It Is What It Is’ — The Annoying Phrase That Can Kill You

health goals
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

“It is what it is…” I hate hearing that from my patients — and I’ve been hearing it more and more frequently lately. It’s usually pops up when patients explain why they haven’t started an exercise program, or when they justify poor dietary choices.

“Hey, it is what it is, Doc.” I think this actually means, “This is something I don’t like about myself, but I don’t think I can do anything to change it, and I really don’t want to talk about it.”

Here’s the deal: We can’t be complacent when it comes to properly taking care of ourselves.

I honestly don’t believe that my patients are truly satisfied with the status quo. I think they’re probably just as frustrated with some of their health habits and dietary choices as I am. But instead of giving up, there are easy ways to make the change.

Sobering Statistics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control said that in 2005:

  • 32.6% of the U.S. adult population consumed fruit two or more times a day
  • 27.2% of people ate vegetables three or more times per day
  • 23.8% of people ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day — down from 24.7% in 1998
  • Over 25% of people in the United States get no leisure-time physical activity
  • Only 48% of people get the recommended amount of physical activity.

And, to wrap it up, 60% of the U.S. adult population was overweight, 24% were obese (up from 15% in 1995), and 3% were extremely obese. Those numbers are only expected to rise.

Okay, we got it — we’re fat, lazy, and don’t eat right. Being told that doesn’t seem to help. And trying to lay fear on people — by telling them about the increasing rates of diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes — doesn’t work either.

So, we have identified “what it is.” But does “it” really need to be this way?

No. We have an ever-growing arsenal of tools to combat these trends. The first step is to recognize that it’s possible for everyone to lose weight, become more active, and begin to eat a healthier diet. We need to stop accepting what we’ve grown used to and think about what can be done to make a change for the positive.

Why the End of Complacency Is at Hand

There are many trends in our favor.

  • Companies are designing affordable, state-of-the-art shoes and athletic wear for any activity. You can look good and feel good in these clothes.
  • There are shoes to fit all foot sizes, widths, and arch heights with support for ankles, metatarsals, and heels.
  • Gym costs have continued to drop due to market factors like competition.
  • There’s greater access to fitness classes, strength training equipment, and cardio machines.
  • Walking programs as well as more parks and “green spaces” are being created so that people can get out and be active.

Finally — and this is an exciting fact we didn’t know — American adults have more leisure time than ever before. Research from Mark Aguilar and Erik Hurst at the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that, since the 1960’s, the amount of time that Americans spend at work has decreased by around 8 hours a week, while time spent on leisure activities has increased by over 6 hours a week.

Changes in foods are also helping.

  • Supermarkets now offer a tremendous variety of affordable SuperFoods every day of the year
  • An increased passion for cooking and using farm-fresh ingredients is diversifying meals
  • Improvements in non-stick cooking pans let us prepare meals with less oils and fat
  • Advancements in food storage and refrigeration help us keep fruit and vegetables fresh longer

How to Make the Change

1. Make a list of your goals.
Start generally with things like “be active” and “eat healthy.” Expand the list with specific goals like “eat broccoli 5 times a week” or “walk 30 minutes on Monday, swim 20 laps on Tuesday, bicycle 2 miles on Wednesday…” Keep the list handy and add to it as you come up with more healthy goals. I recommend people keep a list on their refrigerator at home and a copy on their desk at work.

2. Make a plan and let people know about it.
Communication is important to ensuring support, acceptance, and compliance with the changes. Keep a schedule with planned exercise and meals. Make sure you and every member of your family are aware of what will be happening and when it will happen, then keep the schedule where everyone can see it easily.

3. Plan meals and make a shopping list.
Keep to the list and avoid impulse buying.

4. Make changes when necessary.
Be flexible and willing to change, and always keep in mind your goals to be active and maintain a healthy diet.

5. Work with a friend.
It is easier to keep up an exercise schedule and meal plan when you are working with a friend and are accountable to someone else.

6. For the first week or two of a new routine, “Just Do It.”(Apologies to Nike)
You may be sore, you may be tired, the weather might be bad, and you may not even like a new activity when you start out. It usually takes some time to get into a new program. But over time, you will find that things get easier and that you enjoy your new lifestyle.

7. Turn off the television.
Not forever, but just decide to watch less. Check out your favorite shows as a treat. Don’t instinctively turn it on when you walk in the room. You won’t burn calories watching TV.

8. Talk with co-workers about the changes you are making.
Most people are in the same boat, so you might find allies who will help keep you active and healthy. Be vocal about healthy changes you are making and ask others if they have ideas that have worked for them.

9. Draw on those support systems.
Friends, family, and neighbors, can help you sustain a healthy lifestyle during tough times. If you’re so inclined, a little spirituality will also help keep you on track.

Always remember that you and your family are worth the initial effort. Once you are living a healthier lifestyle, the benefits in energy level, fitness, and overall health will overshadow the early extra effort that seemed so difficult to work through. Remember, “it” doesn’t have to be “what it is.” It can be whatever you make it.

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