Two years ago when I started to find out about how not to be unhappy and unhealthy, I didn’t know that I was at the beginning of something exciting.
As I set out to explore ways to feel better inside my own skin, I started finding out about new ways to exercise, new ways to think and new ways to eat. I did a lot of reading and a lot of research to try and discover what, exactly, are the triggers to feeling good.
What I wasn’t expecting to discover was the link between looking after ourselves and doing the world a favour. Turns out all the things that are good for us are also good for the world too! So, here’s the Prϋv Three Step, Fast Track to a new you!
1. Recognise your liver as the best friend you will ever have.
A healthy liver is essentially a healthy you. A you that is sleek and glossy, positive and full of energy.
In the most reliable and unassuming way possible, your liver quietly gets on with looking after you. It cleans up all your mistakes and puts in a constant effort to restore the equilibrium that is so important to good health and well being. But like all of us, if it has too much to do, it becomes overwhelmed and starts taking short cuts and doing things in a half-arsed way. That means things get dumped back into your system before they are fully processed, and that’s when the trouble starts – we age faster, put on weight quicker, lose weight more slowly, lack concentration and drive, feel depressed, get spots/wrinkles/baggy eyes/painful periods (and everything else that makes us feel bad about ourselves).
When your liver is struggling, life seems pretty grim.
If the situation continues we are at risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
But the wonderful thing about your liver is the second you stop over-loading it, it gets straight back to being able to do it’s job, and life takes on a new meaning. So here’s what can you do to let that happen as soon as possible:
- Cut out processed food. Processed food is full of sugar and salt and other things we don’t really understand and have only recently started eating (like ingredients made from crude oil). Apart from the obvious, processed food also includes things like fruit juices (eat the original fruit), sugar, alcohol and, unfortunately, just about everything that comes in a packet. But the good news here is that what’s good for you is good for the environment – less packaging benefits everybody.
- Load up on veggies and fresh fruit and eat organic whenever possible. There are nutrients in vegetables that help and support your liver in doing its job. The more leafy green vegetables you can cram in the better. Cruciferous vegetables in particular (like cabbage, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, cauliflower) are really good at boosting the production of enzymes that your liver uses to clean up your act. Garlic and onions are essential because they contain selenium and allicin which help in removing toxins.
The pectin in apples holds and absorbs toxins in the digestive tract, preventing them from getting to the liver in the first place and thus lessening the load (another reason why fibre is good for you). Citrus fruits, notably lemons, limes and grapefruit (oranges are too sweet) and apple cider vinegar are also really good at helping the body to de-tox because they convert toxins into something that is water-soluble and therefore easier to excrete (especially if you drink lots of water). Just a quick word on organic before we leave this point. 100 years ago all food was organic, it is only recently that we have been polluting our food with petro-chemicals and neuro-toxins. Organic is normal and is what our body understands, factory farming is a new thing and we still don’t understand its full effects on our bodies, none of which seem particularly good to be perfectly honest.
If you want to do yourself, your liver, and the world a favour, opt for organic every time.
- Ditch white flour and everything made with it. Apart from all the sugar and unhealthy fats they contain, the gluten in bread, cakes and biscuits can glue up your digestive system allowing toxins to get into your blood stream more easily. This is compounded by the additives that are used in the factory production of baked products, especially those using white flour, so if you must, stick to wholemeal organic and ancient grains.
- Be aware of the amount of plastic and petro-chemical derivatives in your life. Every time food is wrapped in cling-film (especially fatty food like meat or cheese), plasticcy molecules leach into that food.
Our body doesn’t know how to cope with these molecules so they get foisted onto the liver which gets equally confused by them, adding greatly to its burden and strain. Likewise petro-chemical derivatives in hair-dyes, shampoos, body creams are also absorbed by our bodies and end up burdening our livers, oxidising our systems and paving the way for major lifestyle diseases.
- Use organic and/or paleo cosmetics and skin-care products wherever possible (they also have the significant added benefit of being cruelty free as there is no need to test natural products on animals), store food in glass containers and avoid all food with chemical additives.
2. Recognise stress for what it is
Stress, and our perception of it, is an important survival tool. The problem today is that our internal systems cannot tell the difference between a life or death lion attack and a feeling of despair – in both cases your body is flooded with chemicals that are best dealt with either by fighting with lions, or running away from them very fast. Unfortunately wrapping yourself in a duvet, binge-watching Downton Abbey and eating an entire packet of chocolate digestives was not an option when the original blue-print was laid down and the mechanism does not recognise this as a useful strategy for survival.
There is an even greater problem when it comes to low-grade sustained stress – when we were first designed, sustained stress was the result of a flood or an earthquake or major event that made food and/or water scarce. So if your sustained stress today is coming from constantly comparing yourself to media images and wishing you too could be all bony, it’s bitterly ironic that your body’s response to that stress is to do everything it can to make you as fat and unattractive as possible. It massively slows your metabolism so you need less food, increases your ability to lay down fat to protect you from the lean times ahead and screws with your hormones so that you retain water, lose your libido and in extreme cases, your fertility too (the one thing nature doesn’t want in a famine is another baby!). This inbalance also affects our moods, making us defensive, grumpy and depressed – in a survival situation being good company is not a priority; empathising with everyone else competing for food could get in the way of your own survival.
This is all caused by the pressure long term stress puts on your adrenal glands. In addition to providing the adrenaline necessary to fight lions and sit up all night writing presentations, your adrenals also produce cortisol and other important hormones. When under stress, they concentrate on pumping out cortisol and forget about all the other things which puts your entire system out of whack with all the fat making, water retaining, depressing consequences that are entailed (but the good news is you will be well equipped to survive a nuclear winter).
But here’s even better news – there are two very simple things you can do to mop up extra cortisol in your system, and (importantly) stop it being produced in the first place.
- Take more exercise. Not hours and hours slugging it out at the gym (which actually has the opposite effect as the adrenals can’t tell the difference between emotional and physical stress), but several short bursts of running up the stairs or walking uphill are enough to soak up that adrenaline and cortisol. For some reason ‘feeling the burn’ is also a massive cortisol sponge (which goes some way to explaining why yogis lie on beds of nails or that ’50 Shades of Grey’ has any appeal at all). Yoga is also beneficial in this respect because the mild discomfort felt during all those stretches not only means you are getting bendier, it also means that, at that very moment, cortisol is being removed from your system forever. A very motivating thought when you are half way through a yoga class and wishing you weren’t.
- Consider restorative practices like meditation. When you meditate, even for a short while, magical things happen. Firstly the concentration on your breath triggers your para-sympathetic system – the opposite to the fight or flight mode – and immediately your adrenals can relax and stop turning you into a fat factory. Secondly the mind is given a chance to step back and, in doing so, what seemed stressful becomes less so. By looking at your thoughts as if from a distance, like at a river from the bank rather than being swept along in the stream, you can see them for what they are, just thoughts, not lions after all. So with meditation, although the situation may not change, your reaction to it does. What seemed stressful becomes less so and your body is given the chance to restore it’s natural balance.
In a nutshell, meditation is a stress-busting double whammy, and the really great thing is that when you feel more positive, positive things happen around you.
Just think. If everyone did this, how much nicer the world would be. The sustained stress that we all live with – pressure of work, financial worries, meeting deadlines, poor diets – changes our body chemistry and makes us less pleasant to ourselves and everyone around us. But we each have the power (by eating well and doing the two simple things above) to change our own body chemistry and take control back. And when we do it for ourselves, we do it for everybody else too.
3. Know that you are more important than you think
For most of us that long sustained sense of stress comes from working or living in an environment that is not comfortable. What tends to happen in this situation is that we look inwards and blame ourselves for the disconnect – if only we could make more effort or be different or do things differently, everything would be OK – instead of outwards at the flawed context. This means that, falsely, the inner you does not feel important and worthwhile and that creates unhappiness – a longing to be somewhere where what goes on inside your head matches what goes on outside, probably back home with your family, or on that sofa with the duvet and a packet of biscuits.
To a greater or lesser extent, this is how we all feel – we blame ourselves for our own unhappiness not the flakiness of the system we have to live in.
It’s not easy to find the right work:life balance. But you are important enough to make the search for one worthwhile. For me, searching for that purpose and meaning, led to leaving my job (scary) and, eventually (small degree of persistence required), opening Bootstrap Bazaar. Still a work in progress, but it is the means for me to re-connect with my own values and be involved with something that will hopefully bring many positive benefits to many people.
Meaning does not have to involve a great interest or championing a cause, it can be found with equal validity simply through nurturing your family, or (here’s a thought!) even yourself.
Because you are more important than you think, every choice you make, no matter how small, has consequences.
As soon as you start making positive choices for yourself and those close to you, you start a positive shift to a better world.
Although our bio-systems are designed to re-calibrate on a regular basis and self-heal, unfortunately our modern life makes it very difficult for us to maintain that balance. We need to be aware of the sustained effort that is made by corporations to bring us ‘convenience’, ‘choice’ and ‘cheapness’ but which seems so successfully to be making us unhealthy and unhappy instead.
And that’s why it is so important that we each take care of ourselves and the people closest to us by making choices that are as good for us as they are for the world around us. The bottom line is that you can change your world for the better. And, let’s face it, anything is better than believing happiness lies in Sleb Culture and the Cheez Crust Pizza.