Better Living through Travel & Other Cultures

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I just came back from 2.5 weeks abroad, and while I was gone, I celebrated another birthday!  I feel like I’ve eaten, read, seen and experienced so much that enlightened my thinking on this trip…and I was reminded that I will never be too old to learn, or unwilling to improve.

Here are some random things I learned:

I read an article in the NY Times, thanks to my wonderful husband Jeff, that outlined the steps on how to make a big decision…and honestly, it is so in line with how I have always tried to help my kids make decisions like how to select a high school, or decide where to live…and it was a wonderful reminder to do this for EVERY big decision in life.  Here is my summary of the steps outlined by Steven Johnson in the 9/2/18 NY Times article titled “How to Make a Big Decision”:

  1. Force yourself to come up with alternatives

  2. Diversify your advisors to include people that don’t think like you

  3. Think around the corners of each option.  Understand the risks and what failures may look like.  Come up with a strategy for how you will work through the failure in each situation.

  4. Make a spreadsheet.  For those of you that know me, this is something I do often….so much so that my husband bragged about it in his toast at our wedding.  The key here is to create criteria that are important to you and give a value for each criteria for each alternative.

  5. Then, ADD IT ALL UP …and see which option is the WINNER…. see how it sits with your gut.  Are you happy about the outcome? 

  6. Finally make the decision.  You do not have to choose the WINNER, as long as you can get comfortable with your plan for dealing with failure if you choose one of the other alternatives.

You have to be brave before you can succeed.
— Hearts Beat Loud

I also heard this great quote from the movie Hearts Beat Loud,  in which a friend of the lead actress says…”You have to be brave before you can succeed.”  This makes a lot of sense to me because if you are brave, you will try, and may fail, but if you aren’t brave, you won’t try anything, and you will never have the chance to see if you are good at something new.

In addition to the decisions we make about our own lives, we also have to make decisions, big and small, about how we interact with others.  In a NY Times magazine article from 8/12/18 by Chris Montana on Yoga, taught by a brilliant, heavy-set, lesbian, black instructor, Jessamyn Stanley, she shared some great life advice which eloquently captures the way I have tried to live the latter part of my life…

  • When people judge you, try & come to a place of understanding that they are putting their baggage onto you, but you don’t have to be beholden to it

  • You don’t have to explain or apologize for who you are

  • When you show up… be yourself

  • If you don’t like the choice you made, you don’t have to keep doing it

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And, following that same thread, when we do not judge people, but rather accept them for who they are along with their circumstances… and in particular, when you go the extra mile to help someone…you feel lighter.  On a flight to London from Lisbon, we had a woman sitting in the row behind us that was coughing up a storm.  My instinct was to share some doTERRA’s Respiratory blend essential oil, which I happened to have with me, to help her, but I sat their for an hour contemplating it.  I didn’t know whether she spoke English, or what she might say, or how she would feel, getting something she may not recognize from a total stranger.  My husband, who is typically extroverted in the extreme, had cautioned restraint. But when I finally worked up the courage and offered it to her, it was a delightful experience.  Turns out she was British, she was genuinely thankful, and it actually helped her get through the flight.  She thanked me again at the end of the trip, and it made me happy that I had done this for someone else, expecting nothing in return. 

Helping people is where it’s at!  

Later that same evening, I helped an old woman, once we’d arrived at the airport, who had lost the wheel on her shopping cart, by simply bending down to put it back on so she didn’t have to.  A few minutes later, it fell off again, and I saw another young man help her by affixing what looked like a headphone cord around it to secure it.  As I watched her thank him, it reinforced this feeling that HELPING is an elixir.  

I believe that for each kind deed we perform, we get to forgive ourselves for something we didn’t do well.  We lighten our load which improves our self-image. 

I read a book review recently, in a magazine called “The Lady”, (October 5 issue), in which Melonie Clarke highlighted a book called Kindfulness.  This self-help book by author Caroline Millington goes into detail about the importance of being kind to ourselves, but also stresses the need to take responsibility for one’s own happiness.  Here are the top 10 ‘Kindfulness Commandments’, which I’ve paraphrased, that sum-up the article very nicely as a great guide to live by:

  1. Stop feeling guilty

  2. Treat your body with kindness and learn to love it

  3. Make time for you

  4. Take regular breaks from your phone and social media

  5. Be more compassionate toward yourself

  6. Accept that you can’t change everything & everybody but you can change yourself

  7. Put your own needs first and be positively selfish

  8. Set boundaries in all relationships

  9. Love yourself

  10. Be a Badass (when required)

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In addition to mental stimulation and tips about dealing with emotions, I also had the fortune to indulge in gastro-intestinal stimulation! The food in Europe is amazing!  Croissants & Bread & Pastries that are flaky, crusty, warm and delicious served with real butter…Vegetables and Fruit that burst with flavor and color…Gelato that is creamy and delicious……and chocolate that is rich and pure!  It is NOT a mystery…why the food is marvelous… It is simply food that is handmade with ALL natural ingredients.…unprocessed everything, no growth hormones, no High Fructose Corn Syrup… just plain delicious and satisfying. Portions are smaller, but there are no sacrifices, there is more enjoyment in a smaller package, accompanied with delightful engagement with other people.

As I ate my way through England, France, Germany, The Czech Republic (Prague) and Portugal, I did a lot of people watching.  I observed that most people in Europe are NOT obese!  Some are heavier than others, but in general, it is more like when we “50-somethings” were kids, in the 70’s, and there was only an occasional heavy person here or there in the US.  In Europe they definitely move around more than in the US…walking, biking, hills and stairs. While there were lots of bike riders and runners, I believe that their physical fitness can also be attributed to the better quality of food, and their daily level of movement.  As a nutrition coach, I encourage all of us Americans to follow this European example!

  Ladurée  Restaurant in CDG Airport

Ladurée Restaurant in CDG Airport

As I observed people on this journey, I also realized that people become victims of their circumstances, their culture and their surroundings.  But, those that rise above it, with a sense of purpose, and seize every interaction as an opportunity to grow and make a difference, are the people that are happy, and are the ones that eventually succeed in life!  My husband is like this, and I am so proud of him for it!  We met a genuinely wonderful waiter named Evan in the Paris airport, and we learned all about his passion for the USA, the authors and movies he enjoys, all while receiving impeccable service.  My husband and I exchanged email addresses with him, and have agreed to stay in touch!  How cool to have a “pen pal from Paris” at our age…and who knows where that relationship will go?!   We also met a couple salesmen in Lisbon that were absolutely delightful, and willing to share everything from coming fashion trends to restaurant recommendations.  We didn’t buy anything in their store, but I wish we would have, just to give something back to them!  This was in stark contrast to a store in Prague that had no interest in me whatsoever, and their only concern was the store policy, even after I spent a couple hundred Euro there.

We visited old churches, palaces, bridges and cemeteries in the various countries we visited. Hundreds of years ago, they built things that lasted!  I noticed that in addition to the structures holding up, the people lived a surprisingly long time too!  Typical gravestones showed average age was 80-90 years…and that’s pre-medicine!!    

As I contemplated this, I thought about people in the US vs. Europe.  Today, people in the US, the world’s wealthiest country, are getting heavier all the time, and it isn’t our fault.  It’s crappy food grown with growth hormones and laced with synthetic processed chemicals, like HFCS.  This same population is at greater risk of inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. My husband even read a recent article showing an alarmingly high rate of colorectal cancer in persons younger than 40, tied to obesity-related inflammation.  We have to stand together to demand cleaner food and take control of our own healthcare!  Now!

As an example, why do we accept medicines approved by the FDA that have side effects which can lead to “impaired vision, rectal failure, etc.,” but push back on natural solutions…such as herbs and essential oils…which have been around for thousands of years!  The latter have more positive experiential data than many FDA approved drugs, and have no negative side effects when used as suggested?!

In the 9/9/18 edition of the NY Times Magazine, Johnson & Johnson took out a 2 page ad titled “When it comes to personal care products, Is Natural Always Better?”  In it, they set out to debunk common myths about natural and chemical ingredients. 

  • In response to the thought that chemical free products are the safest…they argue that everything contains chemicals from the air you breathe to the broccoli you eat!  Hello J&J, we are concerned about the pollution and the chemicals in our food!  We are worried about the synthetic, man-made chemicals, not the chemical makeup of the world…and it has nothing to do with how long the word is, or whether we have heard of it, or not. 

  • In response to the thought that essential oils are purer and safer than artificial fragrances, they actually have the audacity to say that man-made fragrances are safer because they are carefully formulated..and that essential oils are not safe because some can contain allergens.  Can you imagine anyone trying to argue that a synthetic lemon furniture polish is safer than smelling a real lemon because that could be someone allergic to lemon?  I wonder why J&J would say that other than to protect the future of their own business enterprise.

  • They actually argue that preservatives are necessary in order to keep products in humid environments around for long periods of time.  Honestly, this too sounds like a sales pitch, so that you will buy their supersize shampoo full of chemicals.  Essential oils, natural soap, baking soda, DIY scrubs made from sugar, salt, etc., can last for years, and do not need preservatives.

These big companies think they can twist words around and manipulate the facts to make us believe whatever advertising message they choose.  It reminds me of “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the Frank Capra classic, when George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, says to Mr. Potter, the evil wealthy antagonist in the film, “You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money! Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter! In the, in the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!”.  And it doesn’t have to if we fight back like George Bailey did!

Think about all the ways we have been mislead by manufacturers throughout our history…the tobacco industry gave us cigarettes and told us they were cool…until we started dying of lung cancer; the artificial sweetener industry gave us saccharine and told us this was a way to reduce sugar and lose weight….until we found it could cause cancer (and that artificial sweeteners in general, can actually make you crave more sugar); and then there’s trans-fats found in margarine and other baked good, a cheap replacement for butter, until the FDA banned the use of trans-fats in 2013, because they contained “artery-clogging PHOs which could no longer be considered safe for human consumption”…and the list goes on, and on.  J&J has everything to lose if you choose to avoid chemicals in your personal care products, and like the other industries mentioned above, they do NOT have your best interest at heart!  Are we going to wait 50 years until it is proven that chemicals in our personal care products in fact cause cancer, or some other life threatening disease?! Join me in saying NO THANK YOU! 

Who exactly are you trusting with your care? And why did you decide to trust them in the first place?
— NY Times Magazine from 7/29/18, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

This reminded me of a great nugget which I took away from another NY Times Magazine (7/29/18) article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on GOOP, Gwenyth Paltrow’s business.  She asked…”who exactly are you trusting with your care? And why did you decide to trust them in the first place”?

What can we learn from history about corporate America and their protection of our health, and our food?  Are decisions being made with our health and nutrition in mind? Do you really want to give someone else the power to make decisions about your well being? The old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ has never been more apropos! 


 

I have summed up all of these physical and mental experiences in a few simple questions…  

  • Why not be BRAVE and make the BIG decisions that will turn your life into something you love…the life you were born to live…before it’s over?

  • How about you let go of the anger and hate and love yourself, and show a little kindness to others? 

  • Why would you pursue anything, other than the BEST for yourself and your family?  

  • Why would you choose anything that isn’t beautiful, natural & clean?  

I challenge you to carefully choose how you nourish and care for your body, your family and your homes…after all, it truly could be a life or death decision. 

xoxo

Matilda

Carol Smith