Our well-being is a combination of many elements including nutrition, lifestyle, environment, and, particularly, our attitudes toward the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In 2015, Dr. Alex Pattakos and I authored an award-winning book, The OPA! Way,1 which outlined what we and our research had concluded were the key elements to finding joy and meaning in everyday life and work. Several chapters focused on our recommendations for a holistic approach to well-being, which I will now briefly share with you.
The word “diet” is derived from the Greek word diata, which means a way of life or holistic way of living, going beyond just the foods we consume. Here is our unique, multi-level, pyramid approach to well-being that is lifestyle-centric, and reinforces the key choices we need to make to live a life full of energy and meaning.
Others, Purpose, and Attitude: We begin at the foundation of well-being: others, purpose, and attitude.
- Others: The health benefits of connecting meaningfully with others are well known. Loneliness and feeling isolated or separated from others deplete our energy and can lead to depression and illness. Feeling connected and sharing our daily challenges give us energy and help alleviate stress.
- Purpose: Lack of purpose, whether caused by boredom, working at an unfulfilling job, being unemployed, or feeling unsure of what to do next, can drain our energy. Helping others, extending beyond ourselves, and feeling appreciated for who we are and what we do, are all good for our overall well-being.
- Attitude: When people say they are tired, they may not just be tired physically but also may be “tired in spirit”—zapped of energy due to untreated or unexpressed emotional pain. Having a pessimistic attitude, anxiety, and depression all block the flow of energy and can create disease. Our attitudes play a big role in our health, including the prevention of and recovery from illness. Being optimistic, believing that we are resilient and can deal with challenges and stress, and expressing ourselves authentically, can all lead to stronger immune systems, stronger hearts, and a higher state of well-being. It is also important to associate with others who uplift us, as their attitudes and habits tend to influence our own.
Rejuvenation: We need more rest nowadays than we did previously because we are now facing an avalanche of information to process, as well as too much change. We need time to withdraw to gather strength. There are many methods for rejuvenating the spirit, mind, and body, such as fresh air, ample sunlight, relaxation, quiet surroundings, harmonic music, deep breathing, water, deep sleep, laughter, proper nutrition, and being grateful.
Movement: Movement reenergizes us, strengthens the elasticity of our muscles, and boosts the flow of oxygen and blood throughout our bodies, especially to our brains, lungs, and heart. Movement helps move the fluids and toxins in our body so they don’t just sit there and cause disease. Movement is especially important as we age and if/when we are under stress or depressed.
Outdoors: Bombarded by technology, cars, pollution, processed foods, computers, and the stress of work, we can turn to nature and the great outdoors to help heal us. A simple solution is to bring nature into our homes and workplaces, but a more desirable solution is for us to spend time in nature as often as possible.
Moderation and Fasting: In our “Super Size Me” culture, some people are eating twice the calories recommended for them on a daily basis. Instead of indulging on special feast days, every day becomes a feast day. We turn to food when we feel stressed or when life is difficult, seeking in vain to reward ourselves with food, or use it to feel better about ourselves or our situation, to ignore unresolved emotional issues, or to escape from boredom.
We eat too much food for the amount of movement we do on a daily basis. Instead of eating 500 calories and working off 500 calories, we eat more and exercise less. Our overeating is literally making us sick. Our bodies are having a difficult time processing both the quantity of food and the artificial chemicals and other ingredients found in many of our processed foods. It is best to find a balance between too much food and too little. Fasting or voluntarily not eating certain foods can improve our health.
The Food Portion of “The OPA! Way” Lifestyle
The unexamined food is not worth eating! The foods we choose to eat play a major role in the early prevention of disease. If we eat low-quality food, or, as our cousin Elsa calls it, “plastic food,” we may be making ourselves sick.
Before we eat anything, we should ask ourselves a simple question: “Did this food come from the lab or from the land?” If the food is from the laboratory, it may be highly processed and may contain artificial ingredients, such as flavoring, coloring or dyes, preservatives, and sweeteners, the names of which we can barely pronounce. Our bodies may have a hard time processing some of these foreign ingredients, which may adversely affect our digestive organs. Foods developed in the lab may also have lower nutrient value per calorie when compared to foods that come to us from the land.
Each day we should ask ourselves, “What percentage of the foods I ate today came from the lab versus the land?” If we shift to more food from the land, over time, our taste buds will return to enjoying foods from the land and our craving for high-salt, high-sugar, high-fat, processed foods will decline.
The OPA! Way Lifestyle is focused mainly on the following high-quality, plant-based ingredients found in nature:
- Beans, Greens, Veggies, and Herbs: Beans are nutritious, are high in protein, and can be stored for winter. Leafy greens are high-nutrient/low-fat foods that can reduce inflammation, which is a cause of heart disease and cancer. Veggies (vegetables) are full of amazing antioxidants and phytochemicals that give us energy and slow the aging process. Vegetables are a good source of protein, provide fiber to aid in digestion, help regulate glucose metabolism, and strengthen our overall immune system. Herbs and spices can be used in place of salt, sugar, and heavy cream sauces.
- Grains and Nuts: Whole grains are healthier than highly processed, bleached breads that are low in nutrients and high in chemicals. Nuts that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the heart.
- Fruit: Raw fruit helps with digestion, is a great source of vitamin C, and, because it is slowly absorbed, does not cause the sugar high/sugar crash like other sugary desserts can do.
- Five Liquids of the Gods: These are olive oil, honey, lemon, water, and wine.
- Dairy: Some dairy products are high in fat, acidic, and difficult to digest, even though they may be a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamins B6 and B12.
- Fish: Fish (seafood) is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help thin the blood and keep it flowing. Fish oil is also believed to be good for fighting depression as well as for improving mental functions.
- Sweets, Treats, and Meats: It is best to limit sweets, treats, and meats for special occasions versus eating them every day.
In chasing “the good life,” many of us sacrifice our relationships, our health, and our sanity. Consider a holistic approach to “diet.” By connecting with others; finding deeper purpose; embracing a positive attitude; choosing rejuvenation, movement, the outdoors, and moderation; and shifting from lab- to land-based foods, we can all discover a more holistic and more meaningful way of living.