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On Taking Care of Your Body

Your body is your greatest ally, and it’s critical to take care of it and treat it with respect.

This past weekend, my 17-year-old cousin, who was visiting from out of town, went into septic shock and ended up in the ICU. When an infection broke out, her body was not strong enough to fight it. Everything is okay now, but it was scary for a while.

This event reminded me of my life in January 2013, when I experienced a serious illness episode that changed me forever.

Cause

In early January 2013, I got the flu and was laid up for a week. I had been working crazy hours at my law firm job, writing a legal article in my spare time, eating whatever was in front of me, trying to meet holiday obligations in Texas, and missing my Western New York family and friends terribly.

I didn’t know what the flu really was until I got it. I had a fever, chills, cold sweats, mouth sores, and my body ached everywhere. I went to the doctor two days in, but it was too late to take Tamiflu and he told me to ride it out, so I did. For the next week, I couldn’t do anything (TV, talk, read, Internet, etc.) except toss and turn in my bed. After 27 years of being a relatively healthy person, I finally understood how people died from the flu and other infectious diseases.

Despite the awfulness of the flu, I am forever grateful that I got it because it changed my life for the better. I suddenly realized that my life was completely off balance and I was not taking care of my body. I had been prioritizing my job above everything else, I was too busy, I had too many things, I didn’t exercise enough, and I did not eat well.

Changes

Living a healthier and more balanced life is a constant work in progress; I don’t think I’ll ever be done. Three years have passed since I got the flu, and in that time many things have shifted for me. Here is a list of the most important changes that I have made in my life, all in the name of taking care of my body and overall wellbeing:

  1. My body is my ally. For most of my life, I treated my body like it was a thing that I had to battle against. It didn’t look right in the clothes I wanted to wear. My period was painful, gross, and something to hide. My hair needed to be washed in chemicals, dried with electric heat, and flat-ironed into straight submission (side note: my hair is naturally really straight). Although it’s hard to overcome years of habitual thought, now I do my best to treat my body like a friend and ally. What I put in and on my body must be healthy and safe. A loving attitude towards my body matters. Here is an article about loving your body, and I also really love the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (I realize that both of these links are of the Buddhist persuasion, and although I’m not a Buddhist, I find many concepts wonderful for everyone).
  2. “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the mantra of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and Cooked. You can watch the documentary version of Cooked on Netflix.  Michael Pollan is not super inspiring on screen, but he is an incredible researcher and journalist who has weaved together science, history, and human behavior to create a beautiful blueprint for eating and preparing real food that nourishes your body, connects you to the natural world, and bonds you with other people. As for the “mostly plants” part, I love the documentary Forks Over Knives (although I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan), and the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (it is so much more than a cookbook).
  3. No more added sugar. This one is huge, and I already wrote about it here.  For a slightly inappropriate but hilarious take on added sugar, see what John Oliver has to say.
  4. Green smoothies are amazing. I haven’t gotten into juicing because I like consuming the roughage parts of the plant that remain in smoothies. The book Green for Life is a great source of information on green smoothies and why they are so important for digestion, energy, blood sugar regulation, and overall health. Also, a Vitamix is completely worth it.
  5. Yoga for balance, flexibility, strength, and awareness. Yoga is my favorite form of exercise. Although I grew up participating in strict, competitive, rule-based exercise and sports programs, I gravitated towards yoga as an adult. There are so many kinds, and I like the ones that focus on breathing and longer stretches, like yin yoga. Going to a yoga studio once a week to start is helpful to learn the basics, but the nice part about yoga is that once you know a few poses, you can practice it anytime on your own, whether or not you have a mat. Yoga has completely fixed my lower back problems and whenever a muscle is tight, I know a stretch that will get at the right spot.
  6. Meditation. I’ve been trying to set aside time every day to focus on the present moment for a little over a year, and I absolutely love what it’s done for my life and mental health in particular. I’m not going to try to explain meditation here (it’s a personal thing you get into on your own), but the book Wherever You Go, There You Are is incredible. I also like the apps Calm and Headspace.
  7. Minimalism. One of the first things I wanted to do after recovering from the flu was get rid of the clutter in my life. Miss Minimalist really helped me with de-cluttering. I also love this article about the Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who wrote The Art of Tidying Up.
  8. Financial Independence. I’m still on the road to getting rid of my student loans and gaining financial independence, but I love Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog for inspiration on how to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle. Early retirement is not my goal, but I want to stop worrying about money so I can be a creative person and live the life that I want without finances hanging over my head.
  9. Acupuncture. I know that needles are scary, and acupuncture seems totally crazy, but it works. I started doing it in Austin, and it helped me manage my mold allergy, recover from a dog attack, and reduce anxiety. I also think it’s contributed to me having a faster metabolism. Overall, acupuncture gives my body the energy tune-up that it needs to take better care of itself. I’m lucky to be able to go to an acupuncture clinic that only costs $15 (I sit back in a recliner in a room with other people receiving the same treatment), but a lot of health insurance providers cover it because it’s so effective and safe.
  10. Avoiding chemicals. Chemerical is a tough and slightly unbelievable documentary, but it inspired me to get rid of all of the chemical-filled household products that are unhealthy in ways that I’ll never fully understand. In short, your body absorbs the chemicals in household products, those chemicals have serious health effects over time, and no one is regulating them in a human-safe way. So in light of this information, I’ve used this amazing book to create my own natural cleaning and beauty products, which are effective and way cheaper.
  11. No hormonal birth control. Your body doesn’t have walls between organs, and hormonal birth control impacts every process in a woman’s body. I believe that every woman should be issued one of these at puberty (tracking your cycle is great), and must understand that pumping their bodies with synthetic hormones every day has serious side effects. Here is a good book on the topic.
  12. Walking outside. I try to always remember that I’m a human being, descended from people who spent a lot more time outside than I do now. I try to get outside for a walk at least once a day, if not more (dogs are great for that). Hiking in the woods and being around plants and trees and wildlife regenerates me, and directly contributes to my health.
Effects

The above list of changes I have made over the past three years represents an overall intention to connect with my body and respect it as the only vehicle I have to get me through my life. I have lost a lot of weight and about four dress sizes, and I also have more energy, I’m a better listener, and I am less anxious. The results have been noticeable to everyone that knows me.

I hope that this information can help or inspire others to be more mindful about their actions and how it affects their body. The changes I’ve made have been working for me now, but I expect that I’ll be doing things differently over time.  Also, other people are going to gravitate towards their own ideal ways of living. The important thing is to pay attention and take action to make the changes that feel right for you.