My brother David
My brother David is a trucker. Little Buddha in a massive frame, he has helped me understand what trucking is, beneath all the smoke and mirrors. Contrary to what the long days can feel like, it’s not about the deadlines, or dealing with the pressures from dispatch. It’s not about the regs, the angry person at the warehouse, or the isolation.
It’s about remembering who you are. As he said, “We’ve lost our way a bit, but we used to consider ourselves the guardians of the freeways…A brotherhood that looks out for each other and for those who need our help.” He still prides himself on stopping when he can to help a fellow trucker or motorist in need, but said the pressures to keep it moving are more intense today.
That got me thinking. Who got us through the pandemic, especially during those early days, when most of the world froze? Truckers. Who kept the grocery stores open, and the hospitals shelves filled with supplies so that lives could be saved? Truckers.
If the highways and freeways are the arteries and veins of this country, then the truckers (you) are its lifeblood, carrying the nutrients to all corners and states, red, white, and blue.
As a physician, I can also tell you that professional drivers – you – generally don’t take care of yourselves, mind, body, or soul. You’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done, and may even give the shirt off your back, but tend to your own deeper needs for a real and healthy life? Crickets. Did you know that the average life expectancy of a trucker is 61 years of age? That’s lower than any other profession, including firemen. And even though long-haul trucking is only one percent of all the jobs out there, it accounts for a quarter of all workplace deaths.
This is a fixable problem. I’m not saying it’s easy. Systemic problems exist. Sleep problems are intertwined with irregular schedules, obesity, and sleep apnea – it’s not just one thing. The same is true for nutrition. It isn’t just that there’s nothing healthy at the truck stops or the restaurants available to you when you’re on the road and need to keep the wheels turnin’. But there’s a lot you can do. What I propose here is a new way of thinking.
We’ve known for years that we are the most medicated nation on earth. We are four percent of the world’s population, but take 85 percent of the world’s opiates. And it’s not just opiates, it’s medications for just about anything you can think of. Now, I’m not against medications. I prescribe them every day and they save lives. What I am against is using them as your main strategy for creating health and wellbeing and creating a life that works.
Taking your medications will help you tread water, and may buy you some time, but they aren’t going to solve the problem with your blood sugar, your blood pressure, your sedentary life, or the weight that you’ve been gaining over time. They may improve your numbers in the immediate moment, and sharply lower your immediate risk of a stroke, heart attack, or diabetic neuropathy, but they will not heal the reasons why you eat unhealthy foods, why you know much less about nutrition and great-tasting foods that heal your body and mind than you think you do, or why you feel so depleted and worn out that you no longer care, and just grab what’s available.
We could talk about why this is true from any number of angles. Since we, as Americans, are taking most of the medications in the world, it’s important to point out that the pandemic has exposed us as far and away the sickest nation on earth. Why is that? A lot of it is our diet, and the way we neglect our deeper needs for authentic wellbeing as well as genuine love and connection.
Here’s the first steps toward a new life and body. If you can for the most part eliminate sugar and refined flours from your life, you will be much better off, and might be shocked at how your health improves.
Did you know that a bit over 100 years ago, the average person ate 4 pounds of sugar per year? Now sugar is in nearly everything and the average American consumes 154 pounds of sugar each year. Our bodies simply are not designed to metabolize that kind of load.
It’s hidden in the breads and pastas you eat as refined or enriched flours (which are basically sugar), in the sauces in your burgers, and often even in your meats. The Supreme Court in Ireland recently ruled that the rolls used in the sandwiches at Subway, even beyond the enriched flour, have too much sugar in them to be called bread.
At the microscopic level, sugar molecules careen through your bloodstream in such a way that their sharp edges repeatedly make small cuts in your artery walls. The brilliant cells of your immune system rush to the site and work their magic, repairing the wounds and patching you up. But, over time, if you keep taking in all that sugar and refined or enriched flours, those scars are going to keep piling up. Scar on top of scar is called chronic inflammation, and it’s this that underlies so many of the illnesses from which people suffer – atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and autoimmune illness. Even depression and anxiety are associated with chronic inflammation. It’s simply a reality that you’re going to be a lot more susceptible to illnesses of both body and mind if you’re quietly but surely building chronic inflammation in your body and brain. When stress does happen, as it surely does, your body can’t adapt.
And this isn’t the only problem. If you are constantly diverting the superpowers of your brilliant immune system cells to the ongoing work of constant repair, and also feeding them crap or keeping them bathed in the stress hormones of cortisol, adrenaline, or norepinephrine, they are going to eventually wear out. They will become sluggish and will also begin to make mistakes, attacking your body instead of the pathogen.
Auto Immune Disease
The word “auto-immune disease” means “self-attacking immune system.” In other words, it’s an immune system gone awry. Most of the major killers in the United States and all other countries that have adopted the western diet are auto-immune disorders, no matter whether at a more superficial level we call them diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, cancer, or something else.
Professional drivers know better than nearly everyone that if you put the wrong kind of fuel into your truck you’re going to have problems. The same is true for our bodies and minds. The only difference is that trucks are replaceable. Your body and mind are not.
Taking a medication and only treating the symptoms is like seeing a red light on your dash and cutting the wire to the light instead of fixing the problem. No professional driver is going to do that. But when it comes to your mind and your body? It happens all the time.
Your symptoms are a message that something in your life is out of whack, either your nutrition, the way you are managing your stress, or the fact that you are not fixing whatever it is that is missing in your life and building a life on what is right and great about you.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: you don’t have a blood pressure problem, a diabetes problem, a heart problem, weight problem, a lung, drinking or autoimmune problem. More fundamentally, you have a chronic inflammation problem, caused by a combination of poor nutrition, inadequate stress management, anxiety, depression, and some false beliefs about your value and who you are.
It takes concentrated effort to reverse chronic inflammation in your body. I’m aware that there’s little food that is both healthy and great-tasting at the truck-stops or at most of the restaurants available to you. It’s also true that most doctors and even nutritionists know little about genuine nutrition. The trifecta of industry, academics who are paid to get or sign off on certain results, and the interaction of this with lobbyists and government recommendations has created stockpiles of misinformation and confusion. I apologize for a medical profession that has been taught to medicate rather than helping you change and heal your life.
Briefly, for now I recommend either Dean Ornish’s excellent book, Undo It: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases, or mine, Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life. It’s a hard learning curve at first. Real effort is required to learn about healthy foods and how to integrate them into your life in a way that you end up with great-tasting foods that are healthy, convenient, and affordable. But, if you’re like me, you’ll see your body and weight transform itself before your eyes, realize that you are going to be much healthier than your friends going forward, and you will feel and look great. And then realize that all the fuss and resistance was about not knowing what you didn’t know and the resistance to change. I lost 40 pounds without trying and now know that if you give yourself nutritionally dense foods (beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes like peanut butter, sprouted bread, etc.), it’s not about dieting or restricting. Your body quits triggering the hunger mechanism once you are eating nutritionally dense foods instead of empty calories that lack vital nutrients. I’m sorry to say that most Americans are malnourished and starved to obesity (emilyboller.com).
Finally, let me just say this. It is a lot to learn. But great podcasts and audible books increasingly have truer information. You can also temporarily get a coach to help you learn and hold you accountable. And speak to your employer and let him or her know that there’s a business case to be made for investing in the health and well-being of professional truckers. Together, by working on all the pieces of this we can change the culture and, in doing so, make sure that you end up with a healthy mind and body and a life that really works.