Raul FreitasPortugal

Really Simple

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There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are what we eat. Along with what we ingest, physical activity and the environment we live in also play pivotal rolls.

Due mostly to economics, the populations of most industrialized countries tend to concentrate in and around cities, where the jobs tend to be. Due to this, the health of the people therein tends to be directly affected. The usual excuse is the lack of time to do anything about it. No time to eat properly, no time to relax, no time to exercise. In the name of progress, we sacrifice what’s most dear to us. Unfortunately, what’s usually good for our health tends to clash with that of business pursuits, so employers aren’t too keen on promoting healthy lifestyles because those ideas clash with the pursuit of a healthy bottom line and since we spend so much of our time working, little time is left for looking after ourselves, or so it seems. Fortunately, there exist vast numbers of books and videos from gurus with ready-made solutions promising to teach us to be healthy, without changing our current lifestyle choices, which is exactly what we want to hear; results without sacrifice. All this for a modest fee, (and we do love throwing money at problems to make them go away). Ask any doctor worth their salt, though and you’ll get basically the same answer every time: look after yourself by eating properly, exercise and take time to relax. Small wonder they’re not as popular as the gurus.

Being a good southern European, I love a good meal. I don´t know of a greater pleasure. Nothing like gathering at a table with my favourite people enjoying a conversation and good food. Promotes a healthy body and mind. The art of cooking, in itself, is a most satisfying endeavour, especially when everyone is involved. The mix of imagination and chemistry produces results that are keys to happiness. Some modern societies are equating cooking with negative concepts like a loss of freedom and time for ourselves, much like having children is also being portrayed in that light. Nothing could be more unnatural. Eating on the run or skipping meals altogether seems to be the status quo during work hours. People convince themselves that they’re fine that way. Our health is placed in the hands of third parties, who feed us for profit, not necessarily with our wellbeing in mind. It’s not their fault, we are taught to convince ourselves that the physical and mental sacrifices are necessary for the greater good, besides, it’s nice eating out. There are wonderful places to eat yummy things, but let’s not put our health strictly in the hands of others, we are, after all, our own best doctors.

That much dreaded moment when one reaches middle age, (if we’re lucky), is when we are usually forced to deal with the “sacrifices” we made in the past. Our natural coping mechanisms grow tired and begin to show signs of wear, even in those who thought they practiced decent health habits. It happened to me. Before I knew it, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes became words associated with my world. The scourges of modern society. My aversion to pills led me to seek alternate ways of dealing with these issues, from my doctor. What were his suggestions? Alterations to what I eat and what I do, or more precisely what I don’t do. No surprise there. He handed me a list of foods to eradicate and another of foods to avoid. His other prescription was a brisk, 40-minute walk, four times weekly. Since my fear of pills was much greater that my fear of change, I, along with my wife, (whom I couldn’t have done this without), began our attempt to follow the doctor’s orders. We cut off all refined sugar, cut down on meal portions and began walking every night. Physical exercise is a funny thing, if you can get over the initial hump, (which in my case was battling my brain which kept insisting on coming up with excuses not to go out), it eventually becomes something you can’t do without. It really does make you more alert and happier. It boosts you with a natural high. Taking pleasure in eating better is also essential. Eating better is not at all connected to eating food that tastes like it came off an airliner. The portions are key. Also, if your brain is suggesting you shouldn’t be eating something, don’t.

Three years on, our health has improved, we’ve lost weight naturally and we feel great about what we’ve achieved. Our healthier lifestyle has become the norm and we haven’t lost out on anything except a few more hours of watching TV at night. Of course, since we’re firm believers that moderation is the key to good living, there’s always room for the occasional bout of decadence, which is good mental therapy. We need to take care of ourselves and teach our children the importance of doing the same. Diet and exercise aren’t bad, scary words, they can actually make our lives richer. We need to get rid of the stigmas. Diet doesn’t have to mean blandness and measuring cups just as exercise doesn’t mean gym memberships and sweat. Get off your butt and make a decent meal, two things that can make all the difference in the world.
Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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