by Esmaa Self
We have a 35-year-old Jonathan apple tree that produces marvelous, sweet apples. This tree is supposed to be dead by now, for Jonathans have a life expectancy of about 25 years. While tending the special needs of this fire blight affected tree, I got to thinking about the saw that apples don’t fall far from the tree. It has long been my intention to do just that.
My appetite for a simple, healthy, self sufficient life was teased by failure: the sins of my father, the sometimes health food nut. He introduced me to organic gardening, raw milk and farm eggs; insisted that I eat a hot breakfast; refused to buy white bread, candy or soda pop and preached that from-a-box cooking was no way to live a healthy life.
So where was the failure, you ask? One midsummer night in 1973, Dad announced that we were getting back to the land. I eventually learned that his lust for life in the wilderness grew from knowledge of his pending assault arrest. So anyway, within a week we were living in a tent under a 100-year-old Douglas fir on a remote California Indian reservation.
Our most modern convenience was an outhouse. We lived off the land, cooked over a pit, hauled spring water, raised animals, foraged, gardened and repurposed everything we could lay hands upon. Before year’s end Dad declared off-grid living too difficult and skedaddled. I stayed put: my quest had just begun.
I recently turned 52; that’s the age my father was when he died. While Dad knew the rules of health, he failed to live by them. Our family DNA is littered with weakness. Diabetes hangs from many a branch in my family tree, as does heart disease, lung disease, mental illness and obesity. So what about my goal of healthy living? How can one hope with such a low-grade DNA?
Contrary to popular wisdom, an apple can fall far from the tree. Here are my five rules for doing just that.
1.) Eat Mindfully
My father weighed over 300 pounds. While he instilled informed food choices in me, he did not follow them himself.
Make mindful choices and you’ll live better. We can grow some of our own food, or buy directly from the farmer. We can choose to cook from scratch and provide our bodies with ample nutrition for the daily fight against disease. If you must cut corners, choose items with higher fiber, lower fat and reduced salt. And please, watch your waist.
I’m not suggesting that you follow my father’s example and skip out on the rent. I am suggesting you find ways to move your body during the day. Get up once an hour. Walk down the hall, get a drink of water. Step to the nearest park and enjoy a lunch al fresco.
Other ideas include taking the furthest away parking stall, avoiding elevators and carrying one’s own groceries to the car rather than wheeling them of letting an already trim clerk load your groceries.
Find ways to keep moving and you’ll burn calories and feel better.
3.) Live Responsibly
I can only speculate that my father thought himself tough enough to withstand the abuse he put his body through with cigarettes, alcohol and an addiction to high fat, high salt, low fiber foods. It isn’t clear if he understood that his DNA was riddled with weaknesses to major disease, but it is clear that his unhealthy habits ended his life.
What weaknesses are in your DNA? What lifestyle choices can you make to improve your health? Review the major illnesses of your immediate family members to find out. Then eat and live as if you already have those diseases. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
For instance: Both my parents were diabetic. 95% of my immediate family is obese. These facts indicate a weakness in my DNA toward diabetes, thus I cannot risk a high fat diet, must watch sugar intake, and resolve to physical activity. Is it working? You tell me: at 52, I am the only person in my immediate family who has not suffered a major health crisis.
Healthy living is more than food. These next two suggestions concern healthy thinking.
4.) Be content
My father’s childhood was lost to the Great Depression. He was so angry at the loss of the family farm that he spent much of his adult energy trying to even the score. No one who crossed his path was spared his vitriolic ways. He cheated wives, stole from employers, investors and friends. He could not live within a budget and often manipulated others to meet his financial obligations. Bitter anger is a poison.
Regardless of circumstance, you and I can choose contentment. We can live within our means and pursue happiness. We can revel in the joy of life’s beautiful simplicity. Do this, know bliss.
5.) Give back
Unless he was setting you up, my father never gave compliments, which he believed strong people didn’t need. I’d say he had it partly correct, but withholding kindness as a means to build someone up is bunk.
Instead, try giving yourself away. A smile, a kindness; each decision to fix a healthy meal at home rather than get in line at the drive-through is a gift. When you spend your energy on creating a lovely family meal, you save precious world resources while also conserving the health of those you love. What better compliment is there?
That Jonathan apple tree only has a couple years left. I, on the other hand, hope to thrive for at least three decades. And I hope you live to a ripe old age as well.