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 ourselves, 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.