It’s been said, “Those who do have health, have many wishes. Those who do not have health, have but one wish.” Although that’s not exactly true, per my series on Life-Giving Needs, the point is well taken. Nothing contributes more to a sense of distress than poor health. The key, then is to stress proof your wellness • a topic I have returned to repeatedly since starting LifeTrek Coaching in 1998. Indeed, my own lack of wellness at that point was part of what led me into coaching. Today, I review my formula for Optimal Wellness.
I am enjoying Dr. David Kessler’s recent book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. He makes the same point I have made on many occasions: fat, sugar, and salt make for a lethal combination. Not only does it do a number on our health and wellness, it also does a number on our willpower. Remember the old commercial that included the line, “Bet you can’t eat just one!” Well, guess what? They were right.
The food companies know a good thing when they see them. By combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we•re full. The only answer, then, is to plan and structure our eating to avoid that lethal combination. And the best way to do that, in my experience, is to educate yourself about the things that make for health and wellness. Such information can lead to action.
As you may remember from my long series on the topic, optimal wellness requires us to pay attention to three factors: what goes in (nutrition), what goes out (fitness), and what goes around (goodness). For a long time, I conducted my own experiments in these arenas without clear, scientific guidance. It seemed I could always find an authority who would contradict another authority on the matter. All that changed for me in the summer of 2004 when I heard a lecture given by Dr. S. Boyd Eaton at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State.
Titled, “Stone Agers in the Fast Lane: Health Promotion in the 50th Millennium,” the lecture articulated a principle for understanding optimal wellness that won me over immediately and has since become an avid part of my reading, research, and regimen. The principle Dr. Eaton articulated was simply this: by learning about the diet and lifestyle of our original ancestors, we can learn about the diet and lifestyle that best suits human beings today and in the future.
Why would our original diet and lifestyle be so prescriptive? Because we ate and lived that way for most of our existence as a species. Only recently, in evolutionary terms, have we made dramatic changes to our diets and lifestyles (through the agricultural, industrial, and now informational revolutions). Although those revolutions have generated some wonderful things, including civilization as we know it today, they have also generated chronic disease and stress in unprecedented proportions. People were not designed to eat those fat, sugar, and salt combinations, to sit around all day in front of electronic screens, and to live in ticky-tacky houses in relative isolation from each other.
That’s why Dr. Eaton and many others now argue persuasively that the original diet and lifestyle, from the Paleolithic period, is worth emulating (in so far as that is possible) for those seeking to optimize their own health and well-being. So I have moved in that direction over time and I have been sharing with you my experience with that through the pages of LifeTrek Provisions. Here’s a quick recap of what I have learned:
- Evolutionary Nutrition. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating grains, dairy products, or beans. These products of agriculture had not been invented yet. Prior to 100 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating foods that had been grown and fertilized with the byproducts of fossil fuels. The power to fix nitrogen, by combining nitrogen and hydrogen gases under immense heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst, had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was smaller and far less developed.
But it was also healthier from the standpoint of chronic disease and stress. Many people are surprised to learn that; I know I was. I assumed that the lives of our original ancestors, to quote Thomas Hobbes in 1651, were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Nothing, it turns out, could be further from the truth. Without wanting to exaggerate or ignore the very real challenges of their existence, it is safe to say that our original ancestors lived relatively long, enjoyable, and active lives in supportive communities. Their diet, as hunters and gatherers, included primarily wild game, birds, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Those are the foods, grown organically, along with plenty of clean water, that still make for optimal nutrition today.
- Evolutionary Fitness. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet lived in permanent shelters, let alone in urban areas, with foods delivered practically to their doors. Civilization, as we know it, had not been invented yet. Prior to 200 years ago, no human being on the planet was moving around with the help of fossil fuels. The internal combustion engine had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was parochial and far less mobile.
But it was also far more active and fit. It takes a lot of work to hunt and gather food without gunpowder and metal. It also takes a lot of planning and ingenuity. All that contributed not only to the development of big brains but also to fit bodies. The two go hand in hand. The more we use our brains and bodies, the better we feel and live. Inactivity and lack of exercise contradict human nature and undermine human health.
In this area, too, I had a big surprise. I figured that hunters and gatherers had more activity and exercise than modern office workers. I did not realize, however, that they also had more rest and relaxation. No one worked straight through from 9 to 5, let alone from 5 to 9. They rather developed healthy rhythms between exertion and recovery, both day to day and season to season. Much was dependent upon weather and light. Day to day, our original ancestors took naps and slept far more often than we do today. They built their fitness on a solid foundation of self-care that we would do well to emulate.
- Evolutionary Goodness. And it wasn’t all about self-care; they were also far more attentive to and supportive of each other’s needs than we are today. There’s really no other way to survive in the wild. For a description, I turn to Dr. Eaton in his 1988 book, The Paleolithic Prescription:
Our original ancestors “were much like us • experiencing most of the same hopes, doubts, desires, pleasures, challenges, disappointments, and conflicts. But they experienced them together. Social isolation, with its now established threat to mental and physical health, was unknown to them. Stresses were numerous, but they arose out of the realities of life, not from clock watching, traffic jams, or class consciousness.”
“Their lives were spent working, playing, eating, sleeping, entertaining, and worshipping • with a close-knit group of people who, as much as they might complain, cared for one another. When tensions arose that couldn’t be resolved, they were free to move off and join other friends and relatives in a different band for varying lengths of time. Their children grew up in that same context of closeness, nurturance, and love.”
In other words, benevolence! Only in supportive communities and environments could people survive and thrive. Banishment meant certain death. Mutual aid meant life. “This was the way of life,” Eaton concludes, “that characterized every generation of human beings on our planet for most of the course of human evolution.” It’s in our genes and in our bones to care and to make life more wonderful for others.
So that’s the pattern that makes for optimal wellness. It’s also the pattern that protects us against the ravages of stress. It’s hard to overstate how stressful it is on our health and wellness to eat poorly, to exercise minimally, and to rest hardly at all. To say that we don’t have time to take good care of ourselves is to put ourselves on a fast track to the morgue. That may make headlines when we are a celebrity, but something tells me that’s not the kind of attention Michael Jackson was hoping for.
Want to learn more? All my Provisions and Pathways related to optimal wellness can be found atwww.CelebrateWellness.com. I invite you to check them out or to give us a call for coaching.
Coaching Inquiries: What actions could you take that would make your life more wonderful? How could you move closer in your manner of living to the wisdom gleaned from evolutionary wellness? What changes would you like to make in your diet and lifestyle? How could your communities and support networks conspire to make it so? Who could you talk with this week, about the possibilities?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Your last Provision on “Stress Proofing Your Routines” was a great provision. Thank you! I will put this on my ‘things to change agenda• for this week.
The first line of your last Provision hit me right between the eyes. Tell me your routines and I will tell you your future. Since I read that line I have paid much more attention to my routines. Thanks!
Your provision about healthy routines reminded me of a chapter in coach Cheryl Richardson’s new book, The Art of Extreme Self Care. A healthy routine has a power all its own. A healthy body, mind, and spirit can accomplish so much more, too.
I want to thank you for your Provisions. They are like a free, weekly coaching session. I always look forward to them and always leave feeling nourished. I found it interesting how similar my routines are to yours. Over the last few years I have been doing a lot of work on my “walking the walk” in preparation for Wellcoach training. Your weekly provisions have played an important role in helping me clarify my vision. Although my choices vary from yours, I have developed stress-proofing routines in my life and also feel uplifted by them. I have significant sources of stress in my life that could send me down the wrong path. Instead, my routines provide me a deep sense of inner calm and path to mindful living.
There seems to be a lot of sugar in your smoothing recipe. Even though it is natural sugars, I’m a diabetic and this would not work for me. Sugar causes inflammation in the body and that’s a bad thing. (Ed. Note: Agreed, when it comes to the health impacts of sugar. The sugar in my smoothie recipe is easily reduced; just eliminate the molasses and reduce the quantity of fruit. Otherwise, there are no sugars.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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