Dr. Janet Hurley
As a practicing family physician for 13 years, I have counseled thousands on health and wellness activities. I have discussed blood pressure readings, blood sugar numbers, cholesterol, heart disease and numerous other reasons why eating better and exercising are good ideas.
There are many reasons why people should eat better and exercise more, but finding the time and changing habits is very hard to do. How can we change this?
East Texas faces hot summertime temperatures, and the excuse to not exercise is simply too easy. We are busy with work responsibilities, school events, family needs, housework, home maintenance and many other things. Fewer of us work manual labor jobs than generations of the past. Modern conveniences like dishwashers and laundry appliances make basic chores easier. Air conditioning makes it more enjoyable to stay inside rather than go outside where most exercise would be more interesting and enjoyable.
We spend much time watching TV and surfing the web, and less time communicating and visiting with others face to face. TV and web ads for restaurants and food items flood our mind. Advertising is pervasive. No wonder most people do not make a consistent change in their habits at the request of their doctors.
It is time to change the message in our heads. The first thing we need to do is get rid of guilt. Feeling guilty about poor health choices simply lowers self-esteem and makes success even harder to achieve. There are many societal changes that have contributed to our obesity epidemic, and in some ways obese patients are victims of this culture. Yet obesity is unhealthy and leads to many medical problems. It’s time to change the “victim-hood” to victory.
Rather than thinking about the unhealthy foods we can’t have, perhaps we should start focusing on the good foods we can have. Rather than lamenting the loss of being able to eat meals regularly at fast food places, perhaps we can begin to get excited about the countless other choices we have if we pack a lunch and the money we save by not eating out. Rather than thinking about how miserable exercise is, maybe we can get excited about how even small amounts of exercise will give us more energy for basic life activities throughout our day, make us less dependent on medications and doctor visits, and help us to be more active in our retirement years. The battle is won or lost by the thoughts we choose to think in our heads.
While I am not advocating one fitness plan over another, I think the principles of The Daniel Plan are worth introducing. This program focuses on five essential “Fs”: Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus and Friends. Notice that Food and Fitness are only two of the of the five components. The concepts of Faith, Focus and Friends help us understand that we have to start with conviction, take control of our thoughts and have fellowship and accountability from friends.
Health and fitness support groups abound in our region. Weight Watchers groups provide education, accountability and friendship. Employer-based programs are becoming more common. TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) programs are available at several local churches. At my church, I have seen fellow congregants achieve impressive results by attending a “home grown” wellness group called “The Wellness Warriors.” Other programs are available as well. But any such efforts, even if well-intentioned, will be less successful until we change the message in our heads.
I have heard some patients say “You want me to give up everything that tastes good.” That is completely untrue. Our taste buds can easily adapt to foods that are healthy and nutritious, and we can still eat some unhealthy food in moderation. For some patients the alternative is swallowing a whole host of diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol pills on a regular basis. Others are headed that direction if they don’t make some changes. Some of these medicines have side effects that make patients feel bad. Some are expensive and cut into their vacation and retirement funds, or even their food and clothing funds. Some even make patients more tired than they already are, making them less likely to exercise and eat right. Are you sure high-calorie high-fat french fries are worth it?
It is time to get your head into your wellness efforts. Let’s convert shame to victory by controlling the thoughts in our minds.
Dr. Janet Hurley has practiced as a family physician for 11 years at Christus Trinity Clinic in Whitehouse and is operational chief of primary care, South Region, at Christus Trinity Clinic. She also is treasurer of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and is a member of the steering committee of the Rose Chapter of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.