I need to share a terrible secret with you.
You may decide not to follow my blog anymore after this, but if you’re willing to hear me out, this truth might just set you free.
Still, I’m feeling anxious about stepping up to this level of vulnerability.
Are you ready?
Give me a minute to take a drink of water. My throat’s a little tight.
How I Celebrated My Birthday
My birthday was July 7 (it was #52 if you really need to know). My mom and my son both had birthdays in the last week, so we gathered at my sister’s house Sunday night for dinner and family fun. It was a great time. Since dad died, we have been spending more time together, but this was a refreshingly upbeat dinner.
My brother-in-law grilled this amazing, fresh, Alaskan salmon on a couple of cedar planks (you soak them in water and they give the fish a distinctive flavor without scorching). My sister stir-fried spinach and Brussels sprouts. We had some delicious sourdough bread, dipped in olive oil with salt and pepper.
It was a terrific time around the dinner table with lively conversation and lots of laughter.
And then it happened.
I shudder to tell you.
My niece, bless her heart, served us a homemade birthday cake. A carrot cake. With a ton of sugar and cream cheese.
It was not organic. It was not sugar-free, gluten-free, or even fat-free.
It was amazing. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. We all enjoyed it and thanked her enthusiastically.
The Thing You Need To Know
Now, I understand if you expect me to be an organic purist, a Paleo purist, or a vegetarian purist. After all, I call myself a “wellness coach,” and in my chiropractic practice, I use the phrase, “move right, eat right, think right, live right.” It would be easy to assume I’m on my A game 100% of the time, just like you are.
But before you unfriend me, I want to share something with you, especially if you have ever struggled with yo-yo dieting.
Just as you can go in a ditch on the junk food side of the road, you can also go in a ditch on the healthy side. I’m all for eating right – after all, it’s part of my message at Fundamental Health Systems – but I see too many people get out of balance pursuing fad diets and “health at all costs.”
It’s good to eat organic, but honestly, I would consider it a win if more people just added more vegetables to their lives – organic or conventional. I’ve seen people walk out of restaurants or complain because there weren’t enough organic options on the menu. It’s easy to get militant about eating right, and that’s not the point.
The point is to enjoy life in good health, and that involves balance.
Why People Give Up Healthy Eating
I recently saw a t-shirt that said something to the effect of, “if you stop eating bacon, you will live an extra ten years…ten long, miserable, bacon-free years.” I laugh out loud whenever I see it. I get what they are trying to say. It’s easy to get in a ditch about healthy eating. That’s one of the reasons so few people do it, or why people start and give up.
If you have ever started a fad diet, like the cabbage diet, or the rice-cake diet, you have experienced this. You start out with good intentions, but the new lifestyle is so mind-numbingly bland or unpleasant that you can’t stick with it. It’s brutal. The first time you add barley greens to your morning routine, you get that look on your face like you are chewing an aspirin. You never want to do it again. All-or-nothing lifestyle changes seldom work.
You will get better results if you take a different approach.
Instead of going cold turkey on all your favorite foods and living a painful monastic life of dry kale salads, why not add some healthy options to your meals, and then gradually replace some of your unhealthy choices with something better?
My colleagues will probably want to pull my credentials for saying this, but why not swap your pork sausage for turkey sausage? Your Coca-Cola for iced tea or lemonade (or both)? Your Strawberry Pop-tarts for…real strawberries?
Living healthy doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. Like any adjustment, it’s going to come with an uncomfortable season. If your palette only craves sugar, salt, and artificial flavors, it will take some time to adjust to real food. It may take days, weeks, or even months, depending on how deeply your body has been trained to like certain foods.
When Veggie Met Sally
I have been through this process with countless patients over the years, but I remember one particular patient, whom I will call Sally, because of the clever title I just thought of. We had been weaning her off of candy bars and Skittles for weeks. One day, she came into her appointment with a huge grin and said, “Last night, I made a tray of cut vegetables for our family snack time, and I found that I LOVE green bell pepper!!” It was an unbelievable revelation to her, and she quickly moved on to tomatoes, zucchini, and even broccoli. She dropped about five sizes, got her energy and her sex life back, and got free from a life of chronic pain. It didn’t happen overnight, and it required a commitment on her part to press through when her fleshly cravings were getting the best of her, but she did it.
Instead of quitting cold turkey, we moved her gradually to a healthier mindset. And I let her cheat once in a while. I’ve found that the more dogmatic I am about sticking to a military-grade regimen, the faster I lose people, and I never get them back.
Your Biggest Obstacle To Lifestyle Change
I want to tell you another secret — this one will help you build a healthy life even faster. The driving force behind diet failure is shame. Sometimes, your old mindset gets the best of you and you cheat. When people cheat on their diets and feel shame, they quit, because they feel like they can’t go back, like they will never make. (It’s the same reason people drop out of school or leave a church). The voices in your head will scream dirty words at you, like “failure.” Shut off that noise.
I take the shame out of the equation. If you want to have a piece of pie, have the piece of pie. Don’t hide it, and don’t punish yourself. That’s shame. You’re a grown-up; you can make your own choices and you have every right to eat however you want. You will experience better results as you change the ratio of healthy food to junk, but it’s still your choice.
If you want to eat a wholesome, organic meal and follow it with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, be my guest. I won’t judge you for it. You might wake up in the morning feeling like someone parked a bus on top of you, but it’s up to you to decide if that consequence is worth the pleasure of enjoying the ice cream. If you love pizza, and your friends are having pizza, eat the pizza without shame. Now, if you want to live a long, healthy life, you will want to eat less pizza and ice cream, and more vegetables. But my point is, it’s not all-or-nothing.
What Is Your Health Vision?
At the end of the day, you need to have a vision for what you want your health to look like, find out what it will take to get there, and then make choices consistent with what you know. If you did not know that sugary foods will hurt your immune system, burn out your pancreas and your liver, and build fat all over your body, then I can’t hold you responsible for eating a lot of sugar.
But now that you know, you have a choice to make.
Again, the point is not to punish yourself, shame yourself, starve yourself, or live a life of rice cakes. The point is to live a balanced life of freedom, making choices based on what you know. If no one has ever told you how to eat healthy, I encourage you to go back through the library of articles on this website and let me teach you some simple principles for healthy living. You will find that, as you make healthier choices, you will develop a taste for healthy things, and your body will begin to crave good things instead of unhealthy things. Don’t get into shame and condemnation if you don’t “follow all the rules exactly.” Just apply the things you learn and gradually change your habits until you achieve the lifestyle you want.
It’s Always Up To You
Honestly, if you want to make a lifestyle of eating fast food, I’m not going to argue with you. That’s your choice to make, and the consequences are yours to live with. You get to choose. But if you would like some guidance on living a healthy, balanced life, welcome to the Fundamental Health Community. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and get involved in the conversation. If you live in the Naples area, stop by my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road, and let’s talk about your health goals.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas