Ignore Some Wellness Tips

Which Wellness Advice Can You Ignore?

April 17, 202414 min read

Which Wellness Advice Can You Ignore?




No Shortage of Health Advice

Today we’re going to talk about all the different health advice that’s we’re bombarded with on the regular.  There’s so much advice out there on the interwebs (haha).  There is certainly no shortage of people who are ready to tell you the one secret that will change your life.  There are hundreds of things you need to be doing, right?  Juicing celery every morning, taking B vitamins, never eating bananas, glute bridges, dry brushing your skin, gratitude journaling, drinking vinegar, getting vaccinated, getting labs drawn, wearing blue light blocking glasses, getting red light exposure, wearing zero drop shoes, eating cruciferous vegetables, making sure they’re organic, eating low carb, eating meat, not eating meat, eating dairy, not eating dairy, high-intensity exercise, low-intensity exercise, wearing sunscreen, getting natural sun exposure, getting all your nutrients from food, taking a boatload of supplements, getting gritty and working hard, being gentle with yourself, tracking your sleep, not worrying about things you can’t control.

Obviously we could all go on and on about this list.  We could easily triple its size in a matter of seconds.  So what we all need is more willpower to be able to do all these things.  If we beat ourselves up enough we’ll eventually start doing all the things we need to so we don’t have to slowly stop living before we die, right?  Hopefully you know that the answer to that is no.  Willpower is awesome and can be learned and trained, but the way to change is by feeling good, not by feeling bad.  And it’s not possible or necessary to do ALL the things.  So how in the world do you decide what you need to focus on?

Tools - An Analogy

My youngest son’s favorite store since he was a little kid is Home Depot.  He loves it.  I agree with him that it is kind of fun to go there.  I asked him what he loves about it so much and he said that he likes the smell of lumber and he thinks of the store as a big warehouse of possibilities. So many possible projects to complete.  There is no shortage of information and advice we could get about tools.  There are so many youtube videos and experts who can give us advice. Each tool will list its particular features. This one has a dust catcher, that one has rotary action.  This one is cordless.  That one is lighter. The other one has one key torque adjustment.

We could pretty easily get lost in a sea of information and advice.  Don’t get cordless.  Get cordless everything.  Only buy Milwaukee brand.  No, Porter Cable is just as good but less expensive.  Make sure your miter saw has a laser guide.  You need a router table.  Replace your saw blades before you think you need to.  Always wear safety glasses.  Measure twice, cut once.  Never buy premixed grout because it’s more expensive.  Always buy premixed grout because then you can’t mess it up.  Get a ratchet screwdriver, it’s easier and requires a lot less turning.  Don’t get one because they never work right and it’s easier to just turn the screwdriver.  (This is my opinion, I hate ours and secretly keep a stash of regular screwdrivers hidden so I can find a real one when I need one.)

There are some amazing tools that can do some really cool things.  From road asphalting machines to lego brick separator tools.  Jewelry tools to aircraft carrier tools.  My husband is building an acoustic guitar right now and there is a whole new world of luthier tools required to do that.  In just basic tools, there are hunting knives and violin knives and throwing knives and butcher knives and paring knives and cheese knives and bread knives and butter knives.  And clearly there are all kinds of other tools like software programs and apps and smart bulbs and eyelash curlers and nail files and mandolins and air fryers and self-watering plant pots.  We’re surrounded by a world of ever-improving tools, which is what makes modern life so amazing.  They’re all wonderful in their own way.

So why aren’t we all living our lives discouraged and confused about the best tools to collect?  You probably don’t feel bad about yourself if your neighbor has a band saw and you don’t.  Even if she really loves it and can tell you all the reasons it makes her life better.  Do you feel less of a person if you don’t know how to operate a multiple speed vertical drill press?  Ashamed that you don’t have a 45 foot fiberglass d-rung ladder to climb every day?  Why not?

A Means To an End

My favorite Merriam Webster definition of a tool is “a means to an end.”  Isn’t that so perfect?  A tool is a means to an end and it’s a lot easier to see tools from home depot that way.  You acquire tools to do a specific job required to complete a predefined project.  It’s much easier to select tools because you know exactly what you need them to do and for how long and what features make them stand out as more desirable for your particular needs than other options.  Some tools have certain features, some have multiple functions, some have more power.  Some get the job done faster, some are more accurate, some make a more aesthetically pleasing result.  Some are a great addition to fill the gaps in the capabilities of the tools you already own.  Some make a more stable build that will last longer and be able to take more abuse before falling apart.  Some are quieter, more convenient, or just generally more enjoyable to use.  Some look cooler than others.

You can read reviews, ask the home depot guy for advice, but the most valuable advice is going to come from someone who has successfully built the thing you’re working on.  What’s good enough and there’s no reason to get all the bells and whistles, and where is it in your best interest to pour all your resources into the best tool you can find?  Like the old saying goes, people don’t want a drill bit, they want a hole.

But why do you want a hole? Before you started wanting a hole, you had a vision for the finished result of your project.  If you’re smart, you have a written step by step plan to follow to create your masterpiece.  Especially if it’s a big project.  If you were to build a house from scratch, it would not go very well if you didn’t have a detailed plan and order of operations.  Excavation comes before framing, plumbing and electrical before finished carpentry.

You’d need a structural engineer to make sure it’s a safe structure that can withstand the most likely weather and natural disasters that could befall your location.  (I live in an area prone to earthquakes and radon gas, but no tornadoes, floods or hurricanes.)  An architect to help you design for aesthetics and for function.  How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you require?  Do you need a pizza room like George Clooney?  What’s your style?  A designer for more of the aesthetics that make things look good.  A general contractor to manage the project and keep all of the tradesmen informed, scheduled, paid and working at the correct times.  The individual craftsmen who specialize in their trade.  They show up with their specialized tools to do what they’re highly skilled at doing.  Plumbers with plumbing tools, tilers with tiling tools,  electricians, landscapers, carpenters and painters.  An inspector to make sure everything is up to code and safe.

If we were to remodel an existing house the process would be similar.  There would be a few more constraints to work within, but you could still turn it into your dream house.  Safety always comes first then function and then cosmetics.  The cosmetic things are what are the most fun things to talk about and pinterest about and research to most people, but they’re really not the most important part of the house.  Beautiful flooring installed over a crumbling foundation and pretty paint covering walls that are not structurally sound is not the house you want to live in.

Tools For Your Biology

Can you catch my drift here?  We’re not really talking about home construction.  Good thing, because I don’t know anything useful about it.  You have a home for your spirit to inhabit.  Unlike a house that gets built once and then needs only minor upkeep, your body needs more continual construction.  Fortunately, most of that can happen without you having to know a lot about ossification or mucin production or epithelial sloughing.  You can build your current home into your dream home within the constraints of your reality (like I’m never going to be 6’3” or wear size 5 shoes) but it’s not going to happen from buying a bunch of grout floats, carpenter’s squares, pipe wrenches and staple guns.  

But that’s usually how we approach health advice.  Biscuit joiners are awesome; your woodworking will never be very good without tight seams.  Just like the glycemic index is awesome; your health will never be very good without glycemic control.  But with house construction, we always start with a vision that we turn into a precise plan and then we pick the tools for the job that are most likely to create the outcome in that area that we have planned for.  With health and wellness we choose what seems like a good idea or what our friend says or what feels good.

What if we designed our health like a house?  Resilience and stability would still come first and we would design for the particular functions that we require to be able to do the things we need and want to do.  Aesthetics would still be secondary.  And more importantly, like with house construction (and unlike fitness advice!) we’d know the difference.  We’d know what has the outcome of improving our functionality or future functionality and what is merely cosmetic.  Not to say we can’t or shouldn’t care about cosmetic results, we just need to know when that’s all we’re gonna get out of that tool.  

Start With A Plan

health plans dictate your tactics

We would need to consider what are the most likely weathering forces that will beat down our house?  Some are universal and easy to plan for.  Basic changes of aging that happen to all of us but can be pre-planned for and drastically slowed.  Some are particular to us and our particular body.  Are we particularly prone to any certain challenges due to family history or past medical issues?  Kind of like how I live in an earthquake zone that is often windy and snowy but also quite dry.  And we need to know exactly what it’s important for our house to be able to do.  I would never want a swimming pool but I know there exist people who do.  What do you still want to be able to do 20, 30, 40 years from now?  And like a house, what price are you willing to pay for those amenities?  Are they really your top priority?  What do they mean to you, deep down?

I think we spend so much of our precious attention and energy learning about and talking about tools and then blaming and shaming ourselves for not having used our tools enough.  Thinking that if only we had used our impact driver more, we’d have the secret bookshelf we always wanted.  Huh?  Did you ever want a house with a secret passageway behind a bookcase?  I must have watched a lot of movies as a kid, but I’ve always thought that was the coolest.  Oftentimes our frustration at ourselves and our lack of willpower for not getting the health results we want is really just because what we need to do is see the barrage of wellness advice for what it is - a collection of tools.  We know that tools are just a means to an end.  They can be incredibly powerful, but you don’t pick the tool (no matter how cool it is) first and then hope that using it will result in the completed project that you want.  And you don't feel morally corrupt for not using a brushless planer when everyone else is talking about how great theirs is.

You thoughtfully design your project with intelligent engineering and then use tools to strategically create the specific elements of that project that you have purposefully designed for and for which that tool is the best tool for the job.  Not the other way around.  This is why we’re not all constantly overwhelmed by the amount of tools available for purchase.  Right?  They're just a means to an end.  

Change How You Think About Health Behaviors

This is how I’d encourage you to think about and architect your future.  Especially in terms of your physiologic health.  All the things you hear about, including a lot of the things on this podcast, are just tools that might help you construct the reality that you want.  But only invest in them if you’re reasonably sure they’re the best way to move your specific and well thought through project forward.  And just like if you were building a house, you don’t have the bandwidth to focus on the nuanced differences of a bunch of electrician’s tools when you’re still working on digging the foundation.  Follow the correct order of operations and forget about all the other nonsense.  And no matter how many people use and love theirs, you don’t need a waterproof membrane sealing tool if you don’t plan to install a swimming pool at your house.

I hope this is helpful to you as you think about how in the world to deal with all of the healthy tips, hacks, ideas, and habits that are sold to you as your potential savior and make you feel like you’re a bad person if you don’t or can’t keep up on them.  It’s not immoral or shameful to not use socket wrenches and if they’re not instrumental in creating the outcome that matters to you then you shouldn’t have to give them a second thought.  Or if you’re not to that part of your plan yet, don’t worry about them yet.  There’ll be plenty of time for that later

Most People Don’t Know What They Really Want.

Always start with what exactly your vision is for your future.  Most people don’t know what they really want.  Figure it out and get specific.  It makes everything easier.  My favorite quote of all time is from the Roman philosopher Seneca and a newer quote I recently heard also from him is becoming one of my newer favorites: “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”  Know where you’re sailing to.  Then figure out how best to create what you really really want and what is most likely to undermine your success.  I’d be happy to talk those things through with you as you create your plan.  Suboptimal muscle mass, a suboptimal population of bacterial allies (especially in your gi tract), suboptimal metabolic/mitochondrial function, reduced insulin sensitivity, impaired immune system functioning, suboptimal cardiorespiratory function, chronic inflammation, low bone density, impaired body mechanics, mobility and balance are a few of the things that commonly get in the way of what most of us are trying to create as we age.  We can account for all of those as we design your personal plan to create a life you’re proud of.

And the cool thing is that a lot of health tools are like a hammer- fundamentally useful for several different parts of your project, easy to master, inexpensive and will last a lifetime.  Hammers aren’t the sexiest tool or the one that gear freaks will make instagram reels about or whatever the cool kids do these days, but they get so many jobs done and are where you should start.  When you’ve mastered the use of a hammer and it has become second nature to you, adding a screwdriver will not be overwhelming.  Once you’ve got that down, adding one more tool will be the next logical step.

Thank you so much for spending your precious time listening today.  Turn off the messages of overwhelm by thinking of health advice as just optional tools you can pick up if you want to and if they will help you build what you want for your future based on the clear plan you have for yourself.  Once you get past the learning curve, using tools becomes second nature and genuinely enjoyable and you can start creating even more impactful projects just for the joy of seeing what you’re capable of.  That sounds way more fun to me.  Next week we’re going to talk about how you’re a loser.  And how that can be awesome.  Until then, see tools for what they really are and only worry about using the ones that will create the result you have designed for and don’t be normal.

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Christina Hackett, Pharm.D.

Healthspan Coach and founder of The Health Courage Collective

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