So many people feel lousy most of the time. And don’t know how to fix it. It’s easy to feel like wellness just a hobby for the privileged. Aside from the Gwyneth Paltrow crowd surrounded by juice bars and jade eggs, even just the idea of taking time and energy to focus on basic wellness can be a challenge for many of us. While we might think of the CEOs as busy people who can’t find time for good food and exercise, no one works harder than shift workers, minimum-wage (or less) workers supporting families, folks with more than one job. (And yes, there are health risks associated with being poor). Feeling crappy is a problem facing all kinds of people. It’s not always as simple as joining a gym, hiring a trainer, signing up for a meal delivery service. The reality is that some folks’ lives are challenging in ways others don’t have to think about.
I was thinking about this when I stopped at a Circle K on my way home from work yesterday. A friend was coming over for dinner, and he’s a cheap beer drinker, so I wanted to be sure I had something for him. Hence, Circle K and their Beer Kave.
It was busy at 5 PM on Monday. People were buying cigarettes, energy drinks, and filling up those giant Polar Pop cups. No one had what a magazine might call “a healthy glow”. I looked around as I waited in line, and I didn’t see a single thing I’d classify as healthy food. Well, they did have limes, stocked with the beer. But otherwise? Donuts, candy, jerky, cheetos, hot dogs. So if this is the place you go to because you can walk, get there on your bike, get there from the bus? You’re pretty well screwed. How could you make a good choice here? Am I being hopelessly snobbish because I make enough money to go to whole foods and I have enough flexibility in my schedule to plan and cook meals? Because I grew up with a family that cooked, I have a stove and a lot of cookware and appliances? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s easy for most people. I think we as a culture have made some awful choices (we spend a smaller proportion of income on food in the U.S. than other countries do; the way farm subsidies work encourages cheap, empty calories; we reimburse care for disease but not for wellness). So Circle K and the like is the default position for people short on cash and time who need the energy to get through another shift and maybe feed their kids something too. It’s an immediate fix for an immediate problem, but it can put you in the hole over time (both money wise and health/energy wise).
So, if that’s where you are, it’s easy to feel stuck. I think one approach to this cycle is something in between habit change and Dan Buetner’s Blue Zones approach. When dedicated dieting and exercise (let alone cleansing and colonics) are out of reach, look at the structure of your life and see where you can make adjustments that don’t cost significant time and money, but inch you towards better health. Things like: Active commutes. Buying healthy snacks in bulk instead of reaching for whatever’s available when you’re already hungry. Coming up with a grab-and-go breakfast staple from home instead of the drive-thru. Food prepping and freezing meals during weekend time. Making regular habits or rituals like TV time more active (half hour of tv, half hour walk? commercial break circuits?). You don’t have to up-end your life and go full cross fit. You can find ways to subtly alter the little stuff that you might normally not think about– the interstitial spaces, if you want to be a science nerd about it. The thing is, this approach isn’t sexy. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not dramatic. You won’t lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks. But if you’re starting off feeling crappy, what do you have to lose?
The key to this method is that you have to identify the change you can realistically make in your own life. You have to take inventory of your time, your money, your energy, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to do. You have to question your own assumptions about what’s fixed and what’s malleable.
But. . . what if you tried it? What if you found something that you thought you could do, and you got just a little bit better? Then you had the energy to try something else, and you’re healthier tomorrow than yesterday. And you aren’t holding up an unrealistic plan— you’re just living your regular life, with a few tweaks. And soon, they’re just what you do. If you walk 20 minutes a day that you didn’t walk before, that’s over two hours per week, 9 hours per month, a hundred hours a year. What teeny tiny change could you make, and how would it multiply over a year?