There is a lot of talk about prevention now that it’s flu season, and one method that I think is given short shrift is eating well. Though I am no expert, I believe we should reframe our perspective about health and begin to talk in terms of cultivating wellness. This dialogue can include everyone, no matter his or her constitution or previous diagnoses. And the good news is that this act empowers us, for in the reclaiming of our own individual agency in cultivating wellness, we also become experts of and healthcare providers to our own bodies.
Claiming agency in regards to cultivating our own wellness can be as intimidating as much as it can be empowering. I admit that I find it comforting to think of giving all the responsibility for my health to an outside party. But the truth is, our bodies speak, if we are willing to listen. We can learn to interpret these messages from our bodies, and over time become adept at responding too.
Rainbow in a gray sky
Not there yet? There is hope! The great news is that wellness is possible, and that you are entitled to it. It is true, we are not able to control all factors that impact our health, like our DNA or the pollutions to which we’ve been exposed, or the dietary or medication choices we’ve made in the past. But each one of us can begin to change our lives for the better, today. Those among us with a large set of wellness-cultivating habits can still improve, and can continue to hone those skills. And those of us who feel too far gone have the least to lose and the most to gain.
Where to begin?
It is no secret that the standard American diet, appropriately abbreviated as SAD, lacks in the consumption of fruits and vegetables. We know these foods provide our bodies with the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes we need in order to eliminate accumulated toxins in our system. Our exposure to environmental toxins coupled with our poor dietary choices strain our body’s waste removal system. If toxins accumulate at a rate faster than we are able to eliminate them, we store them in our bodies in our fat cells. They create in us specific symptoms as well as general feelings of malaise. We lack energy. The simple tasks of life wear us out to the point that exercise seems like a chore rather than a release. So perhaps we medicate ourselves to relieve these symptoms, yet without addressing the real cause of the issue we find ourselves in the midst of a self-perpetuating cycle. So we must break that cycle first by detoxifying our bodies.
What detoxifies us?
Nothing detoxifies our bodies like the consumption of large quantities of raw fruits and vegetables. If we grew up in the United States, most of us do not eat enough raw fruits and vegetables in order to feel well most of the time.
As stated earlier, throughout life, we are exposed to environmental toxins as well as toxins in our food and drugs that slow down our digestion and elimination. Raw fruits and vegetables are the foods easiest for our bodies to digest, provide the most nutrition for the amount of calories consumed, and have not lost valuable vitamins and nutrients that are destroyed by heat in the cooking process. Though cooked fruits and vegetables are far healthier for you than, say, deep-fried cheese curds, our bodies can still struggle to experience wellness while primarily consuming cooked fruits and vegetables. In order to eliminate those toxins so that we may absorb optimal nutrition and energy from our food, we cannot avoid the fact that we must increase our consumption of raw fruits and vegetables.
Why not raw?
While writing, I took an informal survey among my coworkers, and asked “What prevents you from eating more fruits and vegetables?” The responses I received echoed my own: “It seems expensive.” “Eating healthy is inconvenient, and often requires forethought.” “Pizza is delicious.” (I agree!) “It’s all or nothing; either I need to commit to eating perfectly healthy all of the time or I shouldn’t even try to change my diet.” In fact, as I spoke to my coworkers, I realized that I have
historically made mental lists of obstacles prohibitive enough to keep me stuck in eating cycles that did
not cultivate wellness in me, despite my sincere overall desire to be well. Allow me to address these concerns.
“Eating more raw fruits and vegetables is too expensive.”
This is a myth. Raw fruits and vegetables contain the most nutrition for your food dollar, and will satiate you, especially once you’ve broken any addictions to high-fat or high-sugar foods. When we eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, our bodies trigger a feeling of dissatisfaction, inspiring us to eat (and therefore spend) more. That’s the body’s way of attempting to get the nutrition it needs. In the United States we witness the interesting phenomenon of individuals who are overfed yet undernourished.
Another thing to bear in mind with regard to the cost of raw fruits and vegetables is our perspective. I have some friends and customers who respond with shock at the cost of my morning smoothie or juice, yet those same individuals will spend $3.50 at a bar on a beer while tipping an additional dollar, or perhaps spend almost $8.00 a pack on cigarettes. I am not here to judge or stigmatize choices like drinking alcohol or smoking; my point is simply that over time we become used to the cost of something, and it no longer seems shocking to us.
Finally, when determining how to allocate your financial resources, what is more important than your wellness? This is your body we’re talking about! You deserve to thrive, with health and energy and mental clarity and all of the other positive side effects associated with eating large amounts of raw fruits and vegetables.
“Eating healthy is inconvenient, and requires forethought.”
Incorporating raw fruits and vegetables into your diet does not have to be inconvenient. In the past, I have fallen prey to allowing myself to become overly hungry which makes me desperate and willing to eat anything accessible to me in that moment. Those are the moments in which I make food choices I regret. These days I carry an apple and a carrot juice with me just about everywhere I go, so that when I start to need fuel I have the ideal snack with me. I have also been known to bring fruit smoothies with me in a screw-top mason jar, which provides me with a boost of nutrition at a moment’s notice. Once you get into the simple habit of bringing a healthy snack with you, it’s actually very convenient.
“Pizza is delicious.”
Pizza is delicious, and I do not advocate giving up pizza if you love it. One thing that has really helped me along my recent path of eating a diet comprised primarily of raw fruits and vegetables is an ideology of addition, not omission. Let me explain. For years I tried to “give up” foods like coffee, pizza, cheese, baked goods, etc. And for years I found myself living without them for a while, then returning with vigor to eating patterns that made me feel unwell despite the best of intentions. This cycle was really frustrating.
Finally I resolved to quit quitting. My new motto was that I would eat and drink whatever I like—as long as I ate wellness-creating foods (i.e., raw fruits and vegetables) first. I began drinking a fruit smoothie for breakfast every single day. Some days I would drink my smoothie first, then eat a Danish. In time I found that I lost my taste for the Danish. It didn’t taste as good as I remembered, and it made me feel unwell. I began to crave smoothies in the same way I had once craved Danish. Perhaps you will never lose your taste for pizza, which is fine. Perhaps you will. Or perhaps you will acquire a new taste for smoothies or juice, which would be great also.
“It’s all or nothing.”
It is this binary way of thinking that has historically most prevented me from consistently making choices that support my optimal wellness. My thought was that if I was unable to make “perfect” food choices all the time it was not worth it to even try at all, or that I was right back at square one, stuck in habits that didn’t help me to be well or thrive. This is so far from the truth!
Success in cultivating wellness lies in our ability to be flexible and compromise. We will be far more likely to stick to our goal of eating more raw fruits and vegetables if we do not interpret every slice of pizza as a failure. Instead, think of every smoothie or juice as a success. A line from one of my favorite songs by a man named Sam Quinn states, “the inches I took turned to miles.” Every choice we make is an inch in some direction. What direction do you choose? I think we have seen the dark at the end of the tunnel of discourses of disease. I choose another path—an often crooked and imperfect road but a road toward wellness, nonetheless.