This article was originally published as an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on 24 Aug. 2023:https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-755944
Psychologist Julian B. Rotter developed the term “locus of control” and the idea behind it, in 1954. Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces, have control over the outcome of events in their lives. To put it in the vernacular – am I in charge or is it people and forces on the outside who are running my show?
Health care, or more accurately sick care, has manifested itself over the last 100+ years, as external, rather than internal, control of individual health. For the vast majority of people, we are healthy until we aren’t. When we have health concern- whether a bad cold, bronchial infection, or some chronic disease like type 2 diabetes – we seek medical care from a trained physician. The doctor may be able to solve the issue by giving an antibiotic for a bacterial infection. A doctor can at least make you feel more comfortable until the illness, like a virus, passes.
In essence, we’re on fire and our doctors are fire fighters that need to put the fire out. Often doctors will use a pharmaceutical or invasive procedure. Certainly, the doctor’s role is an important and many times a lifesaving task. This has developed into a total reliability on our doctors regarding how to handle everything concerning our health.
Sometimes, the government exerts control. Most countries have recommendations on how to eat a healthy diet. In America, they once had a food pyramid, which today is called My Plate. The problem is that those lobbying for a related industry heavily influence these parameters for “healthy” eating and lifestyle. The dairy industry, the egg industry, the cattleman, the national beverage association and the national restaurant association are but a few organizations exerting their influence on legislative bodies on both the local and federal levels. This in turn skews the final information disseminated to the public. Health considerations easily can take a back seat.
In 1977 the McGovern commission, officially known as the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, had to walk back most of their dietary recommendations. Why? Big Food wielded it’s influence and bullied them into retracting most of their initial findings. The government cannot be relied on for proper information on staying healthy.
There are entire industries aimed at exerting control over how we perceive what is healthy and what isn’t. These industries are very good at controlling the narrative on forming the incorrect paradigms we have formed regarding health. I’m talking about big food and big pharm. Big food knows how to get us to believe their products are all safe and tasty. Big pharm knows how to convince us they are producing the cure-all. They took their lessons from big tobacco back in the 1960’s, and have done even better.
Processed food products are addictive so we can’t help but keep buying and eating them. Many of the common pharmaceuticals we are told to take are not nearly as effective as they are made out to be. Yet, they are exerting much control over our health. Big food wants us to keep buying their unhealthy products and big pharm pretends to have the answers to illnesses. Michael Moss’s book “Hooked,” reveals that the processed food industries purposefully addict us to their products. WHAT BIG FOOD IS DOING TO US IS NO ACCIDENT!
We must be the locus of control for our health
The medical system has very little interest in preventative medicine—it’s not very profitable. That means we must prioritize lifestyle habits that benefit us. We are doing a lot better in that area but we have a very long way to go. A new survey conducted a few months ago showed that in the United States, the amount of people eating the “ideal diet” was 0.7% of the population. Exercise is a little better with just over 24% meeting weekly guidelines. On the sleep front, 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, and 1 in 3 adults (about 84 million people) do not regularly get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health. The result of all of this is a society where more adults are sick than are well.
One of the greatest tragedies we are now witnessing is the onset of chronic and autoimmune diseases at much earlier stages of life. We are seeing incidence of colon cancer 10 years earlier than we used to. Stroke and heart disease are occurring earlier. No one else can do what you can do and, your health is certainly in your best interest. Without our health, our ability to do what we need to do and want to do becomes greatly impeded.
We know beyond a doubt that the greatest influences on health are what we eat, how well we sleep, controlling stress, and getting some exercise and activity. There isn’t a pill that will take the place of any of these lifestyle factors. But how do I get there?
Let’s be practical
Dr. Melinda Mann pointed out at the Whole-food, Plant-based Kosher Conference in Jerusalem this year, that we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good (success). Every change, large or small, makes a difference. Adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to our diet already brings better health. Couple that with getting rid of ultra-processed food and greatly minimizing animal proteins, including eggs and dairy, and your health and wellness will improve. This can easily be done without deprivation. Can you walk 30 minutes daily? If not, try 15 or 20. Disconnect from your devices earlier in the evening and go to sleep earlier—it all makes a difference.
The Jewish New Year is only a few weeks away. We will wish each other a happy and healthy year to come. Consider what a healthy and vibrant year looks like as opposed to sickness and lethargy. The studies and statistics show that about 80-85% of health is under your control. You’re in charge of your health. Yes, it can be hard at the beginning. But commit to the next three weeks. You will come into Rosh Hashanah feeling wonderful and vibrant. YOU are the locus of control. And it is YOU that can “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”