Often, I lose myself in reading nutritional research, searching for clues of how diet affects health. I love reading about longitudinal studies like the Framingham Heart Study that followed a large number of citizens in that town over years, yielding data that showed the connection between cholesterol levels and heart health. The Oslo Cardiovascular Study uncovered a correlation between heart disease and high meat intake, attributing the plunge in heart disease deaths following WWII to a long period of meat abstinence during the war.
I get frustrated, however, because I want to know what the perfect diet is, and how one can achieve it in the town I live in, on my income, in the culture I inhabit.
It occurs to me, one way to figure this out is to think like a researcher. I can learn a lot just by observing my co-workers, my neighbors, and myself. I can test various strategies by eating in certain ways and noticing the results. I am my own, most convenient, test subject.
First, what I notice about the people around me: I work in a building of about 200 people. There are a number of highly obese, unhealthy looking people here. My desk is on the third floor, across from the elevator and next to the time clock. I often see people hold the elevator for their friends while taking turns punching the clock, before going up to their desks on the fourth floor. They take the elevator, instead of walking one floor up, and they influence others to do so.
I literally feel better when I take the stairs, although the effect of watching other people rely on the elevator drains some of my motivation. I can see the effect of exercise avoidance: over weight people take the elevator more, which puts them out of shape, which makes them dependent on the elevator. I know I actually feel better when I take the stairs - funny how that doesn't seem like enough to counter balance seeing elevator riding as the norm. In my office, bad habits have social rewards: smokers take breaks together, elevator riders share a laugh, friends share candy. The other day, however, someone put lilacs on my desk. What a nice gesture! There ARE healthier ways to be socially connected.
Second, what I notice about me: I crave Diet Coke mid morning, probably because I am thirsty and there is a vending machine right across from me. (And the water cooler is broken.) But if I drink a Diet Coke, I get irritable and I also crave another one. One Diet Coke leads to another, or else an inner battle over wanting one. I'm pretty sure the chemicals in that soda are bad for me, and addictive. I would like to make a big refrigerator bottle of homemade ice tea and bring it to work. This requires a certain amount of organization and effort. It seems easier to bring quarters for the machine, but, in terms of health, the Diet Coke habit is so much pricier. How do I make the bring-my-own tea to work idea more attractive than dropping quarters into the machine?
I don't like to think about work when I'm not actually there, so I tend to drop an idea like that the minute I'm not in the office. There is so much stress at work. I was walking around the other day and I noticed how miserable people seem to be. There is only so much flowers, ice tea and stair walking can improve. Work is work. Are some of my co-workers not taking care of themselves because being healthy just means more time at a job they don't like? A greater purpose in life, and the good health needed to carry it out, seem to go hand in hand.
Sailing and Watching
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