Published in OM Yoga & Lifestyle Magazine (www.ommagazine.com), January 2017, p98-99.
A daring new paradigm in health. Stefan Lehner explains how we can improve our health and wellbeing – and other areas of our life – by making better, more conscious choices
When confronted with a health concern, be it minor like a flu or major such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems, how often do we apportion blame? We might think (or even say): „Oh, I have bad genes!“, “That is normal, everybody has that”, “I am just getting older”. Sometimes we might even imagine an illness being some sort of punishment or a destiny being laid upon us.
However, what if we looked into health issues from a more rational point of view? Becoming ill is always an effect of something; hence there must also be a cause. As the Indian sage Swâmi Prajnânpad said “For every effect, there is a cause.” The effect is what we call symptom. Today, besides the focus on treating the effect (the symptom), more and more we also see an inclination towards understanding, healing and eliminating the cause.
And yet we still favour “quick-fix” solutions. We live in a world where things must be instantaneous, fast, efficient. “I take a pill, I do not think about it any longer, it works, I am all sorted” – this is the predominant logic in life. Not just with regards to our health, but also how we begin and end relationships, how we want to achieve our objectives and ambitions, how we aspire to succeed professionally.
The right environment
Our body has a tremendous self-healing capacity, predominantly through a strong immune system. But, contrarily to “quick-fixing”, healing does take some time, perseverance and trust. A strong and healthy body will be more resistant in the first place and, secondly, it will be able to fight better and more efficiently against intruders (such as bacteria, viruses).
So what is a good starting point for a person’s health and well-being? A body that receives all macro- and micronutrients a) in sufficient quantities, b) in good and clean quality (e.g. without chemical charges and heavy metals) and c) in an absorbable form. Of course, eating need not become mathematical science, or a permanent intellectual challenge. I strongly believe that eating should remain a social and pleasurable activity. We just need to observe and adhere to some basic principles and have a minimal understanding of how nutrition works.
Today, access to this is readily available; actually, to a point, where the challenge is not any longer access to information, but rather the enormous amount of it. In addition, we are exposed to a cacophony of contradictory statements, the power of marketing (a field that created words such as “superfood” and “detox”) and above all persisting obsolete myths (such as “you need to consume milk for sufficient calcium supply” or “meat consumption is required for sufficient intake of protein”).
Even though it might cause unease, cancer (to a vast degree), diabetes type 2, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blocked arteries and some other cardiovascular diseases are first and foremost lifestyle diseases. We may even call them “diseases of affluence”. “Lifestyle” includes factors such as environmental issues, quality of air, pollution with heavy metals and chemicals, mental, psychological and emotional stressors, spiritual concerns and of course – to a very large extent – our nutritional choices. As early as 1864 the German philosopher and anthropologist Ludwig Feuerbach wrote the now famous statement “You are what you eat”.
As I regularly remind my clients, food is – besides water and oxygen – the only fuel to nourish the precious machine that is our body. We would not seriously consider putting regular fuel into a diesel car, but we are less careful about what we eat. Too many of us do not think twice what we put into our body. We are even less considerate about the consequences our food choices may have on our biological systems in the long run.
The blame game
Unfortunately, we also tend to justify the situation we are in by finding the underlying cause in “outside factors” (outside the area of our own influence), such as blaming hereditary issues, advanced age or just bad luck.
Now, are really coherent here? Most of us will agree that “eating well and healthily” (beware of myths that die hard, though) will help to avoid health problems and enhance one’s resilience and wellbeing. We even ignore sometimes the obvious link between health and nutrition by saying “I feel good, hence I am in good health”, “Life is already hard enough”, “Eating is a pleasure, I have to enjoy life a bit”. The other way round, though, we have a much harder time acknowledging that an unhealthy lifestyle and food consumption favours the development of illnesses. Every so often we justify our health condition by pointing mostly to external factors (such as genes, age, fate, bad luck, normality). From an emotional perspective there’s a good chance that we also face the feeling of guilt – more or less consciously. Therefore, the automatic response is looking for the culprit somewhere else.
I suggest that we simply take more responsibility for our choices in life. With regards to health, this means being accountable and taking ownership for what we decide to eat. There is no use in blaming oneself for poor nutritional habits and choices in the past. Then, we were “different” person, with a different set of habits, knowledge and consciousness. Today though, we can start being (more) responsible for what goes onto our plate and own these choices fully.
This is not necessarily comfortable in the first place; it opens the door to trial and error, to deception and guilt if we give in to old cravings. This is all part of a transition, and it also offers the opportunity to empower ourselves with regards to our health and, more broadly, our lives. The hypothesis is that with more accountability, we will be better able, more motivated, more curious and more persistent on the road to transforming our eating habits and even other behaviours.
In a way, a healing process on a physical level is comparable to a personal transformation process on an emotional and psychological level when seeing a therapist or a coach. Profound transformation takes times, perseverance, implication and action – as well as a portion of trust. Only once we take full ownership of our actions can we lay the basis for a real, durable transformation.
We are entering an era where awareness of nutritional choices, challenging old beliefs and demanding more accountability from the food industry is shifting. We are moving certainly in the right direction, even though I would like to see things speed up. Yet, I remain optimistic, thinking of Arthur Schopenhauer, who said: “All truth goes through three stages. Truth will first be ridiculed, then violently opposed and finally accepted as self-evident.”
Stefan Lehner is a nutrition coach & educator based in Paris, available to work worldwide. Besides nutritional education he likes to put an emphasis on the emotional and psychological underlying patterns of our relationship with food. Find out more at: thevibrantfactory.com & thevibrantfactory.blog, on Facebook and Instagram