Health Advice from a Neophyte

By Jenny Harris

“’Our spirit and our body are combined in such a way that our body becomes an instrument of our mind and the foundation of our character’ (Elder Boyd K. Packer).” Therefore, please use good judgment in what and especially how much you eat, and regularly give your body the exercise it needs and deserves. If you are physically able, decide today to be the master of your own house and begin a regular, long-term exercise program, suited to your abilities, combined with a healthier diet. Spiritual confidence increases when your spirit, with the help of the Savior, is truly in charge of your natural man or woman.”

Elder Jorg Klebingat, Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence

Dear friend,

You asked for health advice. Am I qualified to respond? No, and yes.

No because I don’t have expertise, a model body, or a diet to sell.

Yes… because I don’t have expertise, a model body, or a diet to sell. What I know, I know from experience. My body is strictly that of a child-bearing thirty year old, and I gave up on diets when I was seventeen. But I’m really, deeply content with my physical trappings and I have a generally happy relationship with food, sleep, and other human beings. So I accept your petition for advice as a really lovely writing prompt.

My knee-jerk response is to first describe everything that works for ME.* The trouble is, you are not me. I don’t have your knee problems, and you don’t have my sweet tooth. Health is so deeply personal; how can I speak to that?

There’s also the trouble that your Mom probably already told you everything you need to know: Sleep eight hours a night. Drink water. Exercise regularly. Eat nutritious foods in moderation. Think good thoughts. Wear sunscreen.

So this is my attempt to (a) share helpful principles rather than endorsing specific practices and (b) tell you something that your mom hasn’t already taught you (but moms are brilliant, so don’t bank on it):

Listen to your Body

In particular, I recommend listening to your gut and to your emotions. Most people use the bathroom scale as their health barometer, but I find that poop and moods are far finer metrics. If you live in ways that create emotional or digestive havoc, then change something!

Don’t obsess about it—food journals and fitness trackers aren’t necessary. Your body will tell you when it is tired, hungry, lonely, or hurt… act accordingly. Without getting too weird, I recommend yoga, writing, and meal-planning as helpful means of engaging one’s listening centers.

Educate Yourself

All sources should be considered perusal-worthy. Inquire with your doctor, dentist, and optometrist. Read the poorly written diatribes and watch the politicized documentaries. Talk to your friends, and search YouTube.

Realize that health education is colored by politics, tradition, morals, and inexperience (yours truly). So in addition to listening to your body, you’ll need to listen to the Holy Spirit.

For me, three academic principles recommend themselves for consideration:

  • Systems Theory posits that the body is an interconnected system within larger interconnected systems. So what? So sleep, eating, exercising, thinking, and socializing are all connected. Improve one area of your life, and the others will improve also.
  • Psychologists say that approach motives are more powerful than avoidance motives. It is more effective to try to DO something (approach) than to NOT do something (avoid). Remember this as you set goals. You can say, “No more packaged snacks,” or you can buy a fruit bowl for your counter. Determine what you WILL do rather than stumbling under the weight of homemade restrictions.
  • Sociocultural anthropologists call eating “commensality.” Eating isn’t just caloric consumption—it’s social glue. Food is the point of connection for living, dead, and divine. Think of it: sacraments, graveside offerings, dinner dates, wedding suppers, neighborhood potlucks, and celebratory meals! Humans connect over food. So don’t strip eating of its sacred, social elements. Eating is part of the abundant life (John 10:10); our challenge is to practice it in increasingly healthy, (social) ways.

Evaluate Your Motives

Higher motives result in higher abilities.

A personal story—

I struggled with binging eating through my teenage and college years. I hated it, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t break the habit. I put signs on the fridge, set rules for myself, and overcompensated with exercise. What finally worked was a motivation stronger than vanity.

When I was twenty-five, I devoted eighteen months of my life to a religious mission. A few weeks into my mission, I came home after a stressful day and ate half of a pecan log. It was delicious. But I woke up the next day “feeling fat.”

Have you ever heard a girl say that? “Oh, I can’t hang out tonight, I’m just feeling fat?” It sounds stupid, but here’s what it means: “I just did something duplicitous. I treated myself unkindly. I did something bad (in this case, overeating), and now I feel ashamed. Also, my stomach is objectively bigger than it was yesterday and I can see some sugar acne coming up in my face. I look bad, I feel bad, and I’d really rather not be around people because I feel unloveable.”

It was this post-pecan-roll moment that changed me. I realized that overeating made me emotionally unfit for serving God. Overeating led me to think only of myself (indulgently, and them shamefacedly), and it would distract me from loving others.

So I quit.

I still sometimes hear the voice of that little Glut monster, and occasionally I answer the call. But I’m working toward the higher goal of loving others as I love myself, so I don’t struggle with binge-eating like I used to.

Higher motives result in higher abilities.

Enjoy Yourself

Marie Kondo said it first. If it doesn’t “spark joy,” bag it.

  • Be INTENTIONAL. Good things rarely happen without planning. So make a grocery list, meal plan, schedule your exercise, fill a waterbottle, and leave healthy snacks on the counter.
  • The 80-20 rule might be helpful. Strive for a lifestyle that is 80% healthy, and then allow 20% for couch-sitting, Totinos pizzas, and late-night time-wasting.

Physical exercise:  Yes, you should move your body every day, and probably for at least 30 consecutive minutes. But how you move is up to you. Do you enjoy taking classes and playing on a team, or would you rather do it yourself?  Do you like competition, or do you prefer introspection? Are you more energized at night or in the morning? Do you want to be outside or inside? Are you willing to spend money, or does it need to be free? Do you need external rewards, or are you a self-motivator?

Diet: Find healthy foods that thrill you, and cut out the unhealthy ones that don’t. If you can’t stand salads unless they have ranch dressing, croutons and meat (I’m talking to you, hubby), then all of your salads should have ranch dressing, croutons, and meat! If you LOVE a fresh donut, then plan one into the end of the day (and then skip the gross stale cookies at work).

Your lifestyle is a product of your own making. Permission granted to create something wonderful.

The Creator helps his Children

Your health is MORE than eating, sleeping, and exercising. It is how you spend your time, what you think, who you interact with, where you spend your days, and how you relate to God. Living well encompasses all aspects of your being.  Care for the creation, and you honor the Creator.

God is Eternal. As His children, we practice eternity through consistence and endurance; by trying again, day after day. We show faith in God every time we see His creation (ie: your body, mind, and spirit) as “good,” worth improving upon day by day (Genesis 1).

God is the Great I AM. Notice the present-tense title? God’s help is for TODAY. Goals and good intentions are like manna—you want to see a guarantee of future success, but TODAY is the day of providence. Our prayers are never more efficacious than when we stop asking for future generalities and instead humbly plead for help with the trials of this moment. Try to be healthy now; let the future take thought for itself (Matthew 6:34).

There you have it, Health Advice from a Neophyte. I promise not to start a podcast or try to publish a book. I’m still learning, and as such I’d very much like to hear YOUR advice concerning physical health—novice or expert, all voices are welcome here.

Comment below!

*What works for me? I teach REFIT® and eat fat like Jack Sprat’s wife (that is, I eat my share and my husband’s too). I’m healthy and happy (check back in forty years for longitudinal results).

Jenny Harris

Jenny Harris

Jenny is a star-gazing, book-clubbing mother of two. She has a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which is mildly comical (but also a boon in parenting and relationships). Her kids will attest that she's crazy about reading aloud, time out of doors, and creative play. Her family's goal is the “abundant life,” as prescribed by Jesus. You can read more posts by Jenny here.
Jenny Harris

Jenny Harris

Jenny is a star-gazing, book-clubbing mother of two. She has a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which is mildly comical (but also a boon in parenting and relationships). Her kids will attest that she's crazy about reading aloud, time out of doors, and creative play. Her family's goal is the “abundant life,” as prescribed by Jesus. You can read more posts by Jenny here.

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