Two stories to illustrate a point:
The first is about a couple I met a few years ago. They were both overweight, smoked, ate poorly, were inactive, and, all niceties aside, were generally gross and slovenly. And happy as clams about their health. Why?
Two reasons. One was that they had hooked up with a friend who sold vitamins through a multi-level marketing plan. She explained to them that these vitamins – and only these vitamins – were all natural, all organic, and that the special processing used by the manufacturer ensured that they were the highest quality nutrients you could shove into your gut. Of course, they are expensive! The manufacturing process is expensive and we don’t water down our brand through advertising or mass marketing. Besides – isn’t your health worth it? So they spent a king’s ransom each month shoving pills in the gullets.
The other reason they were so happy was their annual Mexico trip. Forget beaches and cliff diving – they went on a ‘health retreat.’ Each year they motored down South of the border for a little chelation therapy¹. This is a treatment used to remove specific heavy metal toxins from the body and is marginally legal in the US for general use. And isn’t that just like the Food and Drug Administration? To keep from Americans just what they need to be healthy? So these folks spend a couple weeks in Mexico hooked up to a needle where chemicals are pumped into their blood which is putatively cleansed of toxins and other nasties. Except that it’s not. And while the FDA isn’t a fan, neither is the American College of Toxicology nor the good folks at the Journal of Medical Toxicology (Read here, here, and here.) Even the Great Bearded Health Guru, Dr. Anthony Weil, is skeptical of non-standard use and considers chelation potentially harmful (here).
But my friends believed that this cured all their ills. They were convinced that if their diet and lifestyle was unhealthy then it was corrected by chelation. So they ate and drank and made merry and then spent a few thousand bucks each winter to clean up the mess.
The other story – happier and with a point not so obvious – is about me and bicycle racing. I took up cycling in my mid-twenties and became a pretty good local racer. I kept racing in bigger and faster races until I did a well-known race where the US Team (Team 7-11!) and several other international teams were competing. I won’t even try to brag: I was beaten so thoroughly it hurt for two weeks. I actually came home and gave away all of my bike racing stuff. I mean, if you can’t win the Tour de France…really, why ride a bicycle?
But along the way, I noticed something truly important: as much as I drooled over Guerciottis and Bianchis I was beating the guys who were riding them. It dawned on me that unless you are elite and racing against other people in the same category then conditioning was ninety percent of the equation. A sweet bike might make you look great but it’s not going to get you across the finish line any faster.
What do these stories have in common and how do they relate to everyday health? Both stories are about people who skip the hard and boring drudgery of the basics thinking that they can buy their goal. It never works. You have to put in the time for the basics.
So what do we do? Start where you are. The most important basic is food. Work on replacing processed foods with real foods. Work on getting at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Don’t fret too much if it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve spent 30, 40, or maybe 50 years of your life building your food habits. It will take time to change them. Learn about nutrition and eschew fads. You will lose weight, can forget about costly supplements that may or may not work, and learn to enjoy real food again. Your body will begin repairing itself and – trust the FDA – you will not need chelation therapy.
Begin to enjoy some kind of activity. If you can’t run a marathon (ugh!) then run a mile. Or go for a fifteen-minute walk after dinner – that’s what I do with my kids. Push the mower instead of flipping down the self-propel lever. In every case doing something is better than doing nothing. Begin where you are and make friends with your body. When you are tired, or wheezing, or sore…those are all signs that you are getting better and that your body is responding. Get the feeling more often.
Start to remove stresses from your life. Begin to adopt – to really grab onto – the stoic mantra to accept that you can only change some things. Really – ask yourself – what kind of crazy person stands in the way of a moving car? Yet how many hours and days and years do we waste trying to stop or change things that we simply have no control over? Learn to let those things happen. Learn to be happy in the choices you make.
Start today. Take five minutes to do something overtly healthy for you. Skip a cookie and have a couple slices of apple. Buy a loaf of whole wheat bread. It all adds up and you’ll soon see that you have more control over your health that you might imagine.
Note 1: Please understand that there is a useful context for medically controlled chelation therapy. The toxicological technique is used for people who are internally exposed to heavy metals like lead or copper and other metals. It works by injecting a chemical into your blood that binds to metals and helps clean them from your system. One problem is that the chelating chemical can bind to necessary chemicals like calcium and remove them as well causing severe health concerns and, in some cases, death (here).
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