Health, part 1

Warning: This post has nothing to do with Paganism or Hinduism or magic.

This time of year everyone is writing on Halloween and Samhain (I’ll get there). However, health is a topic that is really important to me. I am an American with lousy health insurance. I have a family of young children and another on the way. These two things make maintaining my health a priority.

Good health is also a political act. Working with an herbalist, choosing not to eat junk food or eschewing television for an earlier bedtime (just for some quick examples) put us in control of our health. These simple acts make us less dependent on the loop of food and health care systems that see our health as a commodity or an obstacle to worker productivity. Food companies will blame the eater – “Consumers don’t have to choose to eat our crap!” But when most affordable foods are laced with fillers and sugars, what is the average person to do? Our health suffers, and if you’re American, you likely struggle to work within your insurance system (if you have it) to get the care you need.

As a magic practitioner health is also a priority. I want my energy levels at their optimum capacity. Diminished health can mean limited reserves for raising energy for spells, or even for devotions. These facets, family, political, and magical all weave together. The personal is political; the magical is political, too.

On the heels of the herbal conference I attended and looking ahead to the long winter months of colds and flu, I want to write about 10 things that you can do for better health.

Before I begin, here are two disclaimers. Number one: I am not a medical or health professional. As in all things, do your own research, use your brain, and talk to health professionals if you have questions or special concerns or circumstances.

Number two: I am talking about health in this post, not weight. Yes, being vastly over or under weight usually signifies other health issues, but weight alone is no indicator of health or unhealth. I do not believe we have an ‘obesity epidemic’ in the modern world, I believe we have a health, food, and medical systems crisis. Losing weight will never make you a better person. However getting healthy can change your life.

All of the following suggestions are things I or members of my family do and with which we have had positive experiences.

#1: Get rid of processed food. All of it. The sugar especially. Now, I admit that our house usually has rice crackers, pirate’s booty, ketchup, and mayonnaise in it. (You can pry my Best Foods mayo from my cold, dead hands.) Almost everything else is a whole food. Getting rid of processed foods can seem really daunting. A great starting point is to go through your kitchen and read ingredient labels. If you can’t picture the ingredient or cannot pronounce it, it’s likely a chemical additive or rancid oil byproduct. Toss that sucker out. We are what we eat: literally. Take pride in your body and what you fuel it with.

Getting rid of foods can seem really wasteful, so if there are unopened packages, consider donating them to your local food shelter. I also recognize that more natural replacements can be costly. Maybe you can do without certain products. Maybe pick the top 5 you can’t live without and keep those. Like mayonnaise.

Get rid of candy and candy masquerading as healthy food. All of those nutrition bars and granola bars? They are packed with sugars. Low-fat yoghurts are especially notorious for their high sugar content. Buy full fat, plain yoghurt and add some jam or fresh fruit – you’ll be getting a lot less sugar.

Don’t think that artificial sweeteners are a good choice. They are not. Giving up soda, both diet and regular, is a crucial part of reducing sugar intake. If you drink soda daily, this can be a challenging, but excellent, first step to improving your health. Some people can go cold turkey, others need to taper off. But please, rid your diet of soda.

#2: Reduce caffeine. This is tied in with reducing sugar for many people. Most sodas have loads of caffeine and sugar, many people drink their coffees and teas with lots of sweetener. Beyond sugar, almost all of the herbalists I’ve heard speak talk of how most people have some degree of adrenal fatigue (the adrenal glands are stimulated in the ‘fight or flight’ responses to immediate stress). Reducing caffeine, whether switching from fully caffeinated to decaf, or from coffee to tea or green tea, is a great step to helping your body heal.

#3: Go gluten-free. I know, I know, it seems like a fad these days. But my family swears by it. Some of the things we’ve seen improved are fewer mood swings, elimination of skin rashes, weight loss, fewer colds, and serious sugar reduction and all the benefits that brings. I find that without wheat and other gluten fillers to take up space on the plate or in foods, we end up getting more actual nutrition in our meals. We snack less and are satiated with simpler things.

#4: Learn to cook. Making dietary changes usually requires some degree of taking control of your own meals. Cooking well does not have to be expensive or elaborate. For those that end up eating out every day for lunch and/or who are pressed for time during the day, try setting aside a few hours on a Sunday to cook up one or two casseroles or one-pot meals, then lunches are taken care of for a week.

#5: Drink more water. Lots and lots of it. We are made of water and need it for just about every bodily function. If you drink a lot of teas and coffees and/or sodas during the day, you are very likely running at a hydration deficit.

Try not to drink bottled water. I learned a really effective tip recently – keep a pitcher full of tap water and let it stand for 6-8 hours. The chlorine will off-gas, leaving you with healthier, tastier water. We have two pitchers that we rotate, so that one is always off-gassing and one is always ready to drink. Also, diets heavy in grains seem to cause more water retention. When I went off grains, I found that I peed like crazy for two weeks straight and then….. I didn’t need quite as much water as I was drinking before.

These are my five basic food suggestions. In my next post I’ll talk about five non-food related tips for bringing more health into your life.

One last thing to remember: don’t feel you have to change everything at once. Set yourself up for success. If eliminating soda from your diet is the first step you choose, you might just want to focus on that for a while. Then move on to adding in something else. Health isn’t about short-term changes. There is no ‘miracle food that will melt belly fat in 5 short days!’ We’re talking long-term rejuvenation.

L’chaim! To life!

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