Over nearly 20 years of practice, I've seen diet and fitness fads come and go. From the Acai Berry Diet to Zumba, I've seen them all. Some of them work for some people, but none of them work for all people, and most of them work for a very few.
In my profession as a physician treating chronic disorders, I've worked with many patients whose diseases were closely linked to weight, metabolism and fitness, and I know first-hand, from assisting my patients to become healthier, how difficult it is to change our lifestyle. Which is why fad diets and fad fitness plans are so attractive. They promise radical change in very short time, while demanding nothing but surface changes. Sometimes they succeed, but even that success is short-term, and easily reversed.
A more satisfying answer, for this doctor and his patients alike, are lasting deep changes that require little maintenance and, over time, become ingrained healthy habits. Sometimes to make a change like that, I first have to administer a shock to the system, rebooting my patients' metabolism in the same way that an ER doctor will shock a heart to restart or normalize it's beat.
Once that shock is administered, the far more important work of creating the framework for a healthier lifestyle can begin. At this point, complicated dietary strictures must be abandoned, because they will soon fall to the wayside under the weight of their own complexity. And almost any exercise plan will be doomed to failure unless the patient intrinsically enjoys the activity or it's immediate results (I like the feeling of sore, worked, muscles in the morning, though I clearly understand that others may not.)
Thus, over the years, I have searched for simple, effective ways to help patients embed healthy changes into their lives. I've come up with a variety of healthy living cheat codes that I'll share with my patients. But it wasn't until today that I realized that I have, in my hand, a universal diet and fitness plan that is effective for the majority of Americans, is inexpensive, and can make radical, long-term, positive changes in their health. And I'm going to share it with you.
This plan consists of three rules, and three rules only. They are not difficult to understand or implement, and you can introduce them gradually. If you are fat, implementing this plan will make you thin. If you are weak, it will make you strong. If you are tired, it will energize you.
- Unplug your microwave and throw it out.
- Turn off the TV.
- Use anything but a car or motorbike for all trips under three miles.
Now you don't have to make these rules immutable -- in fact, you should break them regularly, though not frequently. And you probably will want to phase them in. But once you have committed to these changes, the ramifications will ripple through your life in a wave of improved health. And, over time, they won't be rules to be followed, but just how you live your life.
For the most part, the justification for these rules are fairly obvious, but a little commentary is in order.
"During the extended 'down time' that my microwave enjoyed, I started to notice something. I really didn't need the microwave all that much. I didn't really even miss it...I also noticed that the things that would normally go into the microwave were not really things I should be putting in my body anyway. I could give you a laundry list of what those foodstuffs were, but suffice it to say that they usually came with lots of packaging. The kind of so-called ingestible items whose flavors are developed in a lab somewhere to taste like cheese, tomato, noodle something-or-other and that usually have a cardboard box around them and contain any number of foil or plastic containers..." said Addison Wilhite, in a recent article in Bicycle Times.
The research is now irrefutable that the type of food that Mr. Wilhite is referring to is a major contributor to many chronic diseases, from heart disease to cancer to diabetes. Less-known but equally important is its contribution to depression and other mental/emotional disorders. Eliminating the microwave automatically eliminates these foods from your diet.
Turning off the television has widely researched benefits. Watching TV increases obesity, contributes to eating disorders, and increases risk of depression. It is negatively associated with knowledge acquisition. And that's only scratching the surface of television's deleterious effects on health.
Aside from the benefits outlined above, the second most important thing switching off the TV does is frees up time -- massive amounts of time. The average American adult watches television 153 hours per month, or six complete days in front of the tube. Just think what you could do with another week every month! You now have time to cook a good meal, go for a walk, go for a run, or just take care of errands...
...without using your car. That's right, you don't have to take your car everywhere that you go. In fact, more Americans are discovering every day the benefits of leaving your car behind. Walking or cycling every trip you take that is less than three miles (round trip) will decrease your weight, improve your fitness, and help you to avoid or manage most chronic diseases. On top of that you will save thousands of dollars every year. Yes, it takes longer. But you've got all that extra time now, and you can, in fact, stop and smell the roses.
In my next entry, we will take a look at how to implement these simple changes and some of the unexpected results that may appear.