Are you living a sustainable life?

The “in” word today is sustainability. Colleges are marketing it as a badge of honor – reducing and reusing waste, buying more local foods in bulk and teaching their students prudent environmental practices. Even Unity College took the gold medal for its sustainability practices this year. It’s a prestigious honor that takes a lot of commitment, education and time from procurement of food to limiting food waste.

Sustainability means more than just environmental protection. For some businesses, including Goodwill where my husband serves on the board, sustainability also includes a greater focus on employee well-being. Sustainable companies need sustainable employees and in the case of Goodwill, that means focusing on ways to help employees stay in the workforce, even when faced with severe mental health, traumatic brain injury or psychological struggles. That also takes commitment, creativity, communication, donations and lots of support.

Personal sustainability

There is also another kind of sustainability. Personal sustainability. There is no doubt our health care system is in a crisis. The Centers for Disease Control(CDC) reports that we’ve gone from national healthcare making up just 5% of our Gross Domestic Product(GDP) in 1960 to now comprising nearly 20% of our GDP. Insurance costs have gone up with ridiculous deductibles, prescription medications have skyrocketed, hospitalization costs and end-of-life care have shot up and government is bloated with administration around healthcare. Who really has our backs?

We must have our own backs. I believe in personal responsibility. Doing what you can to maximize your health to the best of your ability today to lower your own healthcare costs in the present and future. Are your current habits treating your body well? Are there lifestyle changes you can make now that can lower your blood pressure and help you lose excess weight that could lower your healthcare costs now and in the future?

We all have a piece of the healthcare pie. It’s not just the healthcare providers, the hospitals, the insurance companies or the pharmaceutical companies. It’s us too. We are the users. But most of us can contribute in lowering our own costs.

We are a society who prefers quick fixes over prevention. We’d rather take the latest expensive cholesterol and blood pressure pill instead of avoiding fast food or fatty food in the first place. And then we impulsively go on an extreme diet to look good for a special event or vacation instead eating healthy food in the first place to take care of our bodies. We care more about how we look than how we feel. Yet, we complain about having no energy which is why we can’t exercise or cook a healthy meal in the first place.

Facts on obesity

Our nation has never been so obese. Here are the facts from the National Institute of Health:

  • 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese.
  • 1 out of 20 has extreme obesity.
  • 1 out of 3 children between 6 and 19 is either overweight or obese

metabolic syndromeAnd it’s not just having a BMI of 30 or greater; it’s where you carry the fat that matters. Someone can have a healthy BMI of 25 or less and a large waist circumference that indicates unhealthy fat accumulation around the liver and the gut that creates a condition called metabolic syndrome – a precursor to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you have 3 of the 5 conditions to the left, despite being at a healthy weight, your future healthcare costs will go up eventually due to the cost of medications and blood work for managing cholesterol, blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

We are spending an extra 147 billion in 2008 dollars on managing the health issues around being obese. Those extra dollars are spent managing health conditions associated with obesity: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. These conditions are related to lifestyle choices and are preventable.

There are other health issues associated with obesity: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more frequent exacerbations of asthma, sleep apnea, arthritic pain from osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease and back pain. These usually mean more frequent visits to a medical provider, more medications, more diagnostic testing, and loss of productivity.

The cost of being obese

A 2010 study lead by Dr Avi Dor from George Washington University found that the annual costs, both medical and non-medical, for an obese man was $2646, and for an obese woman, $4879. And the data was from 2009. Those costs included medical expenses, disability, sick leave, productivity, gasoline (heavier people use more gas in their car, and life insurance.

There are emotional costs too. A frequent reason my clients give for wanting to lose weight is that they don’t like how other people make them feel about themselves. This leads to low self-esteem which carries over to every other aspect in their life including relationships and productivity.

Being better, not perfect

This is my motto. It’s what I believe. I’m not promoting lithe and svelte, but at least fewer skin folds and ease of movement. It’s not about getting to a BMI of 25; just a 5-10% loss of body weight can improve health dramatically. According to, losing 5-10% of your weight can:

  • Raise your heart-protective HDL by 5 points
  • Lower the unhealthy triglycerides by as much as 40 mg/dl
  • Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg
  • For those with diabetes, lower your A1c by ½ percent
  • Improves insulin resistance
  • Improve sleep apnea enough so that CPAP can be stopped in some cases
  • Decrease inflammation in the body that causes vascular damage

Even the Diabetes Prevention Program, a large multi-center research study, found that a 7% weight loss and exercising 150 minutes a week was the most effective in diabetes prevention. For a 200-pound person that’s just 14 pounds!

Take the pledge

Living a sustainable life requires nourishing your body and your mind. It’s keeping needs and wants in balance, managing stress and time and having people in your life that provide support. When emotional needs are met, people have more energy to devote to healthy eating and exercise. And it’s reciprocal: eating healthier and being at a healthier weight will give you more energy to have a meaningful, productive life. These are the steps do living a sustainable life:

  1. Limit eating out to no more than a couple of times a week and cook more at home. This will save you money!
  2. Walk or exert yourself physically for at least 30 minutes a day.
  3. Reduce dietary salt. Check food labels to limit sodium to no more than 2300 mg a day. Reducing the frequency of eating out will automatically reduce sodium consumption. Most restaurants use an excessive amount of salt to enhance flavor. Other sources of foods high in salt include canned foods, chips, and processed meats like cold cuts, hamburgers and bacon.
  4. Eat 2-3 cups of non-starchy veggies daily. They will help fill you up and stave off hunger and are packed with vitamins and fiber.
  5. Quit the white grains. Go all whole grain. There’s much more nutrition and fiber which will also fill you up.
  6. Stop drinking soda and juice. Drink water or seltzer water and eat your fruit instead of drinking it.
  7. Eat more fish and poultry and beans and much less red meat. Beef requires much more environmental energy and is not nearly as healthy for you as poultry, fish and meatless meals.
  8. Bring joy into your life through a hobby, a good friendship, volunteering or some other outlet.

If you follow this pledge, not only will your healthcare costs go down, but healthcare costs across the spectrum would drop dramatically as a nation. That’s a sustainable life and how to have a sustainable healthcare system.

Barbara will be offering a free Skype-based group weight management program. If you are interested email her at It will be limited to the first 10 people.

Barbara Groth

About Barbara Groth

I’m Barbara. I have always had a passion for helping people to feel good. As a nurse my early years were focused on getting sick people back to baseline. After becoming a diabetes educator and health coach my passion became raising that bar on the baseline – helping my clients to not only feel better but to look better and have a whole new outlook on life.