An Ounce of Prevention

Fruits-and-Vegetables Over the years I’ve spent working with weight loss clients I’ve had many conversations that involved a phrase like this: “If only I hadn’t gained the weight in the first place!” or, “I guess the best way to lose this weight would have been not to put it on.” In each instance, I’d ruefully agree, then turn my attention back to the task at hand – undoing what had already been done. Occasionally, I’d find myself thinking about the conversation later, and wishing there were some way to get that message out to others (especially teens and young adults) so they could benefit from this hard-earned wisdom. Feeling like that was a huge and impossible task, I never did anything except think about it.

Recently, I’ve realized that this same thinking – that the best way to lose weight is to not gain it in the first place – can be applied to all other lifestyle related diseases. Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke and possibly even cognitive and autoimmune disorders are all linked to the choices we make each day. If you think about it, weight gain, low energy levels, and rising blood pressure and cholesterol levels are really just early symptoms of what may become much more serious conditions.

When someone receives a gut-wrenching diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes or cancer, their thoughts often turn to what changes they can make to improve their odds of stopping or reversing the disease. Not surprisingly, those things are the same lifestyle habits that may have prevented the condition in the first place. While the role of genetics can’t be ruled out or even minimized, heaping unhealthy behaviors on top of those predispositions only serves to speed the process along. Perhaps it’s only fanciful thinking, but what if the best way to beat a debilitating disease is to not get it in the first place? Why do so many of us only pay our body the attention it deserves after something has gone very wrong? The answers are out there, and they are universal regardless of disorder:

– Eating a healthy diet centered around whole plant foods
– Exercising regularly
– Consuming sugar, saturated fat and alcohol in extreme moderation
– Not smoking
– Standing or moving more than we sit
– Practicing mindfulness and other stress reduction techniques
– Getting adequate sleep
– Maintaining a strong and active social network
– Keeping a positive attitude and practicing gratitude
– Laughing

Are these things really so hard to fit into our lives? Are the other demands and distractions of life really more important than our health, and perhaps even life itself?

When it comes to affecting the change I want to see, I definitely have more questions than answers. But maybe by asking those questions in a public forum I can spark some thought on the matter by others. It’s a start.

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