Book Excerpt: Healthy Living from the Inside Out
I'm a big believer that we all have the same problems, they just come in different wrapping paper. And the more I talk to individuals, not just on movie sets but amongst my friends, colleagues, or even my children's acquaintances, the more it's clear that underneath our very different appearances, lifestyles, and interests exist some pretty universal concerns. At the start of the 21st century, the desire to stay well, to prevent physical ailments, and to find some kind of inner peace is becoming more urgent. The rapid, and often relentless pace of life has delivered unprecedented opportunity, but it's also brought on a kind of exhaustion, and what many of us want most is to redress the imbalance. We want to feel more rested and restored, and to reconnect to lives that sometimes seem to be getting away from us. Above all, we want to learn how to live more in balance: to get to a place where we are less susceptible to stress and sickness, and where great health and peace of mind is the norm, not the exception.
Almost every part of life now exists in a more accelerated form than ever before: food is faster, travel is quicker, and communication is more or less instant. Our environments are crowded with noise, media, and technology; products and "stuff" fill every corner of our homes (much of which, not surprisingly, becomes rapidly obsolete). We confront so many situations and stimulations in the course of a day that it can feel like we've never caught up on processing what's happened before the next morning comes. Meanwhile, for many of us, there's a lingering undertow of frustration in the back of our minds that makes it hard to find satisfaction in our present lives. It's as if there's a perpetual refrain: what else should I be doing, what's out there that might be better than this?
Partly, we're bringing the situation upon ourselves. The pressures to do more and achieve more with our time seem to grow exponentially every year, and we keep signing up for more. It's not just work that's become more intense, with jobs demanding more hours, more responsibilities, and more results. We expect so much more of ourselves on the home front as well. Women in particular expect our relationships to be blissful and passionate, our homes to be immaculate and chic, and our children to be star athletes and scholarship students. Usually, we have excruciatingly high standards of our physical appearances, too. There's almost no way to do it all without going slightly nuts: we multitask our way through the demands as best we can, dividing our energy and our attention into fragments that inevitably add up to be less than the whole.
Partly, the growing concerns about how to live better and be healthier are related to threats we can't quite name or see. Environmental and social hazards in the world at large are undeniably impacting our health, but sometimes it seems like there's enough information out there to scare us, but not enough to help us truly make good choices. We hear so much about toxic foods, disease-causing foods, and fattening foods, it's hard to know what we can eat, and what we can't. Almost everyone knows somebody who's living with cancer: How much of this epidemic, we wonder, is caused by pollutants that we knowingly consume through food and stimulants, or unknowingly consume from our atmosphere? Meanwhile, such innocuous things as the sun have suddenly become controversial. Some sides say sun exposure will kill you, while others say we need regular stints of it to create Vitamin E. (As you'll read later, I think moderate exposure to sunlight is critical to good health.)
The reality is that modern life does deliver a pretty steady stream of small stresses that impacts the way we feel every day. Some come from our individual lifestyle choices and some come from the world at large--and it's a lot of work to process them all. Understand that a stress is any kind of strain on our system. It includes those toxins we consume through eating, breathing the air, and even drinking the water, because our organs have to work hard to eliminate them. It includes the screwy sleep patterns we fall into by working or hanging out until one a.m., because falling asleep too late can throw our hormones, and subsequently our appetite and moods, way out of kilter. Stress can even come from too much sedentary activity, including spending too much time in the car, because our bodies need to move in order to function at their best.
Factor in the array of mental and emotional challenges that most everyone has to deal with, from finances and family issues to the fears and insecurities we have about our talents, looks, and futures, and doesn't it make sense that these days, our total stress loads are reaching maximum capacity?
That's the reason we so often feel maxed out, like we're a few steps away from feeling and looking our best. The sheer amount of stresses on our plates, combined with the speedy pace of our lifestyles, is what makes it hard to start and end each day from a place of optimism and calm. It's what drives us to use certain foods and stimulants as crutches, instead of figuring out a diet that creates a condition of optimal health. (Many of us use caffeine to get energized, but hands up who also relies on a strong cup of coffee to help them go to the bathroom? That's using food the wrong way.) It's what contributes to mild anxiety issues and attention problems, and even to negative thought-patterns and behavior. The fact is we've strayed too far from simple principles of looking after ourselves well. We're consuming things that cloud our minds, we're holding stress in our bodies, and more often than not, we're too rushed to reflect on our lives. The result is that it sometimes feels like our lifestyles are controlling us, and not vice versa.
If I've learned anything over my years of practicing my healthy habits, it's that we can transform any of these situations, and ultimately transform our lives, through some simple lifestyle choices. I've learned that we already have everything we need to counter modernity's stresses and create a life where we feel great more often than not. We can remedy that maxed-out state and get more energy by day and better rest by night. We can build a core of joy and peace at our center that keeps us balanced, no matter what craziness is going on outside. We can take control of our moods, boost our sex drive, and even shed a lot of the old ghosts that keep us stuck in old habits. Now more than ever, the onus is on each one of us to empower ourselves to be the best we can be. And it's not that hard to do if we just start bringing a little more awareness to the things we do each day.
You might be saying, "What? I can't control the quality of the air outside my home. I can't choose to commute to work by foot or bike. I can't cut my stressful boss/parent/kids out of my life." But that's not the point. There are indeed many big-picture things that you can't control when it comes to your health and wellness. The trick is to ask, What can I control? The answers are fairly simple: The food that I eat. The way that I exercise. My response to emotional stresses. Creating a home environment that heals. Making even small modifications in these four areas can be extraordinarily powerful--and should you need them to be, deeply healing. That is what this book is about.
The physical and mental pay-off of making just a few changes in these four areas will be palpable right away. Eating one or two different foods can make a huge difference to your systems of digestion and detoxification, meaning your energy, immune system, and spirits get a boost. Taking a short time-out to sit in total quiet helps you shed the stress that accumulates in your mind and your body, and even in your face. (Try it; you'll be surprised how furrowed brows start to fade.) Bringing a few touches of warmth and sacredness into your home soothes your soul and makes you feel more grounded. We're not talking extreme makeover or overnight transformation. Those quick-fix approaches are rarely sustainable. Instead, it's about making one small change here, another small change there, and slowly, you discover what really works for you, and with time you can change the look and feel of your whole life, for good. Remember, giant leaps are made of inches.
There is another, subtler effect to this work that happens on the side. By focusing on the day-to-day choices that you can control, you anchor yourself squarely into your life as it unfolds right now. You bring your attention again and again to the present moment and you stop worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. In doing that, you slow down the rush and enjoy your time. And I've found that when you come at your life from this starting point, in place of frustration you more often touch fulfillment...
Excerpted from Mariel Hemingway's Healthy Living from the Inside Out: Every Woman's Guide to Real Beauty, Renewed Energy, and a Radiant Life published by HarperSanFrancisco.
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