Cachexia is a term which means being in a general bad state of health, seemingly referring to the American medical system and the health of Americans in general. Rather than taking a reactive approach to health care (such as taking pills to mask symptoms), do-it-yourself (diy) health involves taking a proactive approach–claiming and maintaining health as a normal condition of daily living.
When you do not have health care, a focus on health is vital. Consciously treating our bodies with care is the basis of health. There are several key foundations on which to build a healthy body: getting enough sleep and rest, keeping our stress levels low, eating nutritious foods, moderating caffeine and other drug use, being active, exposing ourselves to the sun, maintaining a naturally positive attitude, and immersing ourselves in community. Let’s look at each of these pillars of health in turn.
Before the introduction of electric lighting, people slept an average of nine hours per night. I assume that average would be somewhat less in the summer and somewhat more in the winter. Americans today sleep an average of less than seven hours per night. The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” philosophy is pervasive in our fast-paced, caffeine-fueled culture, but it is detrimental to long-term healthiness. Our bodies make repairs while we sleep, and dreaming is essential to memory and cognitive abilities.
Keeping our bodies in a high state of stress has long-term repercussions on our health. For many, commuting, working a fast-paced job, and coordinating work-school-activity schedules add up to a continually stress-filled daily lifestyle. We can forget that our lives, however stressful, are not our LIVES–the state of life that fills our bodies. Many people do not take time to remove stress from their bodies each day, but instead reside in a body that is always tense and hurt, and reactive. There are many ways to reduce stress in a physical way, such as doing yoga or tai chi, or meditating and relaxing. Writing or hanging out with friends can reduce stress in a mental way. Communing with nature and becoming an observer can reduce stress spiritually.
Food is medicine. In our high fructose, preservative-filled, and overpackaged manners of consuming food, we forget that food is alive and gives us life. The more fresh, local, non-poisoned (i.e., organic) food that we eat, the healthier our bodies tend to be. However, be aware that fresh produce does not contain nearly the amount of nutrients it did sixty years ago, because American farming practices have depleted soils so that only petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides are what produces vegetables, and trace minerals are not part of that chemical cocktail. Growing our own fresh produce, or purchasing it from small healthy farms is a way to ensure actual and adequate nutrition. Foraging a variety of wild foods also provides a supply of vitamins and trace minerals. Making food from scratch with basic ingredients assures there will be no preservatives, color additives, or mystery chemical ingredients.
Most meat raised in America nowhere nohow resembles medicine. Animals are raised in inhumane conditions on mega-industrial animal farms. They are fed and injected with all kinds of hormones and antibiotics, fed waste products and other disgusting things, and after slaughter, the meat is dipped in ammonia or other germ killers, irradiated, and often injected with dyes. Then we have the honor of purchasing it and frying it up! Eating a substance that was raised on fresh air and sunshine and healthy food is a much different experience than eating a substance raised on concrete and confinement and crap. Eating a tortured-from-birth animal transfers all that negatively stressed energy to our bodies. If you eat meat like I do, you may be surprised at the quality of taste and texture of humanely raised and fed animals, fresh from the farm. That meat is medicine. Its life becomes ours.
Fermented foods are especially good for us to eat. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut, pickles, green beans–lots of vegetables can be fermented. The process of fermentation provides a natural and healthy dose of good gut bacteria. Our bodies have evolved with a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, and the best way to ensure we are not overcome with unhealthy bacteria is to stock up on the beneficial ones. Traditionally, people in cultures that eat fermented foods every day or with every meal tend to have long and healthy life spans.
No matter what kind of diet we eat, eating as fresh, local, and basic is the way to go. Eating a variety of seasonal foods puts our bodies in a good place nutritionally and our minds and spirits in a place of awareness. Think of our food as our medicine; we’re sustaining ourselves with healthy medicine each time we eat. We can infuse our bodies with that understanding each time we eat, by telling ourselves: “Hey, body…self. I love you, and I’m nourishing you with a substance that is alive and well, as much a part of this living world as I am.” Be thankful for the opportunity to do so. I’m not advocating strictness, as I’m not interesting in spreading puritanism, no matter what the subject matter. However, if we continually find ourselves being unable to affirm that our food is medicine, we must be aware that we are, in reality, poisoning our bodies on a several-times-a-day basis.
Caffeine is a serious part of American culture these days. Legal stimulants are all the rage in factories, offices, highways, and college campuses. The average American consumes between 200 and 300 mg of caffeine a day, the equivalent of several cups of coffee. As a former factory worker and college student, I can attest that many Americans consume far more than that. Caffeine has a detrimental effect on the nervous system and can disrupt sleep. It is a factor in contributing to conditions like fibroids, and can also affect insulin production and use. Cigarettes are another legal stimulant that has well-known and documented adverse long-term effects on health. As with any drug use (legal or not), moderation is key. Ritualizing caffeine or cigarette use (or anything else) can enable these psychoactive drugs to be a part of our lives but without the long-term adverse effects.
Doctors typically advise their patients to exercise regularly, generally 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3-4 times each week. Finding time to get to a gym can be a challenge, and since I am gym adverse anyway, I try to find ways to incorporate being active in my daily life. Biking or walking where we need to go, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, purging our environment of “labor saving” devices, actively playing with kids–options are unlimited when we reclaim physical activity as part of our lives. Do what feels good for your mind and body. Partnering up with someone can be more motivating, and focusing on variety helps with burn out.
Although the medical establishment advises us to slather ourselves in chemicals while outdoors to keep us “safe”, I do not adhere to this advice. To get enough vitamin D for our bodies, we need to expose ourselves to sunlight on our faces, hands, and arms for 5-30 minutes, twice a week. This is, of course, dependent on our skin types and latitude (sun availability). Vitamin D is necessary for bone and skin health, and assists in regulating our immune systems. Vitamin D also has a tremendous effect on our attitudes and general well being, as evidenced by the sales of light boxes and the soaring rates of winter sadness (also known as SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Our personal attitudes are vital for maintaining good health. There is no reason to walk around channeling Pollyanna, but to have a naturally positive outlook on life contributes a lot to good health. Maintaining an attitude wherein we view ourselves as healthy people radiating vital life energy simply makes us healthier people. Science has studied this phenomenon and determined for it to be “real”, although science cannot explain why this is.
Community also plays a vital role in maintaining a good general state of health. Psychologically, spending time with and talking to people we care about and who care about us can relieve a lot of stress and can naturally result in a positive outlook on life. Laughing is a great way to heal your body, mind, and spirit, and what better way to induce laughter than hanging out with goofy friends? People who share the bonds of community spend time helping out and sharing of themselves and their resources. This provides an immense measure of security that most Americans simply do not and cannot possess, regardless of socioeconomic condition.
You may by now have noticed that much of the foundations of healthy living I have covered have much in common with the way our paleolithic ancestors lived. Indeed, many if not most of the adverse health conditions in western lifestyles are diseases of affluence, or the long-term effects of the toxins excreted by said lifestyles. Living paleolithic style is not necessarily about going back to a certain lifestyle, but, being humans, we need to find what works for us and our bodies. We’ve evolved our big brains and vivid imaginations by being active, eating living foods, and being surrounded by people we care about and who care about us. It just makes sense.