Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
It was with great interest that I read Michael Moore’s comments about his daily walks and being gentle with ourselves in the effort to live better. While I agree with so much of what Michael writes, I know that some of my happiness is grounded in a bit of a different strategy for myself.
I, like so many people I know, have spent a lifetime struggling with weight issues. Up. Down. In-between. Starving. Binging. Purging sometimes. Counting calories, fat grams, carb grams, protein grams, sodium milligrams. Jumping on the scale. Avoiding the scale. Paying huge sums for weight, medical/surgical interventions, and exercise programs. And I was still sad, much of the time, still sad.
Fat, thin, or otherwise, I spent a good deal of my life doing or not doing what I loved because I worried about what others would think about someone like me doing something like that. The reality still is that fat folks are judged as weak, sloppy, and often not as worthy in our competitive society.
Often, I wondered if I should just give up. The struggle against my weight consumed me even as I consumed things that compounded my sorrow. My body does not handle excess weight very well. All of the health concerns – except for higher cholesterol – that can make being too heavy and eating in an unhealthy way risky are those things that happen to me. Conversely, when I am kind and loving to my body, it responds in kind to me.
So, was I disagreeing with Michael Moore then as he wrote about being more gentle with ourselves in terms of the crazy lengths to which many of us have gone to lose pounds? Yes and no. About a year ago when my husband was facing yet another health crisis with his arteries, a colleague and friend offered me a suggestion for my husband that might have offered an alternative to costly and dangerous surgeries. That suggestion included a drastically – for us – modified eating plan. My husband would have nothing of it and called the doctors who spoke and wrote of the plan “snake oil salesmen.” He opted for the more traditional surgical route for his artery issues. He’s been a thin guy most of his life, and he just doesn’t think food choices solve much. I was more determined to check out alternatives since I was not feeling very good, and I needed to help myself feel better.
The plan was pretty simple. I follow it faithfully now not because I lost significant amount of weight (though I did) but because I feel so much better. And I felt better during I year when I faced a new cancer threat and health challenges that might have been life-threatening if I had stayed in such seriously compromised shape as I had been in 2011. I do not count calories or fat grams – ever. I do eat almost exclusively veggies, fruits and whole grains with less than eight ounces of animal protein a week. The only things I try really hard to avoid as completely as possible are caffeine and excess salt. I do walk every day if at all possible, and unlike Michael’s effort, some of those walks are on a treadmill. I kind of like the treadmill sometimes. I feel better when I walk and worse when I do not.
Over the past 14 months, my body, mind and spirit began to get stronger. And I felt better. I don’t enjoy feeling weak. I cannot help thinking that if I had faced a new cancer with a weaker body, I would have had an even harder time dealing with it. Now, no matter what that cancer battle requires, I feel better able to face it.
My reason for writing this piece is because I know I did have to really push myself at first to change my habits about what I ate. I was used to more foods I was now choosing not to eat than I had realized -- maybe even addicted to some of those foods that make my body feel less than good. I did have to replace old, less healthy for me behaviors with other things, and it wasn’t easy at first. But it was right for me. It was right for my body. And I do think that was much of Michael’s point in talking and writing about his commitment to walking.
So, as I look to 2013, I have a plan that is perhaps not too much different than Michael’s in that I want to live my life fully and with joy, compassion and vibrancy without so much worry about the minutia of what a diet-crazed consciousness often allows. But for me, fueling my body and mind with as much healthy fare as needed for my optimum functioning will be a continued priority along with avoiding the things that make me feel so lousy and powerless.
And I will be better able to advocate for the kind of healthcare system that honors us all – an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life system in which patients get care based on what is needed for good health rather than the wealth and greed of the for-profit system we have now.
Cheers to 2013, Michael. I think we share that desire for a life well lived, and I will be walking. I will be eating joyfully and healthily most of the time. And I’ll be laughing, crying, reading, writing, swimming, and doing all the things that I can possibly do to fill this year with life – my best life.
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