Preventive Medicine Column
Dr. David L. Katz
Just like the ship captains of old controlled ship and sail, but not wind and wave- so do modern airline pilots control cockpit, but not atmospheric conditions. But controlling the cockpit is good enough for me and my fellow frequent fliers. We know we can’t get a “guarantee” of a safe flight, but we also know that with a skillful captain at the helm of a properly assembled plane, the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor.
Exactly the same is true of health. The differences are only these: your body is the plane, and you are the captain. Assuming your body is put together about like a body ought to be- and you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t- then you can be the captain of your fate. You can be the master of your medical destiny. You can even be the boss of your DNA. You can be, in essence, disease proof.
With behaviors under our potential control, we can reduce our lifetime risk of all major chronic disease by an incredible 80%. We can even alter our gene expression through the power of lifestyle. DNA is not destiny. To a much greater extent, choices under our control determine our fate. We have scientific evidence to show that if we change our own behavior, we change even the behavior of our genes. Most recently, a study just published in Lancet Oncology showed that adopting a healthy lifestyle can lengthen telomeres, an indication at the genetic level of an anti-aging effect. We can nurture nature.
But the simple fact is this: most of us don’t. There are a number of reasons, but I think the most obvious is the best: most of us just don’t know how. Just like a captain needs to learn how to fly that plane, we all need to learn how to navigate your body to health. Both enterprises are skill dependent. It takes will to want to be an airline captain in the first place- but it takes skill to fly the plane. Similarly, you need will-power to get to health, because you do have to care. But once you care, you will need skill-power to get there from here; “here” being a modern, obesigenic world that conspires mightily against you. Fortunately, getting to health requires a lot less skill than flying a plane. Maybe it’s more like learning to ride a bike.
To that end, I am pleased and proud to bring to your attention my brand new book, Disease Proof, coming to bookstores nationwide on September 26. I can’t fly a plane, but I can ride a bike- and I do have the skill set for being healthy. I live the benefits of that skill set every day; I live the benefits of sharing those skills with those I love, notably my wife and five children. I would like you and your family to have that same opportunity.
What do I mean by “skill-power”? Well, for instance – let’s imagine you have a sweet tooth, as most of us do. What if instead of giving up your favorite dessert, you give up gram after gram of sugar from your diet by trading up foods that didn’t need to be sweet in the first place? You won’t miss sugar from pasta sauce, after all; you won’t miss it in crackers either. I refer to this as “stealth” sugar, sugar in foods we don’t consider sweet. There is a lot of it- but most people don’t know it’s there, let alone where it’s hiding. The good news is that when you find out, you can easily trade up to choices in the same categories that don’t have the added sugar (without spending more money, by the way).
And then, the news gets even better. Taste buds are very malleable little fellas; they learn to love the foods they’re with. That’s why you probably love way too much sugar and salt right now; your taste buds have been “corrupted” by the unnecessary processing of the modern food supply. But that same food supply provides really good options in every category, and if you know which ones those are- they are all you need to rehabilitate your taste buds. You really can learn to prefer, and love, the very foods that love you back.
In the end, after taste bud rehab mediated by skill-power, you can give up that too-sweet dessert with no force of will, but just because you don’t like it anymore. Your newly rehabilitated taste buds will tell you it is TOO sweet, and you will trade up by choice, without effort, and permanently. That’s what skill-power can do. The book is filled with an entire inventory of just such skills for diet, physical activity, and more.
The relevant skills aren’t trivial, but they aren’t rocket science, either. You can have them- but you have to get them. Remember you once had to learn how to ride a bike. But then…you’ve known how ever since. A whole new level of health is within reach, for you and those you love, if you are ready to renounce silver bullets and false promises, and acquire skill-power.
Without the right skill set, health is elusive. The relevant skills are yours for the taking, and with them, you and those you love truly can be, to an astonishing degree, Disease Proof. I want that to happen, and will be deeply gratified to be any part of the reason it does.
Dr. David L. Katz