Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

As I work through a biography of Theodore Roosevelt I am amazed at how prolific he was. The man wrote articles and books, read constantly, founded clubs in the conservation movement, hiked and hunted and oh, held many political offices including President of the United States. His out, and the quality of his work, astonishes me. It dawned on me that it is amazing what one can accomplish without Netflix and Facebook.

This has been a lazy week for me as I’ve spent the majority of my time on my couch. My recovery from DoubleMussel has been centered around two things: popsicles and Law and Order. But as the week went on I did a few light workouts and finally finished unpacking from race weekend. And I moved away from the police work of Lennie Briscoe on to the documentary genre. Last night’s viewing pleasure: Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv3vEXy_EwU]

The 2010 documentary revolves around two men who are obese and suffering from a rare disease. Wanting to get control of their health, and their lives, they go on a juice fast for 60 days. Others join in for shorter periods of time as a way to reboot their bodies and their tastebuds away from processed foods and toward a plant-based, whole-food diet. Two things stood out for me:

1. Joe, our main protagonist, was talking about people who say they could never do a juice fast. But, he points out, they never tried. So you go on a 10 day juice fast and only make it to Day 7. You still tried. You still did seven days. That’s not failing. That’s trying. I wonder how many times this week I could catch myself saying, “Oh, I could never.” I bet it’s more than I’d like to believe. Do I choose to do things because I don’t want to do them or because I’m afraid? Fear of failure is a complete construct of my mind and my ego. And every so often, I need to be reminded of that.

2. The people we meet in the film, whether they juice fast or not, all believe in personal responsibility. How did they get obese and sick? Through the choices they made. Some didn’t seem to care if they cut their lives short. Others felt they just had no willpower. But the central message was that health is all about personal agency. You got yourself in this mess and the good news (the really good news) is that you can get yourself out.

However, it got me thinking that it’s really a mix between personal choice and our environment. Yes, we can choose not to eat donuts for breakfast every day. But it’s not always easy to eat healthy. In my urban neighborhood there are plenty of bakeries and bars and pizza joints. There healthiest option is Subway. But that is the only healthy option. When your choices are limited, it’s difficult to make the healthy one.

And are we taught about food? School lunches weren’t the model of health back when I was I chowing down in the cafeteria and all indications are that they’ve gotten worse. I have memories of home ec class, though I think we practiced by baking a cake, not learning about fruits and vegetables. Luckily for me, my family cooked and ate at home so the kitchen never seemed like a mysterious room.

Point is that our environment helps create our health and our beliefs about health — from our family and friends to corporate culture and government policies.

My mind keeps returning to the phrase, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And this is where personal choice becomes powerful. Because if I work to make healthy choices for myself, it can impact the rest of the world. Don’t think that’s true? Do you think Walmart would carry organic food if people weren’t deciding to buy it? What if by making a few different choices for ourselves we not only impacted our own health but helped change what is possible for others?

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