Diet, exercise, and sleep.
For me, these are life’s most important elements to perfect and protect, in order to maintain optimum health and happiness. Sure, there are other important aspects of life to nourish and develop (learning, creativity, relationships, civic action), but if I’m not vigilant about balancing The Big Three, I find that everything else in my life suffers.
The advice that resonates the most with me is that put forth by Michael Pollan’s excellent book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And by “food” he means real food—the kind that our great-grandparents would have recognized as food. To put it simply, I choose mostly whole, minimally-processed foods.
High cholesterol runs in my family, and one of my grandparents suffered from heart disease and cancer, so naturally I want to eat as healthfully as I can. That said, if someone were to set a piece of chocolate cake or a Boston Cream Doughnut down in front of me, I would gobble it up without hesitation. Occasionally rules can be broken, right?
Speaking of doughnuts, this passage from Tom Robbins’ amazing book Tibetan Peach Pie makes me laugh and salivate at the same time:
[…] In all my gastronomic globetrotting, however, I cannot honestly say that any food item, with the possible exception of a perfect tomato sandwich, has had a greater impact on my palate and my eye or generated richer, more varied imagerial associations than the jelly doughnut. That plump pastry pantheon, that unbroken circle, that holy tondo, that doughy dome of heaven, that female breast swollen with sweetness, that globe of glorious goo, that secret round nest of the scarlet-throated calorie warbler, that sun whose rays ignite the proletariat palate, that hub of the wheel of sustenance, that vampire cookie gorged with gore, that clown in an army overcoat, that fat-fried egg with a crimson yolk, that breakfast moon, that bulging pocket, that strawberry alarm clock, that unicorn turd, that jewel pried from the head of a greasy idol, a ruby as big as the ritz, that homeric oculus, blind yet all-seeing, that orb, that pod, that crown, that womb, that knob, that bulb, that bowl, that grail, that… well, you get the picture.
Sigh. Today I’m abstaining from eating doughnuts. Most days I do, actually.
I’ve learned that it’s possible to develop and maintain healthy habits. I absolutely love steamed vegetables, for example, with nothing more than a little bit of salt and pepper, and occasionally some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I even enjoy such acquired tastes as asparagus, rhubarb, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts.
Sometimes I make my own sprouts from sunflower seeds. Other times, I make sprouts from a mix of alfalfa, radish, and broccoli seeds.
I roast my own coffee (I buy the green seeds a.k.a. beans on Amazon), and drink it with a little bit of honey or maple syrup.
I grow my own garlic, and try to eat a raw clove of it every few days.
I drink a lot of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and sometimes I’ll add a splash of organic apple cider vinegar.
I make a sort of mirepoix using: ginger, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, sesame seeds, and spices. I cook it down just enough to be a little soft. I keep it in the fridge, and add a few heaping tablespoons to brown rice, beans, potatoes, and whatever else I’m making. It tastes great, and feels good in the body.
I make my own granola by mixing ground chia and flax seeds, popped amaranth, and some oats that I’ve toasted in the oven for about fifteen minutes. Then I add various nuts, seeds, raisins, and a bunch of spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. I serve it with a dollop of fat-free organic yogurt, some almond milk, and a few fresh raspberries or blueberries.
Occasionally I’ll go out to eat at a restaurant, and will indulge in whatever I fancy including pizza, burgers, fries, hotdogs, lobster rolls, and doughnuts (not all in the same sitting). You only live once!
My job forces me to sit for long stretches of time in front of a computer screen, so I have to be especially vigilant about getting enough exercise. It took me a long time to make exercising a daily habit, but I’ve finally gotten to a point where I jog every day, mostly on my treadmill.
Most days I jog for about twenty minutes to a half hour. A couple of days per week I do some resistance exercises (chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, curls with 15-pound dumbells, overhead presses with the same, squats, shoulder-shrugs, and “swivel-arounds” while holding 35-pound kettle-bells, and both front and back “rows” using a couple of rubber resistance straps fastened to a window frame).
I’m learning that I function best when I’m getting 8–9 hours of sleep per night. I don’t always hit this goal, but I strive for it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, my mind starts thinking about the events of the coming day, and I won’t be able to get back to sleep. Sometimes I chew on a couple of “tranquil sleep” tablets, or Advil PM, but generally I like to stay away from pharmaceuticals as much as possible.
I’m trying to learn to practice mindfulness, and that is helping to train my mind to connect with my body and to be in the present moment, and not to get so stressed out about world events, things beyond my control, or the challenges of my day-to-day life. Tuning in to my breathing helps to lower my stress level, and helps me to attune to the simple joy of being.