His blood sugar was up, and he was feeling like everything was falling apart.
James’ system was breaking.
It was too much for James*. His father was ill, and he was travelling back east frequently to help with his father’s healthcare. Combined with his business travel, lots of stress, and the difficulty he faced finding the right foods on the road, it was just way to hard for James to eat well and keep his blood sugar down. He was feeling tired, frustrated, and ashamed.
About 3 years ago James found great success controlling both his blood sugar and his weight by following a ketogenic diet. He’d lost over 50 pounds, and when everything was ticking just right, all of his blood sugar numbers were excellent. He’d even been able to stop one of his diabetes medicines. And he felt really good.
The problem was that he needed to devote a fair amount of effort to keeping on track. Shopping for groceries ahead of time, packing lunches, and keeping his stress down helped him stay on track. When life was “normal,” this was all very manageable.
However, with all the stress he was going through now, it was just too much to ask to handle all of these details, and his system was breaking down.
Advice for maintaining health when the world seems like it’s on fire
James’ story comes from last summer, but I thought it was a great example for what is going on in our world right this very minute. With the spread of coronavirus, everyone is going through some type of disruption and stress similar to James. The gyms are closed, grocery stores have unstable supplies, and many of us are cooped up at home with stressed-out family members who we love but who also can drive us nuts.
So how can you keep your health on track during this time? Does it even matter?
Let me share a couple thoughts with you:
Don’t aim for perfect. It is going to be just about impossible for most people to achieve the same level of success regarding healthy choices compared to when everything is “normal.” Beating yourself up over perceived failures only makes it harder for you to choose healthy next time. Now is a time for grace. For James, I’d love for him to know setbacks are normal, and now is a great time to figuratively stand up, dust himself off, and try again.
Beware the “what-the-hell effect.” This really is a thing, you can find studies about it. It feels like the world is ending, so you eat a brownie. And now you feel bad about eating the brownie, and since you’ve already blown your diet and the world is ending anyway, you might as well eat the whole tray. But here’s the thing – we’re going to get through this. And when the world returns to a more normal state, you’re going to be so much happier if you haven’t set yourself back by 40 pounds.
Focus on the 20%. There is something called the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. With everything disrupted, ask yourself what are the key 20% of your efforts that yield the best results, and how can you keep these up? If you love fresh vegetables, it might be time to figure out where you can stock up or perhaps how to make frozen veggies taste delicious. If it’s going to the gym, how can you do similar exercises at home with what you have around? Be resourceful and creative as you look to keep up your nutrition, movement, sleep, and even social connections.
Blow off your stress. Find a way to relieve your stress, especially if your usual method is not available or harder right now. Most people make poorer choices and find willpower disappears when under stress, so being proactive to monitor your stress level and let off steam can be very helpful. Exercise outside, meditation, a warm bath, or some “me time” with an enjoyable hobby are ideas you might try.
Learn something new. Finally, it’s quite likely you’ve got more time at home and less structure currently. Now is a great time to engage your mind in a new challenge. This might be health related – like finding new recipes that use what you’ve got available – or it might be something else entirely – like photography, bike repair, or picking up a new musical instrument. My wife informed me Isaac Newton discovered gravity during a pandemic. Maybe there’s a something great waiting for you.
I know that this current lockdown will end, and I’m hopeful our culture will be stronger because of what we’re enduring right now. A little attention to your health now will ideally have you ready and at your best when we do emerge on the other side of this great challenge.
Stay warm and safe.
Dr. Topher Fox
*names changed for privacy