“Unlimited choice is paralysing” [Susan Orlean]
There’s no doubt that modern living is pretty damn good. We are overloaded with a glorious abundance of choice and opportunity that excites and motivates many of us. What I want to highlight here in this chapter is that perhaps, just perhaps, the living has gotten a smidgen too good. We now have too much choice and too much opportunity. As a result, a number of problems (often related to our lifestyle) have crept-up upon us in the cold light of day with outrageous brazenness and are now systematically de-railing our health. After much self-debate, scribbling and whisky, I have narrowed down my top 5 health de-railers.
Health De-Railer One: We Hurry but Go Nowhere
Life has gotten significantly more fast-paced. We want financial security and cash faster, satisfying calorie-rich food faster, success in work faster and attention faster. It seems to have crept up insidiously over the past 50 years and transformed the way we perceive life and its now infinite possibilities. The ongoing technological revolutions have of course happily fuelled this desire for the ‘instant’. As a result, life, for many, is now an online process. We shop online, date online, work online, communicate online and socialise online. While some of you may think this is great news, please, please do think again. This online life and desire for the instant now means that for many of us, our lives are spent sitting on our fat-laden bums providing a suitable cushion tapping away at our keyboard or smart phone. As the quote above suggests, unlimited choice has paralysed us. Sadly it is a voluntary paralysis. Are we now held hostage to technology? More on that later.
Health De-Railer Two: We Stuff First and Question Later
Ourselves that is. But look, don’t worry because you are not alone slowly sinking in your own world of gluttony. For as a stern society we have slowly and collectively slipped into this way of life. We now all find ourselves treading water in a sea of sugars, fats and salts trying not to give in to them. It is truly a battle of will. Even those of us who try to eat healthily slip-up since many of these so-called healthy-option ridiculously expensive ready meals often contain more salts, sugars and fats than the cheaper unhealthy options! We are all facing this steep and uphill battle since he supermarkets don’t seem to be helping us; Instead of healthy meals and foods, we are seduced, teased and tantalised with deals for all of the foods that we probably shouldn’t be gorging on; the crisps, the microwave meals, the pizzas. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a bloody green-leafed salad on promotion by the check-out desk? Perhaps it is time to bring back some collective responsibility.
Health De-Railer Three: We Seek Gratification without the Graft
Let’s be honest, we all like an easy life. If we can get our personally sought after life-rewards without doing much work, then many of us will happily collect them in this manner. This, rather than get it through hard-work. Now don’t get me wrong, there are perhaps a time and a place for this (after all, it is efficient). The problem however is that the mentality of seeking the path of least resistance has leaked into our daily mind-sets. Our previously impermeable brain defences that protected our desire to work hard, to study at school, to climb the career, and to work for that healthy body have well and truly been breached. As a result the inverse has now happened and many of us object to matters of effort like being physical active, cooking healthy low-fat meals or building careers. As for that final one, building careers, it terrifies me the amount of teenagers in school who seem to be seeking out instant fame over an actual career
Health De-Railer Four: We Brush Stress Management under the Carpet
Stress is a killer on our health. Directly, it saps our body of energy, makes us a bag of nerves and has the potential to make us feel utterly physically and mentally drained. Indirectly, it sends us down that less promising path that is plagued with losing focus on the fundamental elements of life that keep us healthy (like sleep, balanced diet, being active and avoiding excessive vices like smoking, drinking and drugs). Instead we look past these now blurry fundamentals and instead focus on the elements in our life that provide instant gratification and thereby unburden us of our, even if just for a little while. So forms do these instant gratifications come in? Well although it has many disguises I am sure at least some of the following will trigger a small, subtle nod of acknowledgement: excessive smoking, drinking alcohol, binging on fast food and late nights. The sad reality is, as much as that period of stress relief is nice, it is still temporary and once over, you will still need to deal with it.
Health De-Railer Five: We’re Blind to the Boozing
So I am sure I’ll get a few angry reactions to this next comment but I will crack on all the same – the world would be a better place without alcohol. Now as you know I enjoy a whisky but that said I still stand by my statement. While yes you can argue the few benefits of alcohol (which we talk about later) the damages of alcohol excess overwhelmingly outweigh them. We as a society have become complacent to the excess of alcohol and it has now insidiously and successfully permeated into our daily evenings and weekends without us even realising it. Nowadays, if we are honest with ourselves, not many of us actually keep track of how much we drink in the week, or the typically more heavy weekends. I know I don’t. What I can assure you of though is that it will in all likelihood exceed the national recommendations on consumption. That short-term gain of social lubrication is brutally countered with accidents, violence, hangovers, relationship breakdowns, empty wallets, addiction and damage to the body and the mind. It’s sad but it’s true. I’ve seen it first hand.
So for all of modern living’s spoils and glory it has, it seems, led-us by the hand cunningly into an unhealthy trap. All of these de-railing issues (sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, stress, vices and laziness) are responsible for the bulk of lifestyle-diseases like obesity, type two diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that now dominate our GPs and NHS services. These more pressingly cripple our health. In this trap we are not caught up in some fictional spider’s web, nor are we to be rescued by some handsome prince or Zena Warrior princess (whichever you prefer). In fact we have trapped ourselves and our only saviour therefore will be ourselves. Now, being ever the optimist, I will tell you that there is hope and if you are patient (remember – hope and patience!) then you can and will be your own saviour.
After all isn’t that partly why you picked up this book?