Eat, Play, Die – Part Two: Don’t Take the Subway

Will our kids – our children, nephews and nieces, grandchildren and the sweet first graders at school up the street—face earlier death than their parents? We took a brief look at statistics in our last post. Let’s turn the page now, take a broader view on healthy living, and consider how we can mitigate what’s happening in the field.

First—to serve as a marker—a 2013 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), noted current life expectancy in the U.S. as 81 years for women and 76 for men, ranking us 26th in longevity out of 36 member countries.

The same report points out that the obesity rate in the United States is the highest among all member countries, ranking 37 percent vs. an average 23 percent in the other nations. Perhaps a more astounding fact from the OECD is a 24 percent increase in U.S. obesity since 1978, when only 15 percent of us were classified as obese.

Because at least half of the risk factors for chronic disease are rooted in obesity, we need to pay attention here. Dr. Bartfield at Loyola notes that if one parent is obese, a child has a 50 percent likelihood of being obese, and if both parents are obese that skyrockets to 80 percent! Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 80 percent of obese children between the ages of 10 and 15 continue to be obese at age 25.

By that time, barring a powerful change in lifestyle, an adult’s eating habits are etched firmly into a daily routine. Sometimes people simply wake up, choose a holistic education and begin to alter the way they think, feel, eat and move. More often, people face crisis or illness within their own lives or the lives of people they love. In either case, once a decision is made to shake down their programming, people almost always need help and support to sustain new habits.

If we are adults raising families, living in partnership, or sharing our homes with friends, we can start at our kitchen tables. Together we can create meal plans, make grocery lists, plan excursions to weekend farmers markets, and clear the cupboards of foods high in fat, chemicals and sugar. Share recipes for new, healthier foods and choose the ones that appeal to everyone. This is not as easy as it sounds, but make the commitment, trash the plans that don’t gain consensus, then start again.

In my own home, two individual journeys merged into a united front. After eating a steady diet of anything and everything, I became very ill after a trip to Europe in my early fifties. No one could diagnosis intestinal bacteria or chronic disease, but whenever I ate anything it caused pain and nausea. I lost 25 pounds and ended up working with a naturopath who restricted my diet to protein and vegetables—void of all sugar, carbs, grains and gluten. It took almost three months to stabilize my health and probably three years to rebuild a satisfying, non-toxic diet. Ten years running now, I am relatively fit and continually well.

During that time, my younger son graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco. Suddenly my favorite city on earth was my son’s new home. We shared many spectacular meals there – in North Beach, at Farmer’s markets, at tiny gems in the neighborhoods only he would know. But whenever I’d meet him at his office for a quick lunch, I got a mom’s eye view of his standard daily fare: the Subway at Market and Fifth Streets.

I couldn’t muffle my commentary, sharing my concerns about processed meats probably sourced from the dregs of Chinese cattle and pigs, heavily starched bread, and veggies sitting in hot trucks for weeks on-end from who knows where. My son played basketball every morning, hiked in the hills outside the city and loved his bayside nightlife. Nonetheless, I was concerned, almost alarmed, perhaps plugging into some stream of maternal intuition.

One year after the Subway revelation, my son was diagnosed at the age of 27 with an auto-immune condition. After months of attempting to keep his life running in the city he was forced to come home to Colorado for treatment and support. (These are issues I’ll trace in more detail in future posts). The first plan of attack, as posed by practitioners, friends and my own gut, was to switch up the food on his plate.

Today, as he continues to heal, we share all of our meals. They consist of whole foods, proteins, vegetables, fruit, some but few grains, no gluten, and occasional bits of dark chocolate (to cheer us on). When we eat sauces, ground butters or purees, they are sans sugar and additives. The field is narrow but the yield is fresh and nourishing.

In our family, even on bad days—when illness seems to rule the psyche of our home—food provides us the energy of healing. It links a few pieces of a large puzzle and encourages us to keep working at the whole.

In a larger context, eating well as individuals and families can mitigate the enormous challenges facing us as a society. New research from the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center concludes that “To change the beliefs of entire community, only 10 percent of the population needs to become convinced of a new and different opinion. At that tipping point, the idea can spread through social networks and alter behaviors on a large scale.”

Be conscious and aware. Be a Master Mind for Wellness.

September 16, 2014

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