As the year 2020 edges toward us with new hopes, desires and goals, some of you may have noticed that I am switching my tag line “Live your Best Life” (which is a bit of an overused slogan) to “Live your Best Lifestyle and Style your Best Life”. In an effort to align my coaching business and my physician practice, the word “lifestyle” has a real resonance for me; over the past year or two, I’ve been able to explore it’s power both personally and professionally.
In my personal life, I think I’ve always been attuned to healthy habits; but what I have discovered along the way is that we all have certain autopilot habits that we never seem to examine until things start to break down. For me that habit was sleep. Or lack thereof.
You see, many years ago, I had gotten myself into a really dysfunctional rhythm of working late into the night and surviving on about 5.5- 6 hours of sleep per night. I know a lot of people who function on this amount of sleep (or less!) and it all seems fine until it’s not. The brain starts to feel a bit foggy and efficiency starts to go downhill. Emotions are more fragile. Moods are more labile. Resiliency tanks. The immune system is more susceptible. Stress feels more intense. The body’s metabolism starts to slow down. Carb cravings intensify. These things creep on so slowly, one might not even notice it.
“How did I get here, and what’s gotta give?”, I asked myself. I couldn’t see any way to lessen my workload. I had talked myself into this fallacy that there was no other way to operate.
Fortunately, right around this time, I was starting my health coaching career and I was learning the art of habit change. In order to help others, I first had to take a good hard look at my own lifestyle habits and fix the ones that were not working for me.
Here’s the beautiful thing that happened: as I was able to make small changes to the most basic, foundational lifestyle habits (like getting more quality sleep) I felt so much better, that it propelled me to make more changes. I began to meditate for stress reduction. I then started practicing yoga every morning. I began to drink more water and cut back on sugar. I stopped eating ice cream every night (which is no small feat in the LaBonte household)! That led to a habit of getting more cardio exercise consistently. My stress reduction campaign at the office improved by adding aromatherapy and relaxing music in the background. We even added a meditation room for all of the staff to use. I made it a point to do self-care consistently, whether it was a massage or journaling, or connecting with friends, playing music, or going on a date night.
All of these small changes amounted to big benefits in how I felt. But here’s the thing: each of these changes were very deliberate and intentional. I had to first tackle one small habit. Take it off auto pilot. Examine it. Figure out what the story or lie was that kept the habit in a loop. Then I had to decide what I needed to give up to make space for a new habit to form. (It’s kind of like re-doing your living room. If you want to make a really big impact, you gotta get rid of the old furniture before you bring in the new).
So how does all this habit change relate to Lifestyle Medicine, and what exactly is that? According to the College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), it’s practice involves “addressing the root causes of disease with evidence-based therapies in lifestyle behaviors such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress”. In August of 2018, I was able to go to a nutrition conference in D.C. with my two colleagues and it was put on by the ACLM. It was filled with doctors that believed what I believed: that food and exercise and stress reduction and sleep are medicine. That we can prevent and cure diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, sleep apnea and hyperlipidemia through lifestyle modification, not by constantly prescribing pills!
Over the years, I had often thought of myself as the “non-medicine doctor”, as it would often pain me to give someone a pill to fix something that I knew could be cured with a change of habits. And now, I had found my tribe! Not only that, but as I continued to research, I found Harvard Medical School has a center for Integrative Medicine (the practice of utilizing both traditional and alternative medicine for the benefit of the patient), and Mass General Hospital has the Benson-Henry Institute which works to integrate mind-body medicine into mainstream healthcare. But the cherry on the top is the gem in my own back yard: Jon Kabat-Zin, the world renowned father of mindfulness, started the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School – my alma mater.
As I come full circle, I realize that my health, my personal life, my coaching and my physician practice are all aligned on the principles of self care. Yes, it’s as basic as 2+2=4. When you get back to these major lifestyle elements: sensible clean eating, exercise, limiting alcohol, drinking more water, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, managing stress, and fostering a sense of community with others, you feel better. You not only feel better, you prevent disease. But it goes even beyond that. When we recognize the importance of the mind-body connection, we can incorporate things such as the relaxation response, breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness, Tai-Chi, yoga and more into our daily practice to enhance our resiliency and feel even better.
So as I bring to you my new tagline “Live your Best Lifestyle and Style your Best Life”, I blend my personal and professional values all together with a common core belief: Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about what you make happen. When you “style” your best life, it’s really about crafting it, choosing it, and creating it. On purpose. None of these lifestyle choices happen by accident. You have to mindfully and intentionally make them happen, But who better to have in your corner than me?
If you’re thinking about making that first small change and you need help with accountability, focus, or getting out of your own way, schedule a call with me. I’d love to talk with you and see how I can help.
For more info on Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Mass General Hopsital, check out: https://www.bensonhenryinstitute.org/mission-history/
For Harvard Medical School’s center for Integrative Medicine, check out: https://oshercenter.org/
For the UMass Center for Mindfulness, check out: https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/