Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Mar

Why Health Integrity Matters, or The Power of Being Honest with Yourself

yoga 1

Once upon a hunter-gather time, people generally lived in accordance with what made them healthy. Before we put Grok and his clan on a idyllic pedestal, it’s important to note they had little choice. They otherwise weren’t likely to see the next chapter of the Paleolithic story. Even in the best of personal circumstances and choices, many succumbed to all manner of prehistorical threats. Still, in terms of lifestyle, the health imperative was there. They had to move. They had to eat real food. They lived and slept generally speaking by the cycle of their circadian rhythms. They got sun. They socialized. There just wasn’t reason to question any of it because few if any alternatives existed: next band, same options.

Today we have infinite possibilities, and we suffer as well as benefit a great deal for it. We have the option of sitting on the couch all weekend watching a Game of Thrones marathon. We have the potential to eat at McDonald’s for thirty days straight. We can buy a pack of cigarettes despite the fact we’re hooked up to an oxygen tank. We can have our doctor up our insulin dosage and buy a large Slurpee or a Krispy Kreme on the way home. We can stress ourselves to our last, pathetic nerve (and adrenal exhaustion) by living on too much work, too little sleep, too much worry, and too many stimulants. We have the choice – and that’s exactly what it is: a choice. Whatever our past, whatever our present condition, however, we are always free to make a different next choice.

We can talk physiology until we’re blue in the face. We can read and learn what’s really healthy until we could fill a book or a blog ourselves. We can have a kitchen full of healthy cookbooks. We can listen to our doctors’ most enlightened (shout out to Primal Docs!), encouraging words. In the end, however, it doesn’t come down to know-how or how-tos. It’s about how willing we are to accept personal responsibility for our health.

Responsibility. It’s a hard and, for some, harsh word. In a culture that glorifies rampant immaturity and immediate gratification, the concept can seem like a major buzz kill. When it comes to health, I think the association is especially true. It’s okay to work out, for example, but no one wants to be seen taking it too seriously. Even major athletes joke about the junk they eat and rake in the bucks starring in fast food ads. It’s okay to shell out for grass-fed beef, but the minute you turn down dessert, you’re a killjoy who’s trying to make other people feel bad.

Sure, the massive health problems in our country are in part fueled by false medical messaging that leads well-intentioned people down the wrong roads in search of health. Much of it, however, can simply be attributed to an unwillingness to buck up, take responsibility choice by choice, and live with health integrity. By health integrity, I mean an honesty to one’s self, a commitment that begins and ends with one’s self, an inner compass that has nothing to do with the outside world.

To cultivate that kind of health integrity, we have to acknowledge that everything counts. There are no games, no hiding, no pretending, no excuses. That doesn’t mean people with health integrity don’t eat a dessert sometimes, but there’s no emotional ruse or hand-wringing to it. You own it – for all the good and bad. You don’t blame outside pressures or people. You don’t deal in regret.

Part of the problem is a misplaced fascination with the transgressive. Somehow cheating ourselves is the ultimate gratification. We mistake indulgence for decadence, discipline for deprivation. Healthy behaviors are assigned the boring, white-hat, “moral” role in our culture. Being healthy is about hard work and asceticism. Choosing health is about saying “no.” At least that’s the message we get. On the other side of the spectrum is the Mountain Dew adventure and Doritos-inspired hilarity that could fill our days – if we were only so bold and rebellious.

You live with health integrity when you truly own your journey, when you realize it’s yours and yours alone. You stop living the old blame game and buying into the false dichotomies, the pedantic guilt trips, the bullsh** marketing messages, the cultural labels, the past-imposed limitations and identities. There’s a real freedom in that decision. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the beginning of your journey with a hundred pounds to lose and a collection of lifestyle conditions to beat or if you’re at your ideal weight and healthy but want to know what it is to thrive in new ways. It’s your journey, and from here on out, you get to define it. You don’t make the rules of physiology, but you do get to design the vision you will live out each day.

In that way, living with health integrity suggests a level of authenticity and self-determination. Once you accept (not the cerebral, oh-it’s-good-for-me kind of logical acknowledgement but the gut-level, psychically moving, surrendering to, kind of assimilation) your journey as your own, you take pride in your health. Cultivating a sense of well-being opens up your life rather than restricts it. It’s not about self-restraint but self-possession. The more you practice and hone it, the more you come into yourself. Discipline encourages creativity rather than resentment. It’s less about control than composure in the face of daily challenges.

Likewise, as much as health integrity calls us to live from a personal center, it doesn’t make us self-centered. When we’re good with our selves, when we have genuine self-respect, we can live in relationships more authentically and productively with others. No longer an enabler to ourselves, we can offer honest and meaningful help to others. Again and again, I hear readers say how much they appreciate the sense of genuine community they feel here, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve made this my primary vocation. I love to see how people, when empowered themselves, contribute to the empowerment of others. It brings our intention and success full circle, and we can appreciate them all the more in doing so.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Let me know what you think, and have a great weekend ahead.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I loved the post! I have lived with gluten intolerance for a few years now and I’m amazed at the supposedly well-meaning people who try to get me to eat at their homes or parties. When I decline, they take it personally and tell me I will eat. Over time, I’ve decided to just say no, no matter how intense the abuse is. (Good friends are sometimes the worst!) It’s my body and I now know what hurts it. I am not eating things that will make me sick! If others can’t deal with this, it’s their problem, not mine. It took me years to get to this, but I don’t feel bad anymore. I choose health, and yes, we are what we eat!

    Shirley wrote on March 28th, 2013
  2. The comment that most jumped out at me is Jane’s (see above). She wrote:

    “I can’t do this; I blame everyone and everything for the state of my health. I make excuses for why I am 60 odd lbs over weight and why I put 6 cream eggs in my mouth today. ‘Ihave a cold. I have my kids friends over and need something to get me through’. I know I do this, but I find it hard to stop. Do I care about my health? I guess the answer is no.”

    Looks like words like “choice” and “ownership” is powerful for some, but perhaps not others (like Jane). There’s another powerful way of looking at being Primal, and to me, it sounds calmer, less intense, and simpler: Be Primal because you like it – better than your old way.

    Here is a summary of how what I learned in my transformation:

    Primal is so inherently likable, but you have to give it a chance. How to do that? Don’t let anything sweet tasting touch your tastebuds for at least 30 days (not even the no-calorie fake stuff). This gives the pleasure receptors in your brain a change to close (and stop craving more). In the same 30 days, eliminate grain. It’ll give you a chance to find out how gross it makes you feel – so you’ll start associating that gross feeling with the food itself. That’ll make you stop wanting it. Same with processed food, which is created for the corporate purpose of getting you addicted you to it. Don’t eat any. What does that leave? Pure, clean food.

    Pay super close attention to how these changes make you feel. Maybe you’ll feel some withdrawal at first, but go along with it. It’s not going to hurt you. Get to where you start feeling good, and savor that good feeling. It will make you start LIKING Primal – as in preferring it to what you’re doing now.

    Think of all of this as a big, huge way to be kind to yourself. Welcome it. Once you let it into your life and want it there, you won’t have to worry about choice, ownership, discipline, willpower, etc. When you like what you’re doing and prefer it to what you used to do, it doesn’t take that much thought or decision anymore. You just do it.

    Susan Alexander wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Well stated indeed.

      Timothy wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Yes, this. I started eliminating processed food in Nov. I cut out grains simply because finding or preparing healthy ones was overwhelming. I felt so much better. I had energy. My brain began to function again. I could get up at 6, walk the dogs twice a day, chase the kids, etc. and not go down until midnight, and I felt GOOD. My digestive issues stopped. My creativity was up. I started writing and crocheting again. Apparently, my fertility went up too, because I got pregnant (we are over the moon). I’ve back slid sometimes, but it’s feels so good that I come back. I haven’t had morning sickness, I don’t need naps most days. I can run after my kids while pregnant without problems.
      Last week, we spent six days on the road and visiting family. I tried to prepare good, primal snacks, but there was a lot of fast food, a lot of my relatives cookouts (meat, potato chips, and soda pop), and I was sick and exhausted every morning and afternoon. By the time I got home, all I Wanted was liver and good farm eggs and salad. It was a really good reminder of how I used to feel, how I don’t want to feel anymore.

      Beccolina wrote on March 28th, 2013
  3. One of your best posts EVER! I’m going to print this out and put in my journal — thanks, Mark!

    Anne wrote on March 28th, 2013
  4. Best post on here in weeks!

    Great message.

    Kevin wrote on March 28th, 2013
  5. This post moved me to tears. I have used so many excuses, so much blaming of the circumstances that I felt that my lack of responsibility was excusable.
    (Things like, “I need this cigarette because my life is so stressful right now.” and “I’ll get my diet together when the baby is sleeping through the night.”)

    “Being Bad”, while enjoyed for a moment, is ultimately just me wanting to go through life without thinking about things. I can buy ready made meals and eat fast food and keep buying stuff I don’t even like (yes, I have done that!) just so I can continue to live mindlessly and easily.

    None of real life is actually easy, but it is often simple.

    So thank you, Mark. May your shadow never grow less.

    Mab wrote on March 28th, 2013
  6. I think the post concerns mostly people that want to get healthier but haven’t quite gotten ‘religion’ over the issue yet; they are vacillating and having a hard time giving up certain foods. The post speaks well to these people, and encourages ‘self-responsibility’, and making those hard choices, and getting energy to fight thru the addictions.
    As it applies to other people, I’m not so sure. Most people who really need to get healthier probably don’t care that much. What they see in the mirror is a mystery to me, but many people that are very obese, unhealthy, or unfit, don’t seem to suffer from it in an immediate sense; they are the ones who will go along, until the point late in life when the health issues reach a crisis point or the pain gets to a perceptible or irritating level. THEN they go to their physician and hope for a fix. Is this type of life an abrogation of ‘personal responsibility’? Maybe; but maybe they see people who are concerned about their health (while still young) as faddish fanatics.
    I think as people, we are all prone to crisis-management ways of behavior, and it just happens way sooner to some of us than others, for whatever reason.

    BillP wrote on March 28th, 2013
  7. What a powerful post! Thank-you so much for this perspective. It’s very healing and empowering.

    Marni wrote on March 28th, 2013
  8. The concept of personal responsibility is sorely lacking in our society.

    We all need to get a healthy dose of paranoia: Question everything and everyone and never, ever believe that “they wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t safe”.

    “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone after me!”

    Helga wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Helga, that is so true. We depend on our Nanny State to have our best interest at heart when its real interest is to make a profit. No, I’m not paranoid, but a realist. :)

      gibson wrote on March 28th, 2013
  9. A great post, Mark! I’ve tried to live my life as authentically in all aspects of my life for a long time, but it’s only recently (end of 2012) that I began to see a true lack of it in my search for ‘true’ health. I eat Primally and encourage others because I honestly see it as the most beneficial to me now. I realized the other day that instead of eating to lose weight, which was always the goal before, I’m eating, exercising, sleeping, and playing because I want to do the very best by my body. I want to keep it as clean and functional as I keep my home, vehicle, relationships, and derby gear, and the best way to do it is to eat as cleanly and functionally as possible.
    I really enjoyed this post, thanks for writing!

    Ashley wrote on March 28th, 2013
  10. Thanks for the shout out Mark!

    Chris Armstrong wrote on March 28th, 2013
  11. This is the post that I needed after several occasions during which I was confronted with narrow-minded people to whom I had to explain why I went gluten-free.
    Some days, stupidity and lack of any curiosity really brings me down. I know it shouldn’t, but still. Responsibility, this is what is lacking among society today. And as you said, as a person who turns down desserts, chocolate (Easter, anyone?), bread (heresy in France!) or pizza (I make my paleo one though), I get to be labeled crazy/courageous/weird/killjoy, you name it. It definitely doesn’t prevent me from following what I believe is right for me. I wish those common-wisdom followers would give me a break.

    Elise wrote on March 28th, 2013
  12. Wow…what a great post. I really needed this today Mark as I was feeling kind of cranky and this inspiration post really put my perspective back in place. I was anticipating a weekend full of having to make non-paleo food for the relatives that are over for Easter weekend, but I will keep true to myself and make some fabulous lamb chops with sauteed veggies in coconut oil and fresh mint, and serve some wonderful little grilled baby potatoes and yams and I think everyone will be happy. I have some great fruit and berry ideas for dessert and I think everyone will be thrilled.

    I want to take control and feed everyone fabulous food and not make it a ‘primal versus SAD” dinner occasion. I also found this great recipe for tea infused marbled hard boiled eggs, so will make some of those, along with a great spinach and kale frittata for brunch on Easter morning. Yup, it’s going to be a great way to kick off spring.

    Janine wrote on March 28th, 2013
  13. Truely ispirational post, I’ve been trying to find the words to explain to friends, how and why I choose to follow a primal lifestyle, that what they see is not a friend putting on a brave face through the pain and discomfort of a monastical life of abstinence, but a guy genuinely excited by the prospects that each day holds when you’re in control of the kind of strong, fresh and agile mind and body this lifestyle produces. Taking away the shackles of poor nutrition is not deprivation but empowerment!

    Bing Uk wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Right on!

      Ara wrote on March 28th, 2013
  14. In a culture that glorifies rampant immaturity and immediate gratification, the concept can seem like a major buzz kill. When it comes to health, I think the association is especially true.

    so true

    lockard wrote on March 28th, 2013
  15. Others have said it before but it comes down to time preference. Do you want fleeting rewards now for a steep price later? Or do you pay a modest price now for much greater rewards to come?

    Animals naturally favor immediate rewards because of their uncertain futures. Humans can control their futures by understanding cause and effect. How human are you?

    Timothy wrote on March 28th, 2013
  16. Thanks for another inspiring and challenging post, Mark. We really need to hear this stuff!

    Katie wrote on March 28th, 2013
  17. Absolutely the perfect message for me today! THANK YOU MARK!!!

    luvbirds wrote on March 28th, 2013
  18. .. You don’t have to be a farmer to be out standing in your field…..
    Home run today Mr. Sisson, you are OUTSTANDING in your field!
    It is so good to see and read the reaction from our Primal Family, when everyone can relate to some aspect of your words.
    Have a safe and Happy long weekend everyone!

    rodneyhilton wrote on March 28th, 2013
  19. That last paragraph really hits home and is on the money, Mark. Awesome post. Thanks for all that you do and the inspiration you’ve fostered in many. You’re truly a standup guy.

    Todd wrote on March 28th, 2013
  20. Thank you so much for posting that! Responsibility is actually something that I spoke with my Kung Fu students about today. It’s an amazing thing. Personal responsibility and honesty really do go hand in hand. Journaling everything I eat and all of the exercise that I do has been a real help in my weight loss goals so far and it was my first step in taking personal responsibility for my weight. I’ve since taken a few more steps but it’s a never ending battle that it’s totally worth fighting.

    TaiChiHolly wrote on March 28th, 2013
  21. Fantastic.

    Marni wrote on March 28th, 2013
  22. … ahimsa…. do no harm.. kindness to all..etc… first of all..do no harm to yourself. personal integrity grows from this.. takes practice…patience.. perserverance furthers ..as personal integrity grows.. all aspects of the life are lifted… as far as the food/diet go…it’s very useful to stop eating the junk..dont worry about ‘what’ to eat.. know what ‘not’ to eat… and everyone knows that.,,and it’s .easier said than done… i started eating ‘organic’ in 1970,,…it was practically a cult..!!!. tried many different ‘diets’. thinking each one was…’the one’… thought macrobiotics was the end all of eating… keep changing and focusing on dropping the attachments to finding the ‘key’… fall down/get up… no judgement of good/bad towards yourself.. simple observation.. eventually there is no thought of what/when to eat and if it’s ‘right’ or not… there is something inside us all that knows.. keep trusting that… it’s so thrilling to see the changes towards health that are coming along.. thanks to mark and others who create platforms like this… keep turning the pages.. peace!!

    jim perry wrote on March 28th, 2013
  23. I haven’t been reading or accessing this site for a while (cue a host of external excuses!) and have been slowly falling off the primal wagon, much to my health and well-being’s detriment. This was perfect today – the comment about getting it on a gut level rather than an intellectual level is where I’m at right now and this post helped immensely thank you

    Guilia wrote on March 28th, 2013
  24. I really struggle with this. I am determined to fix it, but it is a hard struggle for me. My biggest weakness is candy and beer. I think if I can stay away from those two things, then the rest will fall into place. But, it seems like the more I try to reject them, the harder they pull me in. I have made it for long bouts of time before, but they always find me again. This post has inspired me…hopefully the inspiration will stick!

    Chad wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Just start by giving up one of the two. After a few weeks when you no longer are addicted to the one, then give up (or cut back) on the other. This is a marathon not a sprint. No need to torture yourself. I for one will never give up beer but I only have one when I REALLY want it which has only been twice this year. It takes time and practice resisting the temptation but the good habits and wise decisions definitely become easier.

      Ara wrote on March 28th, 2013
  25. LOVE IT !! Just what I needed to put things into perspective.

    Thank You :)

    misha wrote on March 28th, 2013
  26. Thank you, thank you,thank you Mark! This is exactly what I needed today. I have recently fallen off the wagon,big time,and have been reaping what I had sown: a wonderful head cold, sore ears and off balance, and a great big stomach ache to boot. I justified it : I am sad that I am still trying to conceive after four years, I am tired of saying no to all the “treats”, I feel lousy, so I’ll have some chocolate…

    As I sat doubled over with stomach cramps last night after a chocolate and grain binge all day, I knew I had no one but myself to blame. This morning I came to your website after months of not looking at it – perfect,perfect timing.

    If I cannot take responsibility for my health, then who will?

    I’m feeling inspired to get outside and dig over the vegie patch, to take a long walk in the sun,and to say “no” all weekend long (and beyond) to Easter chocolates.

    What you do is wonderful. Thank you.

    Angela wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • Good comment, Angela. Indeed, who will take responsibility if you don’t? I guarantee it won’t be your doctor. He only works 3 or 4 days a week, depends on toxic drugs to supply all the answers, and he’s not a miracle worker.

      I suspect that the underlying problem for those unable to assume responsibility, even when their health goes south, is that they’re very good at lying to themselves.

      Shary wrote on March 28th, 2013
  27. I love this post! Thank you, Mark, for your true, profound and inspirational thoughts.

    Susan B. wrote on March 28th, 2013
  28. Great post, Mark! Thanks!

    Elaine wrote on March 28th, 2013
  29. I think that this one may be your best yet Mark. Well done.

    Lucas wrote on March 28th, 2013
  30. Amen!

    Thanks Mark :)

    Kathleen wrote on March 28th, 2013
  31. I had a moment one day when the control I have over my emotions became crystal clear. I was angry with someone, muttering to myself about it. I could feel the anger dissipating, and consciously kept fanning my mental flames because I wanted to still be angry about it. When I noticed what I was doing to fill my “craving” for anger (which was resulting in a headache…), I realized it was my choice, and a “luxury” to continue to experience this negative emotion.

    I try to be more conscious about letting go of emotions now (some are easier than others…), and finding peace. To quote my wise aunt “maybe you let it ruin your morning, but don’t let it ruin your day!”

    Tracy wrote on March 28th, 2013
  32. Sing it, Mark!! I’ve been working on a lot of these concepts (personal responsibility, honesty with and respect for oneself, resilience) when it comes to other parts of my life, and it is so timely and inspiring to hear you relate them to food choices and the paleo lifestyle! I love the holistic approach to life and health that is the underpinning of this website and this movement. Thanks for everything!

    RH wrote on March 28th, 2013
  33. Gary Taubes taught me what good food is (also Alice Waters), and Greg Glassman is great on what’s good exercise, but you make it fun every day. I’m a 65 year old Grok wannabe, and I hope to have a handstand by the time I’m 70. Thanks for the weekend links, the stories, and all you give on this site.

    Will Larson wrote on March 28th, 2013
  34. I too struggled with making the right choices most of the time. Then a few months ago I was reading something that too talked about discipline and taking responsibility. For some reason a flip switched in my brain and I realized that this was MY CHOICE. What to eat, to exercise or not, these are choices and I’m not a victim of anyone or slave to anything. I’m in control of these things and I will either suffer or reap the results of my choices. It was very liberating! Thanks again Mark for all you do. This post was right on!

    Ara wrote on March 28th, 2013
  35. I eat what I like (which is about 85% meat & veggies) and what I like is good for me. I don’t force my diet or beliefs on anyone or even talk about food or training unless someone else brings it up. If I’m out with friends for a meal and someone orders a quesadilla I don’t bat an eyelash at the wheat tortilla, factory “cheese”, GMO toppings, additives,… well I’m sure everyone here knows what’s in it that we shouldn’t eat. I live my life and they can live theirs. This post reminds me of the time my coworker, who just finished a subway sandwhich, cookie, & was about to open their bag of potato chips, asked me if I was satisfied with what I ate. I had barbecued lamb (reheated, not freshly barbecued), homemade tzatziki (greek yogurt, fresh dill, minced garlic, etc), & some green veggies of a sort I can’t recall this moment. As much as I wanted to get into the debate I simply said, “yes, it’s delicious” and the conversation moved on. In all my years of eating “different” I’ve learned that that type of question under those circumstances is just a reason to argue, say why my food is inferior, etc.
    I’ve taken responsibility for my life decisions and will gladly discuss it with others on the same path or interests.
    I think I went off on a tangent there but the point is that I have the self-possession Mark talks about and others can keep their resentment. It’s not a “holier than thou” attitude -that’s argumentative. It’s a “this is who I am” attitude and I have no problem helping others along this path if they truly want to take it.

    N-FETT wrote on March 28th, 2013
  36. I am new to the Prime way of life and I am all in as far as what I eat. I need to work on my work outs. I am addicted to running distance, need to work on that. I love all the info and input I get from you blog. So thanks.

    Tomas wrote on March 28th, 2013
  37. We do really cheat ourselves all the time regarding to anything more convenient. We work full time with average $100/day, we’re willing to spend $20 to just eat out. The problem is the more people tend to work, the less time they have, so usually end up grabbing a sandwich at any fast food place with the thinking eating McDonal for couple days won’t kill me. And yes, with that only initial thought in mind, day by day it can form a serious habit, and we tend to use that excuse as always to treat our health badly.
    I know it clearly since it happened to me. I always acknowledge about the problem, and I always set a limit to myself until one certain point, then force myself to visit the supermarket to grab some fresh veggie and organic foods after pouring fast food into my body for couple days. With me, I think it’s ok for let our body and mind loose a little bit to do things according to instinct. However, there is a very thin line between enjoy for fun and seriously overboard, so we get to keep in mind where the line is and don’t cross it.

    Annie wrote on March 29th, 2013
  38. Hey Mark,

    Watch it man! You’re turning into a Buddhist, haha :D :D

    J.

    PS: next thing, you will no longer eat meat …

    PPS: just joking :)

    James wrote on March 29th, 2013
  39. this post is REALLY GOOD!

    Bill Berry wrote on March 29th, 2013
  40. This post feels like it was written from the heart in one sitting. The word that resonates the most with me is “authentic” and the lesson I most often learn and forget is the point Mark makes in the last paragraph: When I’m living in alignment with my values and best practices, I find I’m more patient, kind, and generous with others. I have more to give and more energy to do it.

    While a lot of the comments about this post focus on food and eating behavior, I really value the bigger picture of a healthy life that MDA encompasses. I need to get enough sleep, sunshine, make time to meditate, and cultivate a diverse set of good practices that to some may appear difficult but when taken in total leave me with a sense of ease.

    Knowing this, I often ask myself why I’m fantastic at answering work email and writing blog comments in the early morning hours instead of meditating or exercising.

    I’m getting better at more consistently making what I think of as “in alignment” choices, and while here I am again on MDA at 6 am, I am grateful to be part of a community that has such interest in asking and answering these questions. The positive reinforcement and perspective has been very helpful. Thank you.

    Juli wrote on March 29th, 2013

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