Monday, December 3, 2012

Can’t or Won’t?

The following post was also published on Palmer-ForksPatch.

I can’t run.
I can’t do the elliptical.
I can’t workout at least 30 minutes everyday.
I can’t give up meat.
I can’t eat vegetables.

We’ve heard them all … ad nauseum. But what bothers me most about each of these statements is that “I can’t” should almost always be replaced with “I won't.”

There are some people who legitimately can’t do any of the physical activities. For example, my 4-year old nephew can’t walk or run … but not by choice. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in his life he wills himself to do every one.

Aimee Copeland, who in May 2012 lost her right leg, left foot and both hands to flesh-eating bacteria, “walked out” on the Katie Couric show and described herself not as “disabled” but as now possessing “different abilities.” I never once heard her say “I can’t.”

I ran two half marathons recently with an Iraq war vet who was missing his left leg. He ran faster than I did and finished before me. "I can't" didn't seem to be in his vocabulary either.

In 2010, former President Bill Clinton, a man known for his love of fast-food burgers and southern fried foods, adopted a healthful vegan diet to improve his heart health following stent surgery in 2010 (he also had quadruple bypass surgery in 2004). He adheres to this lifestyle today and accredits it with helping him to lose 25+ pounds and reverse his heart disease.

With countless examples of people disproving the "I can't" excuse every single day, why are so many seemingly healthy people continuing to trip themselves up by telling themselves over and over again that they “can’t?" Are we trying to dodge accountability and responsibility for our health and body size?

And in a country where its citizens are obsessed with their bodies, America is the fattest in the world. How can that be?

I believe it’s because we’re looking for immediate gratification, without any sacrifice whatsoever. We want to have smaller frames but without exercise and with minimal, if any, changes to diet. This mindset is leading us to secure No. 1 spots on lists we really don’t want to be on. Leading in obesity but ranked No. 25 in math? Something is seriously wrong.

The Western Diet for all its purported “health benefits” is causing disease and death. Like climate change, many want to deny the research but at some point we’re not going to be able to argue it away. We have to begin aggressively reducing our meat, dairy and processed food consumption. A diet rich in whole or minimally processed plants, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts/seeds and whole grains can greatly minimize and even reverse disease.

I am baffled when people ask about a whole-food, plant-based diet and then say, “I can’t do that.” I want to ask them if they could do it following open heart surgery or a cancer diagnosis. Matt’s father died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 56. Matt is convinced that given the possibility of more years on earth, his dad would have fully embraced daily exercise and a whole-food, plant-based diet. Unfortunately, though, there are no second chances for my father-in-law.

No one has to wait until there's a gun at their head to begin making healthier dietary choices and changes. You can start today. Don’t let “I can’t” be your mantra and ultimate downfall. At some point we'll all have our “aha” moment. Don’t let yours be the result of a major health issue. Be proactive.

Change up your vocabulary. When you say you can’t do something, remember what you’re likely doing is making an excuse not to. Start assessing that honestly. Ask yourself questions like, “Why isn’t my health as important to me today as it should be?”

Keep top of mind Gloria Steinem’s famous words"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn." You can begin the “unlearning process” with Michael Pollan’s In Defense of FoodPollan advocates a flexitarian model for living, which some find easier to adhere to because you don’t have to completely eliminate meat and dairy from your diet (though it is significantly reduced). For those looking to go full throttle, read Skinny Bitch (hysterically funny and wonderfully enlightening and informative) or watch the films Forks Over Knives and Vegucated.

I also share several videos from well-renowned professionals in the medical community who talk at length about the power of a whole-food, plant-based diet.

There are so many avenues into this lifestyle yet the message is the same, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." (Pollan)

Understanding nutrition, specifically how certain foods fuel disease and death, is the single most important thing you can do for yourself and your family.

And the next time you think running around the block is something you “can’t” do, put one foot in front of the other and give it a try, or grab a bike instead. A healthy diet in conjunction with daily exercise will not just add years to your life but also life to your years.

I am urging all of you to take a step. And if you already have ... take another and then another. Make “I can and I will” your new mantra. Push yourself. Keep an open mind. Stay curious. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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