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How to Listen to Silence - Cues

Danger Cues

In August of 2022 I wrote a post about listening to your body. Listening to your body is sometimes like interpreting a baby's cry when they have been fed and changed. Then there is a whole group of people who ignore what their body is telling them. I have certainly been guilty of this. However I have come to realize that mimicking an ostrich isn't going to make the issue go away. If anything it is likely to get worse. This is the case for both physical and emotional denials.

There is an even more important side of health, that is, preventative care. It takes some proactivity and may require behavioral changes which can be challenging. If you live your life day after day without any cues to do or change something, it is easy to keep on doing what you always do. Are you a ticking time bomb? Is your body whispering to you quietly enough to ignore?

Factors that quietly erode your health include:

  • Sitting for long periods of time, lack of movement

  • Smoking

  • Poor diet

  • Long periods of stress

  • Depression, anxiety

  • Risky behaviors such as driving unsafely, not wearing your seat belt or maintaining your tires, gambling, drinking excessively, drinking and driving, drug overuse or use that might have been appropriate initially but was not stopped before addiction occurred e.g. opioid addiction

  • Isolation-not interacting with others

  • Ignoring; age, gender, or life-style recommended tests such as mammograms, prostate exams, colonoscopies, blood work, physicals, eye exams, and blood pressure monitoring.

These things are so easy to ignore because there may be nothing obvious that is impacting your health at a given moment and nothing is screaming at you. For example, if you are a smoker, you know the dangers but because you don't see what your lungs look like as the years go on, there are no flashing warning lights.

Do you play Russian Roulette with a gun? I hope not! This is no different. You are playing an equally dangerous game. Of course it is true that not everyone will develop a serious lung condition from smoking but your percentages go up significantly. According to the CDC, people who smoke cigarettes are 15–30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from it than those who don't.

Another great example is blood pressure - the silent killer. If you never have this checked you won't know if there is a problem. This is the Ostrich mentality- not a good one. High blood pressure can lead to strokes and heart disease. My uncle had high blood pressure. He was aware of it but was not religious about taking his medication or checking it frequently. In his late 40s he died of an abdominal aneurysm that could have been prevented.

I am certainly not an advocate of living in a doctor's office, exactly the opposite, but I know that some quick preventative measures can save hours of medical interventions. Take heed before it is too late to take preventative action.

Another thing I want to highlight is our strong desire to take the easy way out. It is well known that obesity/overweight affects over 50% of the population in the United States. So imagine everyone's delight when Ozempic, a type 2 diabetes medication, was approved by the FDA to facilitate weight loss as well. It wasn't long before these types of medications became available strictly for weight loss. An easy fix? I am not in any way diminishing the usefulness of this drug but it is not an end-all be-all solution. If your goal is to lose weight while continuing to eat the way that caused you to gain in the first place, then objective not accomplished. Maybe you will lose weight but you may be no healthier if your diet is still heavily loaded with animal protein and highly processed foods.

In an effort to be completely transparent I must confess that there are certainly examples of fit individuals who live healthy lives and die too early. The opposite is also true. My mother is about to turn 100. She has never exercised a day in her life and her diet is anything but healthy. The only preventative measure she ever took was to maintain a healthy weight. If she gained 5 pounds while on vacation, she intentionally lost it when she returned. She also did not smoke or drink heavily. Genes were on her side as my grandmother, who was overweight and never exercised lived to 103. So it is important to note that genetics and environment influence longevity.

My philosophy is not to rely on good genes for my future health. I have minimal control over most things in life so I want to take actions within my control to remain healthy and active as long as I am alive. Quality of life, not just longevity, is my goal. You could live until 90 but be unable to participate in ADLs (activities of daily living) which enables independence as you age. What is your goal as you age?

One thing I have observed over and over with clients and with older parents - age is truly a number. I know of 50-60 year olds who are in nursing homes from poor health and I know 80-90 year olds who do yoga and walk 4 miles a day. What do you want for yourself?

Preventative measures everyone should take include:

Colonoscopy - as unpleasant as it is, colon cancer is occurring now in 20 and 30 year olds so certainly in your 40s you should have a baseline colonoscopy.

Blood Pressure Check- in conjunction with an annual physical. Once a year your doctor should run standard blood tests to screen for many diseases,including metabolic markers (LDL, HDL, cholesterol), insulin/blood sugar levels, thyroid disease. They will also listen to your heart and check your basic vitals.

Dental - cleanings and visits 2x per year.

Breast cancer - self exams and mammograms. YES, men can also get breast cancer. So, men should be aware of lumps they feel in their chest.

Prostate exams for men - screening should start at age 50 or sooner if you are at high risk for prostate cancer.

Cardiac Screening - baseline exam so future changes can be compared to your baseline.

Eye exams - yearly

Skin Check - regularly check your entire body for skin damage and melanoma. This includes your scalp and the back of your body (use a mirror if you can't ask someone else to check for you). If caught early, skin cancers are treatable. Protect your skin every day from the sun by wearing sunscreen on all skin that is exposed. You should apply sunscreen even on cloudy days.

Expiration Date Checks - I certainly don't abide by all food expiration dates ( I use my judgement to decide if something is too old to eat) however I do check expiration dates on medications, including over the counter meds, supplements, and sunscreen.

Good Cues

Silence you can hear

There is another side to cues. These can also be silent, although if you pay attention they will become loud and clear and you want to amplify these as much as possible.

  1. Hunger - pay attention to your hunger clues. Buzzword these days - hangry (you are angry because you are hungry). You don't want to be in starvation mode before eating. If you wait this long you will want to gobble down food, any food, as fast as you can. Pay attention to your emptiness cues by listening to your gut, literally and figuratively. These are subjective cues and fudging your feelings is only hurting you.

  2. Thirst - hunger can be mistaken for thirst. You think you are hungry when your body is just craving hydration. Don't wait to become thirsty before hydrating. By the time you get thirsty you are already dehydrated. Get in the habit of keeping a filled reusable water bottle with you wherever you are.

  3. Fullness - It takes about 20 minutes for the effect of food to translate to fullness. So try to stop eating before you feel stuffed. Wait 20 minutes. Listen to your body. If after 20 minutes, your body is honestly saying "I am still hungry" than have more to eat. There is a lot of psychology going on here and it is easy to lie to yourself. Be honest!! My entire family excels at this except me. They stop eating when they no longer feel hunger. I, on the other hand, struggle with this more than any other aspect of eating. If you read my posts on my eating disorder you will understand why. I can be very in-tune with my fullness cues and it takes major constraint on my part to stop eating at that point. I know I will not feel well if I keep eating and I constantly remind myself of this. Most people can go 4-6 hours after a meal before they become hungry enough to eat again.

  4. Meals -Fill your plate with healthy foods especially whole grains, vegetables, and plant proteins which all satiate hunger effectively. Avoid going back for seconds. If you fill your plate with the suggested foods, one plate should fill you sufficiently.

  5. Boredom - Boredom is a trigger for eating and other dangerous behaviors. Take a moment to assess whether your hunger is actually boredom. Stop and ask yourself this question before giving in to a craving. Eating ( or engaging in other risky behaviors like smoking or taking drugs) only temporarily satisfies boredom and loneliness. When you think you are hungry and you rule out thirst as the culprit, consider this silent cue. Let's say it has only been 2 hours since you last ate but you are feeling hungry. Could it be boredom, loneliness or a lack of human connection? Don't use social media or substances to solve this. Try the following.

    1. Get out and commune with nature or go to a public place where you can engage with others, such as a coffee shop. Say hello to strangers. What do you have to lose?

    2. Go to the library to work where others provide quiet stimulation (and there is no food).

    3. Read a book or interesting article.

    4. Do errands if needed.

    5. Write what you are feeling in a journal.

    6. If possible, get into your garden or spend some time with a hobby you enjoy.

    7. Spend time with a friend or pet (go to a dog park).

    8. Exercise, take a walk.

You know the drill. Get out there and move!

Take steps now to prevent future illness!!

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