lives are a function of their appetites and passions rather than a conscience cannot give of themselves. Their space between stimulus and response is narrowed—they lose personal freedom, thinking all the while that they are exercising it. The body is a good servant but a bad master…
What happens to our emotional intelligence, or to our heart, when we neglect our physical bodies? What happens when we become a function of appetites and passions? Patience, love, understanding, empathy, compassion, and the ability to listen are themselves subordinated—they become buzzwords without flesh and blood to drive them.
Covey’s action guide points to “three fundamental ways to develop our physical intelligence. First, wise nutrition; second, consistent balanced exercise; third, proper rest, relaxation, stress management, and prevention thinking.”
The following recommendations are offered in order to help stimulate your thinking. Some of these changes will involve fundamental changes; they are not just tweaks on the margin. Of course, if you have an existing physical condition, consult your health care provider before trying them.
For many, the typical American diet is horrible. It is filled with refined carbohydrates, excessive animal fat, and cheap and deadly vegetable oils.
Here are my recommendations:
- Eat four to six servings of vegetables from the Brassica family a day; these vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and collard greens. These vegetables are high in vitamins, calcium, and anti-cancer compounds. Leafy, dark green vegetables (kale, collards, mustard greens) are essential part of a healthy diet, and most Americans do not eat them at all. Eat them daily; simply steam them without overcooking them. When available, locally grown produce from farmers’ markets and/or organically grown vegetables are preferable.
- Increase your consumption of whole grains and beans such as brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa (a fast cooking and nutritious whole grain), lentils, black beans, kidney beans etc.
- Drink more water (filtered municipal tap water, quality well water, or spring water). Soda, milk, coffee, tea, juice, energy drinks etc. are not substitutes for water. Chronic dehydration is a factor contributing to many illnesses. There is no substitute for simple, pure water.
- Greatly reduce or eliminate refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar. Sugar suppresses the immunological system, and excessive consumption contributes to many chronic health problems. According to U.S. News and World Report, in one year, the average American consumes approximately 142 pounds of sugar and another 61 pounds of high fructose corn syrup. Some of this is consumed in the form of soda, of which the average American drinks 52 gallons per year. In the same year, the average American eats only 8 pounds of broccoli.
- Reduce or eliminate artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. If you need to be motivated, google “aspartame dangers” and read just a few of the thousands of web sites on this dangerous food additive.
- Increase your consumption of wild caught fish while reducing your consumption of red meat. Minimize the use of farm raised fish, feedlot beef and pork, and factory raised chickens and eggs. Feedlot beef is often euphemistically referred to as corn fed beef. Feedlot beef is high in saturated fat and low in omega-3 fatty acids. The alternative is grass fed beef which is leaner and has more omega-3 fatty acids.
- Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids—most diets are dangerously low in them. Wild Alaskan salmon, as well as fresh flaxseed oil, are good sources of these essential fatty acids. Flaxseed oil can be found in the refrigerator case of Whole Foods or your local natural foods store; it may be used instead of butter on popcorn and toast.
- Reduce your consumption of milk. Americans have been culturally “hypnotized” to believe that they can’t have “strong bones” if they don’t drink cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is indeed a perfect food, if you are a calf. There are foods other than milk that are rich in calcium. In order to increase calcium consumption, as well as many other vital nutrients, again, eat more green vegetables from the Brassica family.
- For cooking, use olive oil or unrefined vegetables oil such as sesame or safflower. Spectrum is a manufacturer of quality unrefined oils. Do not regularly consume heavily refined supermarket oils such as soybean or canola oil; and stay away from processed foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
- With your doctor’s advice, look to reduce your reliance on prescription drugs. High cholesterol and blood pressure drugs may be reduced or eliminated if major dietary changes help eliminate/control the underlying conditions. There are herbal compounds, such as New Chapter’s clinically tested Zyflamend, that reduce inflammation (some herbs interact with drugs and you should consult with your physician). There are growing numbers of physicians who are interested in alternative or complementary medicine.
There is a new exercise movement which some have labeled the “functional fitness movement.” This movement holds great promise for individuals to build a personal exercise regime that can be followed throughout a lifetime. Functional fitness helps to build strength and flexibility; it provides aerobic conditioning as well. The wonderful thing about functional fitness is that it does not rely on weights but instead relies on body-weight. These exercises not only reduce the risk of injury, but also allow you to exercise at any time without equipment. This is perfect for “road warriors” or time-challenged individuals. Personally, I do these exercises several times a day in blocks of 10-15 minutes.
Here are some specific recommendations: For men, John Peterson’s Pushing Yourself to Power. For women, Wendie Pett’s Every Woman’s Guide to Personal Power covers the same ground. For men and women, John Peterson’s and Wendie Pett’s Miracle Seven is excellent. For men and women, there is a compact, inexpensive, and ingenious exercising device called the Lebert Equalizer. Scott Sonnon’s Intu-Flow program will condition ailing joints and support flexibility efforts. If you have not been exercising, consult your physician.
- Identifying with your ego is your number one source of stress. Be more aware of your stressful ego thoughts. Non-judgmental awareness brings relief. While you cannot directly control your thinking, there is no need to grab hold of, and ruminate over ego thoughts. Make an empty space and more peaceful thoughts will automatically fill the void.
- Reduce your consumption of television. Do not watch the local news or pundit shows on Fox News or CNN before you go to bed. These shows are filled with transitory and meaningless information about celebrities, crime etc.—they pollute your mind, increase stress, and increase difficulty sleeping.
- Cultivate practices such as quiet reflection, prayer, meditation, exercise, or walking that allow you to clear your head.
- Note: Stress is a common cause of back pain. If you have back pain, consider the drug-free and surgery-free work of John Sarno, M.D. (I have read Sarno’s books but I have not reviewed his DVD)
Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year.