By Patricia J. Sulak, MDDudley P. Baker Endowed Professor, Research and Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Medical Director, Division of Research Department, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Texas A&M College of Medicine, Scott & White Clinic/Memorial Hospital, Temple, TX
In my past Lifestyle & Health columns, I’ve discussed Make Movement Mandatory, Critique Caloric Consumption, and Stifle Stress and Sever Suffering. But, how can we and our patients incorporate these habits into our lives that can foster health and happiness? I think it’s important that we “Don’t Be Dangerously Distracted and Diverted.” To quote Dr Jeff Clark, a friend and Scott & White neurologist, "It's a culture war!" Today, we are constantly being bombarded with images of lifestyles and products that are anything but a set-up for long-term health and happiness. We literally have to question everything.
If we want to be physically fit (Make Movement Mandatory), consume a healthy diet (Critique Caloric Consumption), and be at peace (Stifle Stress and Sever Suffering), we have to break away from the typical American lifestyle. Since most in our country are overweight, not exercising most days of the week, and/or are under a lot of stress, we literally have to diverge from the “norm” of our society and be constantly vigilant not to replicate these behaviors that surround us at work, in the media, and, often, at home. It’s important that we not buy into the prevalent destructive thinking:
- We “deserve” unhealthy food that leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and, yes, even some cancers.
- We “don’t have time” to exercise and make our #1 asset—our health—a priority.
- We should be “stressed out” like most people.
In fact, unless we’re hanging around a bunch of people that are at their ideal body weight, are physically fit exercising most days of the week, and are happy and content with their life, we have to do what most people are not doing—make our personal health and happiness a priority.
But the best of intentions can be fraught with daily challenges. Does the following scenario sound familiar? You, like your patients, say you’re going to eat healthier and try to follow the Mediterranean diet to reduce the risk of numerous health disorders, such as heart attack, stroke, and cancer. You leave work at the end of the day and pass one fast food establishment, then another, and, before you know it, you’re pulling into McDonald’s for a hamburger, fries, and a carbonated beverage—none of which are on the Mediterranean Diet you vowed to follow. Or, you ate a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, but come to work and someone has brought in doughnuts. You find yourself having one because “everyone else had one.” Or, it’s someone’s birthday and the calorie-laden cake with cream icing has been cut in big pieces and you don’t want to offend the birthday girl. And how about this situation: you’re eating out with friends at a restaurant and they’re all ordering pre-dinner cocktails and appetizers and after a dinner of cream-laden soup and Fettuccini Alfredo, they order desserts. It’s tempting not to follow in the same footsteps, time after time, day after day. It’s difficult to keep from following along with the crowd.
And, in addition to eating healthier, you want to follow the American Heart Association physical activity guidelines of exercising most days of the week. You get a gym membership or come up with a plan to walk regularly and exercise at home. You think working out in the morning will be best, but the alarm goes off and you’re exhausted and can’t seem to get out of bed to make it happen before your day begins. Then, at the end of the day, you have “things to do” and you’re too tired anyway.
So, how do we not fall prey to being dangerously distracted and diverted? To quote my friend Dr Jeff Clark again, “We have to re-train our subconscious mind.” We can have the very best of intentions but then turn around and do something we hadn’t intended. But, why do we do this? Now, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist, and I haven’t had extensive training in mind-altering behavior techniques. But from personal experience, often fraught with numerous failures before finally succeeding, and extensive reading on wellness issues, I have suggestions to change an undesired habit for a desired one. These aren’t new ideas by any means. In fact, there are no new problems—they’re all recycled. And, there are no new solutions. (Sorry if I burst your bubble.) They’re all recycled and reworded in various ways, hoping that one or the other will click with some of us. It’s R&D. No, not Research and Development, but Rip-off and Duplicate. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to do what successful people do: They are not diverted and distracted. They have definition and discipline.
Click here for Part 2