Convenience Comes at a Cost

Sometimes sweating the small stuff can make a big difference in the future health of our bodies and the environment.

In the 1980's, when there was great concern about the depletion of the ozone layer, 6th graders like Avril James Maynard were being influenced by the lessons taught in Environmental Science class. Learning how animal waste and emissions impact the planet changed Avril's way of eating from that time forward. Today, 35 years later and with a Master of Public Health degree, Avril sets the example for clean eating as well as clean living. She relishes her dream job working for Piedmont Heart Institute - Fayette and Newnan, and embodies commitment and discipline in her role as Southside Women's Heart Program Coordinator.

How do you define clean living?

It's a combination of things - food, home, lifestyle, self-reliance - but the first thing most people think about when they hear 'clean living' is food choices. Whole and simple foods - avoiding things that don't look like they would if you could access them in nature. The more things have moved away from what they actually look like, that's the opposite of 'clean'.

In taking care of my skin, I use products I can read the labels on and understand what's in them. I take time to look up scientific terms to find out how safe they are and what they were derived from.

Making cleaning products is a viable and healthy way to disinfect my home. A little spray of bleach after you do your sanitizing will eliminate surface germs. Hydrogen peroxide can be used to disinfect as well. Minimizing my home by cutting back on clutter and spending more time in nature just feels good.

It's also about portability - even for the exercises I do. I use a spin bike at home, but I'm also a hiker and I do yoga. These are things I can do with my own body. I don't have to worry if a pandemic comes. I'm still able to exercise.

What are the benefits of clean living?

There is science-backed evidentiary support that cutting out chemicals and preservatives - things you can't pronounce and can't go to a store and purchase on your own - protects you from possible premature illness and death. I understand the idea of buying-in because we like the convenience of the world we're living in but the convenience comes at a cost.

How do you know which products are safe for personal and home use?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep database is an online guide with safety ratings for tens of thousands of products and brands. They have an app - EWG's Healthy Living. I use a barcode scanner to rate the safety of the products I use. They use a multi-point score to determine not only if a product is safe, but how much environmental impact it has as well. I use EWG for everything.

What are your thoughts about people believing they have to get ready before they can start doing the healthier thing?

It could be they are more goal-driven than value-driven. They may be focused on the goal of weight loss instead of the value of health and fitness - which is an ongoing process as opposed to a one time thing. If I lose ten pounds, that's one and done. I might regain the weight but that's a new ten pounds. It's like checking a box.

What does healthy look like?

Thinness is not equated with health. Someone who is obese and begins to employ healthful practices - eating healthy and exercising for two weeks is actually healthier the moment they start taking the salad into their body because they're also taking charge of their life. There's a level of psychosocial well-being they've instantly improved which correlates to an improved health outcome.

How concerned should people be about sugar?

I think it's a better thing to say, 'carbohydrates', and there are three main types - fiber, starches and sugars. Fiber is the indigestible part of the plant material. On your labels, fiber is under carbohydrates but fiber does not affect your blood sugar. It helps lower cholesterol levels and helps to tone your bowels and prevent colon cancer. Fiber is a carb so I get worried when people say they don't eat carbs. I worry they're not getting enough fiber. Fiber is an epidemically low nutrient in the Standard American Diet, which is why we have high cholesterol and colon cancer.

Starches come from rice, potatoes, pasta and beans which are not bad in moderation. Too many starches - if you're not burning them in exercises - can cause excessive weight gain. Starchy veggies and grains are full of fiber which is why you always have to measure the fiber against the carbs. They are the fuel your muscles run on.

Sugars - added sugar and sweeteners - should be avoided. I try to avoid adding sugar in my diet. Whether it's honey, brown rice syrup or sugar, my body doesn't know the difference. They got right into your mouth and into your bloodstream. Sugar is extremely addictive. It's correlated with depression, and we don't need that many calories for normal daily function.

Carbs are not evil. They come from plants - the healthiest, most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.

What advice can you offer to someone who may be feeling overwhelmed by the idea of clean living?

They should start with food because it's going into the body. Your cells are made of what you put into your body. I am under the impression from the most recent science, that the largest impact I can personally make on the planet is to not eat meat and diary.

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