Prevention – what does that even mean?
The definition of ‘prevention’ is to keep from occurring, avert, hinder or stall.
Let’s first look at the state of our health, then look at what has caused this instability of health and what do we do to change habits in order to avert, hinder or stall modern lifestyle disease.
I was bought up in the 60’s and 70’s; since then I’ve seen an exponential downward change in the health of our children, parents and the ageing population. I’ve been a nutritionist for 33 years, so I’ve seen three decades of this, with a dramatic increased number of people who have a decline in their health.
When I was born I had many sets of grandparents including great grandparents, most of them lived into their 90’s and beyond. None of them had Alzheimer’s, dementia and for that matter were on any or many medications.
Today the scenario is very different. If people do live to an old age they are plagued with illnesses requiring a concoction of medications, with dementia, crippling physical and mental conditions being the accepted norm. In fact the average Westerner will consume up to 46,000 pills in their lifetime.
50% of children with lifetime illnesses
In Australia, we have nearly 50% of children with lifetime illnesses. Beyond childhood, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmunity plagues many people, with some unknowingly living with these conditions and preconditions until their health reaches crisis point and they receive a diagnosis for one of these diseases.
Each year, millions of people die from preventative deaths. In fact, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), about 55 million people died worldwide in 2011; two thirds of this group died from non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, chronic cardiovascular and lung disease. Poor lifestyle, nutrition choices and habits have led to the global obesity crisis we see today. (39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2014 and 13% were obese. WHO )
On 1 February 2017, Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull reiterated the importance of preventative health by saying ‘the government will focus on preventative health to give people the right tools and information to live active and healthy lives.’
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) President, David Templeman commented ‘a new focus is needed, particularly on the key drivers of increasing chronic disease in our society and start tackling the causes before people require major treatment interventions and hospitalisation.’
When we talk about preventing ill health, we want to stop the body from becoming ill with a chronic condition. Before modern food and our modern lifestyle, the biggest cause of death was communicable diseases, eg getting a bug from somewhere or someone and falling ill, like the plague. However, nowadays people die from a lifestyle disease (self-inflicted) rather than a communicable disease. Daniel Liebermann from Harvard University coined the term ‘Dysevolution’, this is when cultural evolution moves much faster than biological evolution…health deteriorates when cultural evolution becomes the driver.
In other words, the habits that insured the subsistence of the human species have changed and now we have habits that are not conducive to our health. Food, exercise, sleep, sunlight, connection, customs, culture and traditions were all part of how we survived.
What has developed as a result is that people now believe shelf stable packaged foods filled with additives, preservatives and flavourings are healthy options – think ‘Lean Cuisine’. Exercise is downgraded in our lives due to energy saving devices, sunlight is frowned upon, television (blue light) and other blue screens change our sleep patterns and hormones, social media changes how we interact on a human level and chemicals in the environment change our hormones.
In order to prevent the downward spiral of lifestyle diseases, we must look at what our evolutionary bodies required in the past to live healthily for over 1000’s of generations, without the knowledge of science. Fortunately we still have cultures that exist today that give us a glimpse into our past. This does not mean we have to live as cave men but rather in this modern world, let the body think it is still living as our ancestors lived.
Most people wait for a health crisis, trauma or loss before they take action and start to improve their health. WHY wait for a crisis before you start to put your health first?
How do you treat your car?
Consider this: You have just paid $25,000 for the car of your dreams with a two year warranty. It is the sleekest car you have ever owned, it requires unleaded fuel to run at peak performance, maintenance checkups every 10,000 kilometres and oil changes.
As you have paid so much for the car, you are diligent about the fuel you use, maintaining it regularly, cleaning it both inside and out and generally looking after it better than anything you have ever owned. It is possible to update the car after two years if you so desire; in fact, you could buy yourself a new car every year if you wanted to, as long as you’re financially able to.
After a couple of years of owning your new car, you make a mistake and put diesel fuel in the tank, you fail to maintain it on the 40,000km service and because you cannot afford top quality oil, you use poor quality graded oil. The car begins to splutter, cough and not perform as well as it should.
Now consider your body: you pay nothing for it, the fuel you need to make it run at peak performance is food from nature, food that we have evoloved to eat for 1000’s of generations, maintenance checks should be daily as you listen to your body and you have a life time warranty as long as you look after it – approximately 100 years. There is one hitch though: you can only have one body and there are no updates.
As you haven’t paid anything for your body you tend to take it for granted, fail to maintain it and feed it ‘diesel’ fuel instead of premium ‘unleaded’ fuel. The products you buy for the maintenance of your body are usually low grade, food like substances that the body cannot use for healthy function and, like a car that is not looked after, it will begin to breakdown. It becomes sluggish, lethargic and parts of it will not work as efficiently. Joints start to stiffen and your neck isn’t turning as freely as it used to. The annual cold turns into one long winter cold which lasts for three months, turning into flu and before you know it, you have bronchitis, arthritis, an autoimmune disease, heart disease, diabetes and/or cancer.
Instead of looking at what the root cause of the problem is, you may go to your doctor and be given a medication to dull the symptom, which is a lot like turning the music up in the car so that you can’t here the noise anymore. The scenarios of the body and the car are similar as ‘dulling the symptom’ with a medication doesn’t solve the real issue and so the body function decreases even more.
Cocktail of medications
Many people as they age are on a cocktail of medications, which leads to a life with less energy.
What amazes me is that the body is similar to a car, just more complicated; it must have the right fuel and it must be maintained and used (exercised) in order to keep it in tip top condition. We can have as many cars in our lives as we want, but we only get one body, yet most people take better care of their cars than they do of their body.
Amazingly, people believe that having a cold or flu during the winter months is just part of winter, that having regular headaches is just something you have to put up with, that pre-menstrual tension is a part of a woman’s life, the aches in the morning are just something one has to contend with when they get older, the belief that cancer, heart disease, being overweight, autoimmune disease etc runs in the family, so ‘I’m bound to get it too as you’re lucky to be born with good genes or not’.
The body is like an intricate machine that if it is fed the right fuel and used efficiently, it can serve its purpose, similar to a high grade vehicle for you to get around in. Sadly, we have lost touch with how to look after this superior vehicle and most people don’t even know anymore what it is like to feel healthy and full of energy.
The health system has taught us to wait until there is something wrong, then go and visit a doctor to fix it. Imagine if you did that with a car. More often than not, we haven’t got time to visit a doctor so we take an anti-inflammatory, headache tablet or cold-relieving pill to get us through the day.
By taking this course of action we are, in effect, ‘turning the music up’ in our bodies, much like you would turn the music up in your car in order to stop hearing the tapping noise in the motor. The problem doesn’t go away, you are merely avoiding hearing the warning sounds – aches, pains, colds and flus are warning signs that something is out of balance in your body.
Prevent your body from becoming sick
It is easier to prevent a body becoming sick and tired than it is to cure it of the problem. Although the body is resilient, more so than a motor car, there is a point of no return and once you reach that point, it is downhill for the rest of your life.
- Why wait to get to that point, until you start to look after your life?
- Why feed the body the wrong fuel, abuse it with substances like alcohol and smoking?
- Why spend your time as a ‘couch potato’ and feed your mind with negative thoughts transmitted through various electronic boxes?
All too often, watching television, videos, DVDs and spending time on social media is to me like watching someone else live their life instead of living your own.
It is possible to get through a winter without a cold, to never have another headache and to wake up in the morning free from any aches and pains.
It is possible to jump out of bed ready for an exciting day ahead, but in order for this to happen you have to start looking after your body as though you had paid a million dollars for it.
Treat it with respect, give it the right fuel, and use it by exercising regularly.
Give your body a test
This winter when the beginning of a cold is upon you, try not using any antibiotics. Instead, give your body a challenge, get it used to fighting its own fights instead of using a substance to fight for it. Eat fruit for breakfast, salad or soup for lunch, fish or rice and vegetables for dinner, drink lots of filtered water and throw a few garlic cloves into your soup.
Do this for about two days without eating anything else and see how quickly your own body’s immune system is able to fend off a cold. Instead of the cold lingering for weeks, your body will fight and dismiss the offending virus or bacteria within 48 hours. But don’t stop the healthy eating then, continue to eat well as outlined in my book Changing Habits Changing Lives and see what a difference healthy food can make to an ailing body.
Symptoms (colds, headaches, aches and pains) are the body’s way of indicating that something is wrong. It could be that you are working too hard. You might be stressed over something (remember stress is merely the difference between the way the world is, compared to the way you demand it to be) and/or perhaps you are not getting enough rest or exercise.
If you listen to your body, it can be your guide as it can tell you whether you need more sleep, rest and/or better nutritious food. If you don’t listen to it and attend to your needs, then your body will become your enemy. It will become a vehicle you are stuck in for the rest of your life, with no way out but death.
Take action now. Don’t wait till your next birthday, a social occasion, next week or the next new year; instead begin to look after the only body you have, NOW.
7 habits to change
- Eat a diet of real foods, made from single ingredients, including fermented foods, slow cooked meats, fowl, fish, leafy green vegetables, nuts, organic eggs, seeds, legumes, whole grains (soaked and cooked or sprouted), spices, fresh herbs, root vegetables, fruit. For more information read Changing Habits Changing Lives
- Move your body everyday – do something you love such as swim, run, walk or yoga
- Decrease the amount of chemicals in your home – declutter your home of chemicals. For more suggestions click here
- Create a habit for sleep
- Turn screens off at least 1 hour before you go to bed, or turn to f.lux or night vision
- Have regular family and/or friend dinners
- Take time out of your day to enjoy nature – go bare foot on the grass.
Good luck with these changes, remember to take it step by step, habit by habit.
Happy changing habits.
Nutritionist and founder of Changing Habits