Crafting A Wellness Lifestyle With A World Of Choices

If we know that our lifestyle has tremendous effect upon our health,

how then shall we live?

How trapped are we in the limitations of the culture we have experienced most of our lives? Greater travel and today’s technologically shrunken world has immensely increased our awareness of alternative ways of living. We do, in fact, have a world of lifestyle choices to draw upon. Let’s look at some cultural concepts and practices we might draw upon and explore some strategies for doing so and some challenges we might face.

My best definition of wellness/well-being is living our lives consciously in ways that enhance our health. Conscious choices allow us to avoid the “automatic pilot” that often steer us toward stress, illness and poor performance. Consciousness about our entire way of living includes mindfulness. Appreciating the moment, noticing the senses, soaking it all in enriches our lives. Conscious choice means considering the path that will optimally serve us, whether it is how we will spend our Saturday, what we will order at the restaurant, or what risk we might take emotionally.

In our Wellness & Health Coach Certification Training (https://www.realbalance.com) I love to teach that it is the job of the coach to remind people that they have choices. It is so easy for us all to forget the actual choices that we really do have. Realizing that we are choosing to live our lives the way we do actually frees people to embrace the present and make life better.

A factor that can either expand or limit our perception of choices is culture. There is extensive evidence and wisdom in the health promotion literature that peer norms affect our health for better or for worse. (http://www.healthyculture.com, and http://organizationalwellness.com/who-we-are/dr_joel_bennett/) We operate on norms within our work, family, sub-culture and the larger culture that we live in. Some choices never even occur to us because we are operating so habitually within these norms.

Provence and French Alps
Provence and French Alps

L’Art De Voir

It’s no fluke that France is always the most visited country in the world, and Italy always shows up in the top five. The appeal to a large degree is for the opportunity to experience a different way of living among cultures that consciously work at “L’Art De Voir” – the art of living. Provence and Tuscany in particular seem to epitomize this cultural agreement to put quality of life first.

“Community, not work, is at the center of Provençal life. Nowhere is that more obvious than during meals, when friends and family come together to share dishes which are simple, healthy and robust in flavor. This unrushed life allows each and everyone to be in touch with themselves, and could be called true living.” (http://www.lifeinprovence.com/p_life.html)

Bk Cover Wisdom TuscAs Ferenc Máté shares in in his book The Wisdom of Tuscany “When I mention Tuscany to outsiders, the usual response is a wistful sigh. And when I add sheepishly that we live out in the hills and vineyards and olives, the common rejoinder is “You’re living my dream.” What they seem to be talking about is the quality of life: the pace, the peace, the physical beauty, the social togetherness, and, of course, the food and wine. And just as Tuscan food and wine is rooted in myriad things beyond the kitchen and cellar, so the quality of life is a vast conglomeration of daily details, each of which must be of quality for all of it to work.”

That quality in the details comes from two things: conscious awareness and a commitment to doing everything in life as best as one can. When people travel to these places they often say “there was the best tasting food there I’ve ever had”, or “the simple bread every day was amazing”. Daily things that perhaps we have allowed to become mundane, and unfortunately mediocre, suddenly astonish us when prepared and presented with pride and love. Perhaps one quick way to increase our own quality of life is by doing the same.

If one grew up in a place like Montepulciano or Roussillon the culture there would certainly have its pros and cons, but many of the healthy lifestyle components being lauded here would just be facts of life. For those of us in places like the United States, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere, we may have to very consciously work at L’Art De Voir.

Cultural cross-over is happening more and more. We see it in food especially. Ethnic restaurants and cookbooks abound. With the tremendous increase in gourmet cooking the “fusion” approach is showing up everywhere. Access to a worldwide cornucopia of food products is greater than ever. Even a small town in rural Wisconsin may have a supermarket with a fully stocked olive bar. Awareness of the Mediterranean Diet and its healthful benefits has spurred many to adopt a whole new way of cooking, often at the behest of their cardiologist. (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Mediterranean-Diet_UCM_306004_Article.jsp)Med-diet

As more people travel at younger and younger ages we bring home with us awareness of how daily life can look different. What we often want to bring back with us is not what will fit in our luggage. It is often a new pace of life, a greater sense of connectedness to our community, our family and to the natural world around us.

One of the blessings of a changing population that is increasingly ethnically diverse is the cultural infusion that results. Chances are most of us live in communities today that include neighbors from India, Nicaragua, Somalia, the Ukraine, Viet Nam, Poland and many more. As we associate with this cultural mix we are reminded that we don’t have to just do everyday things the same way all of the time. We have a world of choices.

Small head cropped1Coaching The Art of Living

Rather than pine away for a villa in the Tuscan hills what can our clients (and we coaches) do to make their own lives a work of art? Without the surrounding culture already supporting such a way of living, how can our clients still create a consciously crafted lifestyle with more choices?

1. Realizing The Choices We Have.

There are many ways we can modify our lifestyles and borrow from other cultures without losing our own cultural identity. One way is to help clients identify when they are operating on assumptions and sheer habit. Help them discover the “blind spots” in the lifestyle where they have been making certain choices simply because they have “always done it that way”. Work with your clients to distinguish between the “imperative” and the “volitional”. When something feels imperative it seems like we “must” do it that way. Ask to clients to challenge themselves at such a moment and ask “Who says?” Help them reclaim greater volition in their lives.

2. Resetting Priorities.

Not everything can be a priority. That defies the very definition of what a priority is. When clients clarify and connect with their values and create a life that is more congruent with them stress is reduced and inner peace is found. Explore what the true priorities are in life with your client and coach them around the sometimes daunting challenges of living in accordance with them.

3. Possibility Thinking And Exploring.

Creating an artful life often begins with the joy of discovery. Learning more about new ways of living may take on a fun process of exploration. We know that the stage of Preparation is what ensures successful Action. (http://www.amazon.com/James-O.-Prochaska/e/B001H9VXJ0) Make it a conscious process with support and accountability built in. Allow the client to share their discoveries in the coaching session and acknowledge their efforts. Coach them around distinguishing what new ways of living will work for them and what old ways they would like to let go of.

670px-Measurably-Improve-Your-Quality-of-Life-Step-14. Focus On Quality Of Life.  As Máté shared (above) “What they seem to be talking about is the quality of life.” Don’t just think about food alone, but rather the greater question of how can one infuse greater quality into every aspect of one’s life. When we look at L’Art De Voir we might do well to consider The Wisdom of Tuscany (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7034969-the-wisdom-of-tuscany) and its emphasis on the pace of life, the feeling of peace and tranquility, enhancing our physical surroundings, valuing social togetherness and, of course, putting quality into our way of eating and what we eat as well. (We will explore these in more detail in an upcoming blog.)

5. Experimenting.  

Coach your clients around ways to live more consciously, more artfully, and make it a part of the Wellness Plan. Identify experiments to try out new ways of being, new foods to eat (it’s okay if you really think some olives are too sour), new ways to get together with friends, etc. Start small. Integrate new ways of living slowly into the current lifestyle. Make it part of the coaching to create these action steps, commit to conducting the experiments, and being accountable to follow through. While much of this is true fun, there can be challenges that arise that require some processing in coaching. Conflict may show up. Your client’s friends pan the new recipe or activity that they thought would be so enjoyable. The new boundaries around work and personal time get lots of pushback from co-workers. Such experiences are important to process in coaching so the client can continue with improving their lifestyle instead of giving up too soon to avoid conflict. This is why the next step is so important.

6. Gathering Supportfriends

Living L’Art De Voir is possible in Tipperary or Tulsa, not just Tuscany. The key is gathering support for one’s new way of living. An effective coach will already be working with their client around enlisting others in their Wellness Plan. Lasting lifestyle improvement comes from the supportive network that helps a person sustain their healthier ways of living. Building that network needs to be a conscious process. Before launching new experiments successful clients secure commitment from other that will be affected. Getting “buy-in” from the family on a new dietary shift can be critical to its success. Sharing with others the real intention behind a new move to set boundaries around twenty-four-seven availability helps engender support rather than criticism. Just as it helps to get a “walking buddy”, so too it may make the process more fun and successful to engage like-minded friends in these ways to culturally shift one’s lifestyle.

7. Keeping Life Artful – Maintaining

Like any new behavior, the real challenge is often in maintaining the change. Coach your client around maintenance strategies that they can develop when the lifestyle shift is still new. One approach is to anticipate boredom and have “variations on the theme” available. Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck on that favorite recipe or it will become like a favorite song on the radio that, when overplayed, becomes annoying. Joining interest groups or classes focused on their new culture-blending pursuits may serve to reinforce interest, learn new skills and access fresh resources.

The other key to maintenance is tracking. Encourage your client to find a way to keep track of their new ways of living. Just how often are they practicing some new skill or behavior? The old habitual ways of living, reinforced constantly by the dominant culture the person is surrounded with, will re-emerge and vie for supremacy. Some clients may find that keeping a lifestyle journal works for them. Others may need to get more specific using coaching tools and/or smartphone apps.

The Art Of Living

Londoners discovered over a hundred years ago that they didn’t have to dress like people from India to enjoy a good curry and today the city is famous for this dish. We live in a world with unprecedented access to information and products about and from other cultures. The invitation is there for us to explore and to begin to consciously choose what we will integrate into our lives. Part of being well is having more choices and the world today gives that to us. The remaining challenge may be within us rather than in our culture. Will we allow ourselves to experiment, to try something new? What kind of mindset shift needs to occur for us to give ourselves permission? Can we realize that we can still hold onto our own traditions and customs and choose what else we might add? Salt and pepper over and over again is fine, but have you really looked at the rest of the spice rack?6969813-bags-of-spices-on-display-in-a-market-in-provence-spices

 

Dr. Michael Arloski is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. taking wellness and wellness coach training worldwide. (https://www.realbalance.com)

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Healthy At Any Size: Coaching Weight Loss Clients To Be Fit and Healthy

holiday-eating-and-weight-gain

What’s your strategy for the healthiest holidays ever?

The fear of adding those holiday-midwinter pounds often drives people to the bookstore for yet another dieting best-seller. The desire for quick results is understandable and nothing delivers like a low-calorie diet. The infomercials promise miracles and we keep on seeking a solution that we know sounds too good to be true. Of course those same low-calorie diets are impossible to sustain us for the rest of our lives. The pounds usually come back. Our bodies just need more energy.

no-dietingThe truth is, diets don’t work. What does? Sustainable lifestyle improvement. Sorry, we can’t promise that this approach will be fast, but it will work, and it will last.

“Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier.” These words introduce you to the website http://www.haescommunity.org for an organization and an entire movement known as “Health At Every (or Any) Size”. Linda Bacon, a nutritionist at the University of California, Davis, says this new approach came about “to halt “the collateral damage” — food and body preoccupation, self-hatred and eating disorders — that has resulted from the failed war on obesity. H.A.E.S. is based on the idea that “the best way to improve health is to honor your body,” and it supports the adoption of good health habits simply for the sake of health and well-being rather than weight control. (http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/health-at-every-size/)

Teaming up with Lucy Aphramor, a National Health Service specialist dietitian of Coventry University in England, they reviewed over 200 studies on weight loss and concluded that the evidence just isn’t there that dieting helps us attain and maintain healthy weights or healthy lives.

Perhaps our notion of our own “healthy weight” needs a total makeover. Instead of focusing only on what the scales tell us, how about looking at our overall wellbeing? “Bacon and Aphramor insist that adjusting lifestyle habits with an eye toward improving markers of well-being like reduced blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, reduced stress, increased energy and improved self-esteem — independent of any weight loss at all — is a far more desirable goal for people of all sizes to pursue.”

Pursuing being as healthy and vibrant as possible with physical vigor and mental and emotional peace of mind may be what trumps every diet out there. Weight obsession needs to be replaced with both individual awareness of what truly nourishes us on many levels, and the science that focuses on real wellness.

The Coach Approach

When a wellness coaching client tells me “I want to lose 30 lbs.” The first questions I ask are “What will your life be like when you succeed at losing that weight? What will your life look like? What will you be doing and enjoying that you’re not doing now?”

Far too often clients get into self-defeating thinking by seeing the “goal” as the number on the scales, and its easy for coaches to simply fall in line with this simple goal-setting approach. Until the magic number is attained it’s too easy for the client to minimize their weight loss accomplishments with a “Yes, but…” attitude. I will only be successful when I lose all the weight I’m trying to lose. Internal barriers to change are every bit as powerful as external. It’s time to explore better outcome indicators.

Explore with your client the best markers of improved health and well-being would look like for them. Would tracking improvements in the markers Bacon and Aphramor referred to above be smarter? Get an agreement from your client about what they would like to see improve and tie it to their motivation to be well. Help your client notice the richly motivating unforeseen benefits that show up as they make progress. Celebrate improvements such as reduced pain in the knees, better sleep, more energy, etc.

dont-forget-to-love-yourself-2When someone who has struggled to live at a weight that is healthy for them is told that weight loss is simply “calories in and calories out” it is insulting and dismissive of them as a person. We human beings are wonderfully complex and our life journeys are fascinating. Embrace your whole-client, just as you urge them to embrace themselves.

Dr. Michael Arloski is a psychologist, certified wellness coach and a certified wellness practitioner who is the founder and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute where the very best in Wellness & Health Coach Certification Training can be found. http://www.realbalance.com

Celebrity Chefs And Wellness

LIGHTS! CAMERA! COOK!

The rise of the food networks and the plethora of cooking shows reflect lots of genuine interest in diversifying our diets and real enthusiasm for the great skill of food preparation. More people are cooking cuisines they never grew up with and are fascinated by mastering gourmet recipes. This may, in part, be an upside to the vast popularity of these shows. Yet, at the same time it is increasingly common to find households where there is a second, and even third generation that has never learned even some of the basics of household food preparation. Reliance on convenience foods (which lead to very inconvenient illnesses), microwavables, and “heat n’ eat” products results in health-destructive diets high in calories, unhealthy fats, salt, sugar, animal protein, and artificial ingredients.

Considering the epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, etc., celebrity chefs have an opportunity to compassionately be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. For a look at some of the most popular chef shows check out Best and Worst Health Messages From TV Chefs http://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition-pictures/best-and-worst-health-messages-from-tv-chefs.aspx#/slide-1. While the article does give credit for “healthy helping” unfortunately, like we explored in a previous post (Giving Our Lifestyle Power Away To Celebrities) (http://wp.me/pUi2y-84) a lot of what this new link shows us is indeed a “recipe for disaster”.

Jamie's Food Revolution!

Into this mixed up American food culture strides Jamie Oliver, a Britt who is doing his best to start a “food revolution” in our country. http://www.jamieoliver.com

Oliver took his newfound fame as a TV celebrity and immediately started leveraging it for good. He established a not-for-profit restaurant in Britain to employ and train disadvantaged youth. He has since gone on to explore how we can improve America’s school food programs, and created fascinating videos that show us the scary side of industrialized food products (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wshlnRWnf30).

A big part of his work has been promoting cooking education that stresses cooking fresh healthy meals at home. Last year he went to the identified least-healthy state in the union and dove right in to the food culture of Huntington, West Virginia. With remarkable empathy and sensitivity he showed the effects of diet on health and the tragic health consequences it can cause in families and communities. All of this and he still comes off passionate but not preachy, entertaining and simply delightful.

Jamie’s Ambition is to mobilize the huge response (630,000 in the US) to the Food Revolution so far and turn it into a movement for change in which America leads the world. Hopefully it will bring together millions of people and inspire the nation to fight obesity with better food. At its heart is a powerful strategy to get people cooking again, improve food labeling (and corporate honesty), increase public awareness of industrialized food, and shift school breakfast and lunch programs from part of the problem to part of the solution.

As you work with people to help them improve their lifestyle, whether as a wellness professional, a parent or simply a concerned citizen, ask about the food culture they live in. Ask about the food shows they may watch on TV. Behavioral scientists are quick to tell us about the suggestive effect of what we watch on the tube and are even saying that such shows may be stimulating us to eat, eat more often, eat too much and make self-defeating dietary choices. Recipes downloaded from television cooking shows unfortunately trend towards the most unhealthy end of the spectrum. If your clients, family or friends are eating following the lead of programs that feature eating contests, gluttony and ridiculous quantities of fatty red meats it may be no wonder their attempts to be healthy seldom are successful.

Gourmet can mean "healthy" too!

While many celebrity chefs pad their ratings with shock-effect levels of grease, sugar and other illness inducing ingredients, there are also folks on “the tube” helping us be well. Let’s tune into chefs making a positive difference and encourage others to do the same. There are cuisines (Mediterranean and Asian especially) where, if we watch the frequency of the items with more fat, sugar and salt, certain recipes are tremendously healthy. We can even select recipes fresh off the grill that are very healthy. Shows that really help us learn about the anthropology of food, the connections to culture and geography expand our awareness of this diverse world we live in and enrich our sense of connectedness.

We may not expect a rush of celebrity chefs to follow Jamie’s lead, but if we watch their shows with an eye for separating the “wheat from the chaff” we can find healthier ways of eating. Living well is all about conscious choice.