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By Leisa Wheeler N.D.
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Can You Trade Off Bad Habits?

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When I was 21, I moved overseas and ended up in a share flat with two beautiful girls from the USA. I can hardly believe it myself, but up until that point, I had never met anyone from America so I was not sure what to expect. In their own way, both taught me some amazing life lessons and helped steer me on the path towards being a naturopath. The first, through her love and passion for amazing, fresh, flavoursome healthy food, and the second, thorough her ‘interesting’ ideas about health, the human body, and habits that cancel each other out. I’ll call the latter Jess.

Every night after work, Jess would come home and make herself a drink. It looked a bit like red cordial made from a powder, with a generous splash of vodka and soda in place of water. Standing with her in the kitchen one day I discovered what the mysterious powder was. It was a sachet of liver detox herbs, coloured and flavoured to taste like raspberry. To this she added her vodka, telling me that she drank them together so the liver herbs would cancel out any of the damage the alcohol might do. Basically, she told me, she was just drinking sweet bubbly water and that was neither fattening nor liver damaging…

Although I was not yet on my path to becoming a naturopath, I was very interested in health, so we talked more about Jess’s individual tricks of the trade in regards to eating and drinking what she wanted while still staying ‘healthy’. Her other tips included skipping the next meal after a ‘naughty’ or over indulgent meal, buying sugar free sweets and chocolates because if it’s sugar free it’s not bad for you, and smoking only when out (because it is so smoky anyway, you might as well be smoking).

I know a lot of these opinions could very likely be the result of being young which we were, but I also know there are quite a lot of adults out there that play the trade off game. Perhaps not to the point of Jess and her red-aspartame-St Mary’s Thistle-vodka-tonic, but I often hear things along the lines of “I went to the gym today, so that means I can eat Maccas now!” So are there really practices you can adopt, that cancel out your bad habits? Let’s look further…

I just had to do this one first in remembrance of Jess! Alcohol is a toxic substance, no matter if you drink beer, cider, wine or spirits. In regards to this topic, quantity and quality are key. If you are having a glass of organic red wine on occasion, not binging, not suffering hangovers and not having more than 2 standard drinks per week, then your body is likely very able to deal with this toxic load.

If drinking is a regular occurrence for you, be it binging on the weekends or drinking to wind down every night, your body is likely to be suffering. Alcohol strips your body of many vital nutrients, including minerals and vitamins. The B-complex vitamins are especially vulnerable and are destroyed by alcohol. These vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well being. Deficiencies in B vitamins can trigger depression, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. Deficiencies of other nutrients cause by the consumption of alcohol can actually cause the negative feelings that frequently encourage individuals to have another drink. These nutrients include C, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, chromium, essential fatty acids and potassium.

So if you do happen to have a big night, or know you have a number of functions that you will be drinking at, it is a good idea to get yourself a good quality multi vitamin and mineral, with high doses of Bs, as well as the other nutrients mentioned above. This will not render the alcohol harmless by any means, but it will help to replace nutrients lost and possibly prevent some of the damage. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a trade off. Think of it as repeatedly scratching yourself in the one place while having the antiseptic and band aids ready. The more often you do it, the more likely you are to do some serious, permanent damage.

If you are a regular drinker, doing a targeted liver detoxification is advisable. This means avoiding alcohol for a period of time (usually 4 weeks), and using herbs and nutrients to encourage detoxification, healing and repair of the liver. For those who drink regularly, I would recommend this twice a year.

Junk Food
Junk food doesn’t just make us fat, it also makes us toxic. Just because you went to the gym today and feel like you worked off the fat and sugar from that chocolate bar, damage is still being caused through the forced use of your antioxidants, mopping up the free radical damage brought about by junk. The ‘bad’ part of junk food is not just the fat- it is also the chemicals, preservatives, sweeteners, flavours, additives and chemically rendered anti-nutrients that strip the body of vital components.

The reason we need to eat is to replace the macro and micro nutrients needed to run, build and repair the body. We eat to gain nutrition. When we choose a junk food, the body has to use up some of its precious resources in simply processing, detoxifying then eliminating this nasty compound. So while a trip to the gym may help burn up excess calories, it does absolutely nothing to repair the damage caused by the chemical cocktail that goes along with the calories.

Again, it is all about quantity and quality. If the majority of your diet is healthy, organic, high vegetarian in content, then the occasional junk food snack is not going to do too much harm. But unfortunately it is not possible to trade off exercise for junk food. It IS however, possible to trade off exercise for HEALTH food! If you have indulged in one piece of raw avocado cake too many, heading to the gym to burn off excess calories is entirely possible!

I was walking through Brisbane city the other night and caught myself thinking, “Honestly, do people STILL smoke?!?!” There is not much to say about this one. Jess thought that because the clubs and bars were so smoky (back in 2004), it didn’t matter if she actually inhaled the 2nd hand smoke or puffed away herself. Luckily, nowadays smoking has been banned in most restaurants, clubs and bars, so this excuse is no longer possible. We know smoking kills. We have known for a long time. Don’t do it.

I know of one avid smoker who got a herbalist to make him up bottles of ‘lung tincture’ to help reduce the damage caused by smoking. While this is an excellent idea for rehabilitation after quitting smoking, I tend to feel that this is the equivalent of trying to control a bushfire with a garden hose. Personally, I wouldn’t risk my health on it.

As you can see, the body is not a machine. Unfortunately you can’t just prevent or reverse damage that we willingly do through a gym session or a few herbs or supplements. We are far more complex than that, and our amazing, wondrous, mysterious physical body deserves better. The saying is true- treat your body like a temple, it’s the only place you have to live. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect. I like the occasional deep fried take away or night out. But I never use good habits as an trade off for bad habits. I don’t excuse my behaviour or find ways of making the bad habits every day and OK. I know occasionally my choices are not great for my health, and that’s why I do my best to live very well the majority of the time.

Love to Jess, wherever she is. Thank you for making me think and start asking questions about health.



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