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

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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 definitely needed this today! I’ve been primal for 5 months now and am still struggling with my addiction to primal-approved sweeteners. It’s time to be responsible about the amount I put in my body!

    Alyssa wrote on March 29th, 2013
  2. Hello all,

    I am just starting my Primal journey with cutting out grains, breads and the like and will begin the basic PBF as prescribed by the book starting Monday. I do not know what to expect from this journey, but I do think it makes a lot of sense. I am not fearful about the success of the lifestyle. I am excited. This concept is right up my alley for living as close to our prescribed, natural selves so I was overjoyed when I stumbled upon your blog.

    I have been an athlete most of my life but stopped when making a living became my main focus. as a result, I am in the worst shape of my life and am continuously becoming ill and developing other chronic injuries and disorders. Enough is enough.

    I am ready to reclaim my life and return to my active, positive, vibrant self and I believe this Primal lifestyle will help me do this.

    Thank you for the reawakening.

    Quinn wrote on March 29th, 2013
  3. Once people have lived a healthy lifestyle for a while, the appurtenances of a decadent lifestyle – the cigarettes, drugs and junk food – lose their appeal. It becomes much more interesting to see how far you can pursue healthfulness: How much you can increase your active longevity without pharmaceutical crutches; how far you can naturally increase the youthfulness and elasticity of your skin; how long you can maintain the waist measurement and appetite for living of the average 19-year-old.

    When you reach that point, health integrity requires no effort to sustain. It’s not a chore – you wouldn’t have it any other way. The problem is getting to that point in the first place.

    It’s factually accurate to say that we are responsible for the choices we make, but for many who are trying to change their habits, addiction to harmful behaviors of all kinds has a significant part to play in shaping their decisions.

    For me, the question is: How do we mediate the transition between an unhealthy addiction and a healthy one?

    Dane Thorsen wrote on March 29th, 2013
  4. Beatiful, beautiful words. This idea gets really close to my personal philosophy towards diet and health: only YOU can define what is health to YOU. You´ve got to be your own mentor, your own leader. Only at that level of commitment with your self comes the real reward, a reward which is far beyond losing pounds or overcoming illnesses.

    Juan wrote on March 29th, 2013
  5. Great philosophy on health. I love this blog!

    I try to teach my patients that they alone are responsible for their health. Even with the outcomes of their chiropractic care. If they don’t do their share on their end with diet, activity and ergonomics, they just won’t have the same outcomes as will other patients.

    Todd Lloyd, DC wrote on March 29th, 2013
  6. Man, you are so amazing, Mark. I glanced at the title for this post on my Google Reader feed a few days ago and knew I wanted to come back to it when I had more time. I just made time for it tonight, and it felt like the perfect thing, spoken just to me. Those words: “It’s not about self-restraint but self-possession.” I can’t even begin to explain how true that feels to me, and how relevant that thought is to my journey of the past few months. Thank you!

    Biancadonk wrote on March 29th, 2013
  7. Thank you so much,Mark! I have been following MDA for months now and I have been impressed by your ability to always find something interesting to write about, but this post was outstanding. It gives me such a feeling of empowerment!

    IngridHanna wrote on March 30th, 2013
  8. Thank you Mark! Just when i needed the most :-) Always on time…

    Alexandra wrote on March 30th, 2013
  9. “When we’re good with our selves, when we have genuine self-respect, we can live in relationships more authentically and productively with others”.

    So true. A penny for our thoughts.

    Thank you.

    Ana Lydia wrote on March 31st, 2013
  10. WOW amazing post! I really liked it :)

    Doghug wrote on March 31st, 2013
  11. Best. Post. Ever! This post gives those things words/labels that so many people struggle with and never fully understand what they’re really fighting against.

    drea wrote on March 31st, 2013
  12. I had missed this post, and I am DELIGHTED I went back and found it. I’ve passed the message on to a lot of people–I’ve been mostly Primal for almost two years now, and it’s phenomenal. I’m 70 and feel 50, if that. More like 40…or…

    And YES, it’s not self-denial! It’s actualization, if anything. Taking responsibility is fine with me…I like making my own choices.

    Thank you, Mark, for being there.

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on March 31st, 2013
  13. Really good to see this type of message being pushed. Health cannot be dictated by standards set by others: it is about knowing what you need and what you are comfortable with.

    The stress induced by breaking ‘healthy habits’ is probably more harmful than the act of enjoying your Mum’s cheesecake when you go visit her. Jean Calment, the longest lived person on record, ate 2 pounds of chocolate a week and smoked for over 80 years. Not exactly Paleo, but she thrived because she didn’t stress out about it. In fact, not stressing about diet is a factor attributed to the ‘blue zones': regions whose residents exhibit exceptional longevity.

    Being comfortable in your own skin is a powerful tool for health.

    Barnaby wrote on April 1st, 2013
  14. Mark, just when I need a kick in the pants, there you are with a post written “just for me.” :) I’ve long realized my goal is to live healithy automatically, to not have to analyze and will myself not to eat certain things or stay up late in front of blue tinted screens. To have healthy behaviors come as naturally as breathing or a beating heart would be wonderful. In the meantime, focusing on my choice and intent and NOT running on autopilot shoving the same junk down my throat as I have my whole life- that’s the reality I hope for and can choose for myself. Thanks for the reminder :)

    Beachchica (Danielle) wrote on April 4th, 2013
  15. Wonderful, humane insight…encouraging…motivating in a gentle, forgiving way that is far more likely to move a 21st century everyman in the right direction than the rah rah hype that is so ubiquitous these days…

    dotsyjmaher wrote on April 4th, 2013

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