"Sometimes I have no choice but to eat heavy, greasy food ... " goes the opening line in a television ad for 'Activia,' the yogurt enriched with 'bifidus regularis' (an invented marketing name for Dannon's exclusively used probiotic) to normalize digestion. A professional-looking woman runs through her day, grabbing a hot dog and cake at a party to illustrate the point.
But it's not Dannon and their manufactured bacteria that got me thinking about the health of this country. No, it was the opening line of the ad that got me.
Really? There's no choice but to eat food that we know is robbing us of our health and making us fat?
'Activia' aside (that fraud is another blog), if you want to optimize your health, you simply must return to the basics of healthy food choices. And I don't mean organic hot dogs on organic rolls either. No choice? The choice is entirely yours to make. Try as they might, marketers, lobbyists and manufacturers can not force you to buy and eat junk food. You decide that with your own free will.
I admit that all the conflicting information out there has made eating complicated and scary, but you can avoid confusion so easily. Choosing whole, unprocessed foods -- foods that have not been broken down into their individual ingredients and nutrients, but consumed in their natural form -- will serve your health and sanity the best. Whole foods contain nutrients that work together synergistically, making them superior for the body rather than removing an active ingredient to create a 'foodlike' substance that feeds into our need for convenience, instant gratification and speed.
This is an unprecedented time in history. For the first time, we live in a world where there are more people who are overweight than not. With this new phenomenon, we have seen an epidemic-like increase in the diseases directly (and indirectly) linked to being overweight: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, poor digestion, heart burn. And while these conditions cause suffering in each affected individual, there is a bigger picture and consequences. On a larger scale, these conditions affect the well-being of our entire society, the world as a whole.
The key to understanding our struggles with health and weight is to be mindful, to re-establish the connection between our bodies, minds and the environment around us. And that's easier than we think. Slowing down and enjoying life, health and food, we become aware on a deeper level. Now I am not suggesting we all drop out and run away to the Himalayas to meditate (or am I?). Reality shows that we need to slow down and pay attention ... a little. We are all busy; we all have obligations in life and needs to be met, but not at the expense of our health.
The way we eat influences everything else we do during the day. If we eat more whole, plant-based foods in a calmer environment, a little more peacefully, it affects us in a way that allows us to handle life's adventures with more grace. If we eat under stress, running from pillar to post, scarfing down food over the sink, at the desk, walking or in the car, we eat that stress, worry and anxiety. What do we imagine we will create? Is it really any wonder we don't digest well eating the way we do (and if you couple that with what we eat, you have the perfect storm for bad digestion).
Of course, our food choices make all the difference, 'choices' being the operative word. We choose every bite we take. We may allow our life's appointments and schedules to dictate those choices, but still, we choose ... freely.
Compared to most of the world, America is a land of abundance. With easy access to food and drink that is not supportive of health, served in big portions and marketed to us, we have become brainwashed to crave sweets, soda, stuffed-crust pizza, fried chicken in a bucket. On top of that, our modern world of technological convenience has created a society of people who move less, burning fewer calories.
With the ability to text, talk, surf the web, buy tickets, make reservations, download and listen to music all at the same time on the little phone in our hand, we have become very adept at multi-tasking ... and very inept at being mindful, in the moment, connected to our bodies. We are connected technologically, but not to reality. We grow more unaware with each new 'app' we download. That loss of connection to self results in mindless eating and being out of touch with our bodies, how they feel, work and respond. And that makes us perfect targets for manipulation by advertising. We don't even know who we are or how we feel anymore, so is it any wonder that marketers can sell us the latest car, gadget, phone, toy, perfume, clothes, shoes, handbags, pizza, furniture, cosmetics, weight loss scams, supplements ... all with the promise to make you younger, slimmer, sexier, more complete as a human? And is it any wonder all this stuff never delivers? And because we are so disconnected from our selves, we don't see each failed product as the ruse it is; we just move to the next empty promise.
We are fast becoming a hysterical society that lives in fear and anxiety of the next tragedy and disaster that might befall us. We move through life in a state of near panic and frenzy from the moment we wake until we fall into bed exhausted. And while some of those fears are founded in reality, if we are strong and vital humans, we have the strength to deal with what comes.
We must learn to make choices appropriate to supporting human life. Our parents and grandparents had it right, in my view. They lived within their means, created community support -- an interdependence that fostered security and compassion in their neighborhoods. They worked hard, but knew when to stop and enjoy the fruits of their labors, their friends and families. They ate home cooked food, even though they worked long hours and had very little money. They lived their lives. They didn't need invented probiotics to digest the heavy, greasy food they ate because they didn't eat it. They knew nothing of nutrition, but they knew that well-prepared, fresh food tasted right and made them strong for their lives ... no science to back it up, just common sense. And no, I am not delusional with a nostalgic view of the past. They had their problems and challenges, lots of them. But because they kept life in perspective and did not lose sight of what really mattered (hint: it's not cars, flat-screen televisions or I-Pads), they handled life differently, with less indigestion.
One more thing: bifidobacterium, (or one of about 30 other real species of beneficial bacteria) is native to your intestines ... no 'Activia' needed if you eat foods fit for human consumption.