Four Components of Well-Being
Last week I wrote about our health being complex and multi-faceted, and this week I break it down into four main components. I’m assigning 25 % importance to each component to make up the whole, but with the caveat that the last component actually encompasses and affects all the others. A concerted effort needs to be made if one is going to stay on top of these 4 elements of health, or even to do just 2 or 3 of them well. As I talked about last week, if it is comfort, ease, and pleasure you seek, I suggest you start treating your health like the most important business you will ever run.
Let’s take a look at 3 of the four components, those which I would venture to say are pretty universally accepted. We’ll begin with diet, as good eating habits are hard to come by, being surrounded by empty-calorie food every day. The organic vegetable section at the grocery store hardly registers on our radar, as it isn’t half as exciting as stopping at the local pizza parlor for a plate of starchy white bread and beer. This meal is mainly carbohydrates (much of them refined), and has very little nutrition or fiber – but it’s enough to keep you alive. It isn’t feeding your good cells or your healthy metabolism, but rather is allowing the complex chemical reactions in your body to happen, while your body is actually still starving for nutrition. This catches up over time in fatigue, obesity, and disease.
At the very least, buy more vegetables and fruit, stay away from battered fried foods, replace juice drinks with water or hot tea, eat whole wheat bread and pasta, and learn to read the ingredients so you can avoid or minimize your intake of hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat), sugar, white flour (bleached in a chlorine gas bath), and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. The next step would be to learn your nutritional typing, so you know what kinds of food provide the best source of energy for your body. Each person requires carbohydrates, protein, and fat, the three macronutrients, in different proportions to feel their best. You can access the GAIA method of metabolic nutritional typing at: http://www.gaiahealthcare.com/documents/MetabolicTypeQuiz_000.pdf.
One of the worst things we continually put into our bodies, is soda. There isn’t much natural about soda. Regular soda has lots of refined sugar in the form of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), with no fiber, and thus goes straight to our bloodstream, leaving our body trying to figure out how to deal with this sugar spike if you’re not engaging in intense physical activity to burn it off immediately. Diet soda is just as bad or worse, with its artificial sweeteners that wreak havoc on our body’s internal fuel consumption system, not to mention all the negative side effects people have reported over the past 15 years. It should be of concern that the main ingredient in most sweeteners, sucralose, was created by a scientist who was trying to find a new insecticide in his chemical laboratory. Anyway, when we ingest the artificial sweetener, our brain recognizes it as sweet, and thus expects it to have calories. When we digest the soda with no caloric value, this confuses our metabolic system, leading to less efficient burning of calories and use of food as energy in our body, equaling weight gain. If you’re a stubborn soda drinker who doesn’t want to deprive yourself of the perceived jolt you receive from it, and need more persuasion, let’s glance at what it does to your pearly whites – those things you hope to keep throughout your whole lives. All sodas have the effect of eroding our dental health, as I’m sure you’ve seen what happens to a coin left in soda for a few days. Consistent soda consumption leads to tooth decay, as the soda induced decalcification process slowly dissolves our teeth. Yipeee, can’t wait to gum my food!
Well as I’m sure we’ve all heard by now, although processed foods are convenient and cheap, they are your health enemy. If it comes packaged in a box or bag, and has a long shelf life, it’s probably not very good for you, having very little nutritional value. In most all processed foods, sugar in some form has been added. We need some sugar in our diets, but we need to make sure it is natural sugar and not refined sugar, and we really get plenty of sugar through the carbohydrates in the breads, pasta, grains, vegetables and fruit that we eat. Companies like to hide added refined sugar in their products, with terms in the ingredients such as maltodextrin, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, corn sugar, cane crystals, corn sweeteners, agave nectar, rice syrup, sucrose, and so on. When sugar does not come inherent in the food you are buying, then it has usually been refined in some way so as to be cost effective, and much more unhealthy to your system. If you are going to add sugar to your food, or bake a sweet treat, a couple good alternatives to the processed and refined sugar sweeteners mentioned above, are honey and molasses. You can try them in recipes to replace white or brown sugar, or add them to yogurt or toast.
Americans consume on average 156 pounds of added sugar each year on a per capita basis, according to the USDA. The recommended amount of sugar consumption per day by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2001-2004) is 25 to 37.5 grams a day, or 6 to 9 teaspoons, however the average American consumes approximately 22.2 teaspoons a day. Nancy Appleton, author of ‘Licking the Sugar Habit’, is a self-proclaimed former sugar addict who ailed from headaches, boils, canker sores, gas, stomach cramping, and allergies early in her life. As she got older she dealt with bronchitis, pneumonia, and a huge calcium deposit (tumor) in her chest, all stemming from her body’s inability to process the pounds of sugar she ate. Luckily now she is regaining her health and life, as documented in her book.
This phenomenon of eating three or four times too much sugar for healthy functioning leads to constant cravings, immune deficiency disorders, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease, increased insulin levels, insulin resistance, and diabetes in our country. One of the reasons this refined sugar is so detrimental to our bodies is because it has been depleted of its life forces. Fifty years ago, Dr. William Coda Martin stated that refined sugar is a poison. When talking about it in 1957 he stated, “What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. The body cannot utilize this refined starch and carbohydrate unless the depleted proteins, vitamins and minerals are present. Nature supplies these elements in each plant in quantities sufficient to metabolize the carbohydrate in that particular plant.” Our body doesn’t know what to do with this toxic, altered, foreign ingredient we keep putting in our bodies, and it is taxed as it works to find ways to remove it from our blood and store it somewhere as fat. However, if these physical reasons are not enough to make you want to reduce your sugar intake, then how about for the mental affect it can have as well. A link has been found between high sugar consumption and mental illness. Sugar slows growth of a hormone in the brain called BDNF, and levels of this hormone are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia patients.
Moving on, component number two of the health puzzle is to get sufficient activity. I’m going to keep this one short, because we were all kids at one time and know what movement is. As an adult, activity can have many different looks to it, such as cleaning the house, taking the dog for a walk, playing with children or grandchildren, mimicking your cat’s stretching moves, going to the gym, turning on the stereo and dancing around, standing to watch TV, volunteering, washing the car, playing tennis, mowing the lawn, walking in the park, etc. The key is to make activity a regular part of your life. Our bodies weren’t designed to be sedentary, they were designed to stay in motion. Don’t waste the magnificent body that you were given, as some in wheel chairs or paraplegic wards would give anything to be in your shoes and have the opportunity to move, play and walk that you squander every day.
Component number three is to get plenty of sleep. This sounds pretty easy, but most Americans aren’t getting enough these days. We let work, television, inadequate preparation, and anxiety get in the way of our 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night that we need. This requirement of your body for plenty of sleep needs to be thought out ahead of time, and be important enough that you live your day and life around healthy sleep patterns. This means going to bed around the same time most nights and waking up around the same time most mornings. Our bodies function according to certain circadian rhythms of nature that we should align ourselves with to feel optimal energy. You can find the highlights of the late shows online the next day, so don’t go to bed too late, and don’t wake up too late. If you have to, force yourself to go to bed at a certain time even if you don’t feel tired, and lay in bed until you fall asleep. Your body will adjust to the new healthier sleep patterns in a couple weeks, and your sleep will be deeper and less interrupted. You’ve got to set the expectation for yourself and your body will fall in line.
In a Feb, 2008 Press Release, the Centers for Disease Control stated, “Nationwide, an estimated 50 to 70 million people suffer from chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders. Sleep loss is associated with health problems, including obesity, depression, and certain risk behaviors, including cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, and heavy drinking.” When we get tired, run down, or sick these days, we don’t go to bed but rather stay on the couch in front of the TV, or at our desk in front of our high tech gadgets, where our eyes and mind are riveted and constantly engaged. We don’t want to miss out on anything as we feel that our life won’t go on unless we are abreast, informed, and involved in everything going on. We are always looking outside of ourselves for our well-being, zest, and stimulation, instead of also remembering to look inward. We must take care of our inner selves, and get back in touch with our heartbeat and breath, to which we are attached.
In my view the first two components of diet and exercise are fairly straight forward, and can be accomplished with enough will power and commitment. The third one can be a bit tricky because it is more intrinsically tied into the other three components, and sometimes seems out of our control. For instance, sometimes we don’t sleep well if we have something on our mind, or troublesome circumstances happening in our lives. In my opinion however, the most difficult component is the fourth one. It affects the other three, and without it, one cannot truly be healthy and happy. Tune in next week when I discuss this crucial, all-encompassing fourth component that I alluded to in the paragraph above.