an ounce of prevention

I was pleasantly surprised to receive this answer to part of a survey I’m running: “I’ve always been more interested in prevention than cures!”

Let’s back up: if you’re on my email list, you received a request to fill out a quick survey for me. And when I say quick, I mean less than three minutes! Full disclosure: if you’re not on my email list, you’re welcome to fill it out—and I will add you to my list with that information. (Does that sound like too much of a warning?)

The final question of the survey asks, “What’s the most important thing you want me to know about you and/or your health journey?”

Asking an open-ended question rather than a yes/no or multiple choice or check boxes can be dangerous—the answers can be all over the map.

Maybe “dangerous” is not the right word—I’m just trying to avoid the “Midwestern Nice” term “interesting.” Apparently, in the Midwest, we use the word “interesting” when we would prefer to use one that might be perceived as “not nice.”

So let’s just say that the answers I’ve received to that question range from “I feel stuck on my health journey and I’m sick of it” to “I am a work in progress and so glad to be on this journey” and everything in between.

But back to prevention.

when do you take action?

As a health coach, I work with a wide range of clients, from the very stuck to those making steady progress to those who seemingly change their lives in the course of one session (which, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes leaves me wondering about what we are going to do for the rest of the time we’re together).

And yet, it’s very rare to find a client who sees the downward trajectory of their health journey and decides to reverse that curve. Most of the time, they’ve hit their own personal version of rock bottom—the point at which it’s too late for prevention and they’re looking for a cure:

  • They’ve gotten some scary numbers from their last physical.
  • They aren’t sleeping long or well enough.
  • They are more stressed out than ever before.
  • They weigh more than they ever thought they could.
  • They’ve stopped being able to walk around the block without wheezing and stopping for a break.
  • Their relationships are in the toilet.
  • They see their coworkers on Zoom more than they see their family members in person.
  • They have no meaningful spiritual practice (or the time to practice it)
  • They can’t remember the last time they stepped outside into the sunshine….

Because who’s got the time?!?

cures and prevention

Have you ever noticed that in America, there seems to be little inclination to prevent disease, and yet we’re all about fundraising to “find the cure”often for chronic diseases? And most of these diseases are “lifestyle diseases,” meaning that they can be prevented or reversed through our food and lifestyle choices.

We are, in general, deeply enamored of instant gratification (overnight shipping! immediate results!) and deeply averse to anything that takes steady commitment over a relatively long period of time.

And where has that got us? You can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site for a wide variety of data, none of which is that encouraging.

It’s a tired way of looking at health—and since, according to the CDC, obesity is associated with the leading causes of death in the United States and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer, it’s especially worth noting the following (pre-pandemic) statistics:

  • The US obesity prevalence was 42.4% in 2017 – 2018.
  • From 1999 –2000 through 2017 –2018, US obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008. Medical costs for people who had obesity was $1,429 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight.

And we know what happened during the pandemic.

an ounce of prevention

Take a look at that last statistic, and then take a look at some health and economic costs of other diseases: whether you wear an HR hat at work or are the COO of a household and you want to keep your team healthy and your healthcare premiums in check, that’s a pretty good incentive to commit to some health and wellness programming, no?

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And yet, as I’ve been interviewing a number of HR professionals in the course of doing some market research this month, it’s striking how few organizations offer anything more than standard health benefits for employees—and I think we can agree that the standard health/vision/dental coverage in our country is predominantly about disease care rather than health care.

Yes, it will pay for an annual visit, and after that, it only provides care after a problem occurs; little if any thought is given to how to prevent a health problem to begin with.

what does prevention look like?

Prevention is not sexy. It’s not the overnight cure, the silver bullet, the magic supplement. Because let’s be honest, how far have those got us in recent decades?

Prevention is taking tiny, consistent actions every. single. day. And it’s important that those actions are in alignment with our health goals.

Two weeks ago, I posted that I was going to walk you through the process my clients go through when reclaiming their health—the one that I abbreviate as EAT. The E in the acronym stands for Engage, which we explored last week.

And prevention is all about alignment, which is the A in EAT.

We face choices every day: chocolate cake or apple? Netflix or a workout? Instagram or early to bed? It doesn’t take a wizard to know which choices align with better health.

The bad news: the poorer choice is often more fun/tastier.

The good news: you only have to make the better choice 50% of the time to begin with. That’s it. Just 50% of the time and you’ll start to see results. Because 60%, 75%, 80% can feel like too much for most of us, so let’s start with 50%.

Think of it as taking an ounce of prevention daily, with or without food and definitely with plenty of water.

negativity bias

Client after client tells me that they’re frustrated with how slow progress toward a health goal feels, whether it’s weight loss, the cessation of bad habits, reaching a fitness goal, rebalancing hormones, or addressing emotional eating.

“All this work and so little to show for it! Makes me want to just give up and go back to my bad habits.”

We really are wired for negativity bias—the tendency to see only the negative in a situation. Part of my work is to help clients find the positive spin:

  • If you want to lose 20 pounds and you’ve “only” lost 6, you’re still closer to your goal than you were.
  • If you want to run a 10-minute mile and you’re “only” at 12, you’re closer than you were when the time was 15.
  • If you want to sleep 7 hours a night and you’re “only” at 6, you’re closer than when you were sleeping 4 hours a night.

I recently had a client tell me about the terrible day she’d had. She ended with, “and then I ate a cookie.”

I braced myself for her to go on and beat herself up about it. Here’s what followed: “I ate one cookie. Just one. In the past it would have been the whole package after a day like today.”

Will there be days that she eats the whole package? Maybe. And yet, this day was a triumph. Importantly, she was able to see that.

Rejoice and be glad in your success, no matter how insignificant it seems.

If you are taking aligned action toward your goal daily, you will get there.

make the connection

Interested in learning more about the EAT™ process, whether it’s for your personal health or the health of your team? Join me for a free Zoom workshop on the topic! Two times to choose from—follow the link to register: