Readers beware: I’m gettin’ up on my soapbox for a while.
It is an understatement to say that I am concerned about health: that of mine, of my husband, of my family and friends, and most importantly, of my children. This is likely a perfectly “normal” concern of most people, though for me, it stems from a relentless parade of traumatic events over the course of my 38 years.
One of my maternal aunts died following a night of cocaine use—her first time trying the drug. My stepfather died from the latent effects of alcoholism, poor nutrition and tobacco addiction; killed by a heart attack at the age of 49, even though he had been sober for five years. My father’s brother drowned in the Mississippi River after the boat he was riding in capsized in the wake of a barge; it occurred in the cover of night, when he and his buddy were riding home after a night of drinking across the river—using a boat, you see, because they both had lost their licenses to repeated drunk driving incidents. My stepfather’s brother—who had a severe alcohol addiction—killed himself (my theory) by intentionally poisoning himself with alcohol for two long and lonely days. Another maternal aunt died as a result of severe and chronic drug use over many years; she simply destroyed herself over time. And then there was my mother, who died a horrible death at the age of 53 from neuroendocrine cancer. She did not take care of herself all that well in the earlier years of her life, but nevertheless had always been blessed with stellar health. Until, that is, cancer stole her away.
I’ve had the option to bury my head in the sand over the years, but for whatever reason, that’s not a choice I have ever made. This does not mean, however, that I have not had my own health battles. I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I became increasingly self-conscious about it beginning in about third grade (that’s 8 years old, people). When I was 11, I went on my first real diet. I remember it well; it was a calorie restriction plan published in the Reader’s Digest. I lost quite a bit of weight on that diet, enough to be noticed immediately by friends who had not seen me all summer. And thus, in me, the People-Like-Me-More-When-I’m-Thin belief system was established. Permanently. Over the course of my life, I’ve gone through periods of stupidity when I took drastic and unhealthy measures to control my weight, as well as periods of genius (by comparison) toward the same end. About five years ago, I began to experience a shift from health-as-measured-by-weight to health-as-measured-by-lots-of-factors. I investigated solid research and made strategic changes in how I take care of myself in that time, which have all produced wonderful benefits… except weight loss, of course (that figures). I’m trying to make my peace with that.
Even more importantly, I’ve been trying very hard to educate my children about the myriad of factors influencing whole health. Ask them: they understand a lot about the pitfalls of the typical American diet and about the importance of exercise and plant-based nutrition. They get it that thin does not automatically equal healthy, just as not-thin does not translate to poor health. When I look around me, I find that I’m fairly alone in this crusade. Whatever. My children will grow up understanding the choices the can make to support their health and quality of life, the responsibility they have to make those choices, and the consequences they will face if they don’t. Maybe these efforts won’t, in the end, prevent some horrible health catastrophe. After all, there are so many other variables influencing health outcomes over which we have so little individual control, such as the level of our exposure to toxic elements. But in no way will I allow ignorance about health to lead my children down a path of self-destruction. I’ve learned from the history of the people I have loved, and they will, too.