(This article is dedicated to the memory of Dr. John McDougall who passed away this past month. He was a luminary and one of the great pioneers of lifestyle medicine.  He taught us that potatoes are our friends and not our enemies and more importantly, he saved thousands of lives with diet and lifestyle. Thank you for all you have taught us and you will be missed.)

It’s hard to believe that we still need to have a discussion about smoking tobacco. It’s been 60 years.  The year was 1964, when the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Luther Terry, made the announcement that changed everything; smoking is hazardous to your health.  He announced that it was directly related to lung cancer, bronchitis, and probably coronary heart disease.  At that time, roughly 50% of adult Americans were smoking.  Doctors were even recommending certain brands over others to aid in digestion, and they were certainly smoking plenty themselves.  But that day, a process began that eventually became one of the greatest public health victories of all time.  More and more research and studies determined just how bad tobacco is for us and just how addictive nicotine, a main ingredient in cigarettes, is.  This began a series of public health measures which over decades has reduced the rate of smoking from the 50% in 1964 to 11.5%  of the adult population.  Less would be better but what a difference!  But now we got news 2 weeks ago that in Israel roughly 20% of adults are smoking.  In certain demographics, that number reaches as high as 50%!  We are going backwards.

After 1964, government, on both the national and local level, stepped in. Advertising was taken off of television and then eventually out of magazines, newspapers and billboards. It became socially unacceptable to smoke.  Smoking was only allowed in the back of the airplane and no smoking in the restrooms. Next, it was prohibited in restaurants and eventually, if you wanted to smoke in the workplace, you had to go outside of the building to a designated area.  Everyone knows, including those who still smoke, that this is a highly reckless and dangerous habit which shortens your life and causes untold suffering and disability. 

What happens when you use tobacco?  Smoking increases your chance of heart disease and stroke up to 4 times and you will have a 25 times greater chance of developing lung cancer and there is a risk or 12 other cancers as well. .  But that isn’t all.  You also increase your chances of lung diseases like COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), and asthma. Smoking causes fertility problems, pre-term births, various eye diseases and it increases your chance of diabetes by up to 40%.  Smoking causes general adverse effects on the body, including inflammation and decreased immune function and is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis.  I think you get the point. 

The bottom line is that we must begin to change our mindsets and start taking responsibility for our health.  They knew as early as 1950 that cigarettes cause harm to our health. They had to wait, for some reason, until there were 7,000 papers, studies and reports all concluding that tobacco is harmful.  But this goes beyond cigarettes! We know today, from thousands studies, about the absolute harm and damage done by eating ultra-processed foods.  Yet unlike cigarettes which carry warning labels and are heavily taxed to make them expensive, highly processed foods like hot dogs, pastrami and salami which are just as dangerous have no explicit warning label like on cigarettes. Here in Israel, we have those red circles warning us about excess salt, excess sugar, and excess fat.  For the average person, that doesn’t always translate to “this food is unhealthy for you.”  This all comes down to personal responsibility. 

When you go to put gasoline (petrol) in your automobile, you are feeding it the proper fuel.  You wouldn’t think of putting diesel fuel in it—even though it might run cheaper-because it will destroy your engine. You wouldn’t put the cheapest motor oil in either.  But when it comes to our bodies, we are willing to damage and pollute ourselves without thinking about the damage we are doing. So, will we continue smoking, eating terrible food, being sedentary and not sleeping and just figure the doctor will fix it? We continually put the wrong fuels and even poisons in our bodies.

By the time your doctor comes into play, the fire is already burning and needs to be extinguished. It is YOU who must prevent bad health outcomes as much as possible. It is YOU to who must make sure that that the fire remains extinguished. There is no pill or supplement that will magically do the trick.  How can this be accomplished?  The obvious first step is to quit smoking. That includes vaping which contrary to popular belief is as dangerous as cigarettes.   Change to a plant predominant, whole foods diet and get more active.

We now know after years and years of research that for most people, the best way to go about this is to just do it.  The baby steps approach may work for some, but for most, as uncomfortable as it might be for a few days or weeks, absolutely abstaining from an addictive behavior is the best route to overcome any addictive behavior.  In the case of food addiction, you are substituting non-addictive real foods in abundance instead of the food-like items we call junk food and instead of fat and cholesterol laced animal products.

No one can do this for you.  Coaches and people like myself can help you get on track with various motivational tools. Your doctor can try to come to the rescue after the fact.  But ultimately it is you, the individual who has the greatest opportunity to add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”

Alan Freishtat is a HEALTH and WELLNESS COACH and PERSONAL TRAINER with more than 25 years of professional experience. He is a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant Based Nutrition and has recently been appointed to the Council of the True Health Initiative.  Alan is director of The Wellness Clinic. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027