A Theory of Smidgens

January_2_2014_047.jpgWatch out for the little choices that don’t seem to matter...they do!

Achieving overall fitness and well-being is built choice by choice, one "smidgen" at a time. So are disease and infirmity. In fact, the small choices—repeated often enough and over time—have the greatest impact. The cumulative effect of actions and non-actions shape the person we are today and the person we are in the process of becoming as we age.

Think of a slope rising, or in decline. It can be steep or gradual. Now judge yourself by how you feel today. Think back 10 years. What was your life like?

By looking at the differences, you may be able to project the speed at which the next 10 years will improve, decline, or stay steady. Whatever your conclusion, you will be inspired—especially if you’re in decline.

I’ve experienced it. I feel younger today than I did 15 years ago. I take a walk: my legs don’t ache. I don’t breathe as hard when I climb to Alex’s Oak—a lone tree high on a ridge above Rancho La Puerta. (This photo is from a hike to Alex's Oak earlier this year, testing to make sure my "theory of smidgens" is still working!)

A good climb up a hill (or mountain, depending on your fitness level) is a great measurement of your progress toward better fitness, or decline year after year. Some guests who come to the Golden Door or Rancho La Puerta every year never miss taking the same hike on the morning after they arrive. They want to know if they’ve improved their fitness level in the past year, slid back, or simply kept up.

Smidgen. The word dates back to 1835-45, but its origins are unknown. The definition is “a very small amount, as in ‘a smidgen of jam on your toast.’”

I refer to smidgens a lot. As I am not a doctor and I don't have a perfect memory for facts and figures—there are too many in my head already—this term serves as a catchall to explain the cumulative effects of choices made and not made. Aging is not something that kicks in suddenly when we turn 65; it is a progressive accumulation that builds over a lifetime of eating, breathing, exercising (or not), “stressing out,” burning the candle at both ends, and a myriad of other actions and choices.

A dietary example: take the ubiquitous packets of artificial sweetener found on virtually every restaurant table across the land. A packet or two added to your coffee or tea each day means by year's end you will have consumed almost 750. Ten years later: 7,500. Imagine ingesting 7,500 packets of a compound that doesn’t exist in nature. That’s how fast those smidgens can and do add up into quite a few pounds of “stuff,” and often their long-term affect on the body may still be fundamentally unknown.

The leading causes of death worldwide—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease—are often the result of behaviors such as smoking, obesity, and inactivity. These lifestyle choices bring us to our knees one smidgen at a time, and are not inevitable.

At first glance, our daily choices—the cheeseburger rather than the salad, the hour spent working late at the office instead of working out in the gym—may seem inconsequential. Over a lifetime, they can make the difference between sickness or health; between growing older and sicker or staying vital and full of energy. Each one leaves behind a smidgen, unnoticeable at first but undeniable over time. Arteries harden...smidgen by smidgen. Lungs scar...smidgen by smidgen.

Don’t make the mistake of pointing to someone you know who did everything wrong. Because genetics play a huge role in longevity, there will always be an Aunt Tilly in your family who smoked, drank bourbon, and sat in her chair on the porch until she was 101. Don’t count on you being the next Aunt Tilly.

Do count, however, on doing all you can to be healthy and comfortable by outsmarting the smidgens. And do feel free to comment below and inspire fellow wellness warriors with how you have outsmarted some of the smidgens in your life!

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  • Ann-Marie Ahye
    commented 2014-09-07 11:00:25 -0400
    This article reminds me of what I once heard a lecturer of Practical Philosophy say, " Whatever you practice, you become good at. And, know that you are practising something in every moment." You may be practising laziness, kindness, ignoring or being attentive. “So, be conscious of what you are practising now.” If you are not practising something consciously, you will be doing so unconsciously. Know what you are nurturing, will it enhance or hinder your life?

    Deborah I am grateful for the radiant living example that you are. And I am grateful for the good fortune to share Mindful Yoga at the Ranch.
  • Deborah Szekely
    followed this page 2014-09-06 19:57:28 -0400
  • Bill Lewis
    commented 2014-09-06 14:17:00 -0400
    Don, thanks for the response (and you too, Kristine). Did Deborah share with the forum what her thoughts were – or is it planned later? I’m curious about juice diets that work, and the “white drink” from Tahiti.
  • Don Weisbrod
    commented 2014-09-06 12:31:21 -0400
    This is an important article on healthy practices and age by Deborah Szekely. Deborah invited my wife and me to a special dinner of experts in health related fields at Rancho la Puerta last week. Debora shared about this topic and much more.
  • Kristine Van Raden
    commented 2014-09-06 11:34:56 -0400
    Having been blessed to have visited Rancho La Puerta many times in past decades, I have come to appreciate and understand the passion and commitment that Mrs. Szekely basis her life upon. For nearly 20 years I have listen and watched while she inspires whom ever is lucky enough to claim a few minutes with her. I remember once she said…“I love cheese, have loved cheese all my life up to this date. Now I know that giving up cheese is a decision to be healthier. I claim a life of health and wellness.” The teaching I do at the ranch is based on the foundation that we get anywhere, one step at a time. Blessings to you and the work you so generously share.
  • Bill Lewis
    commented 2014-09-06 10:14:15 -0400
    Excellent thought! But, here’s my question. Everyone has a friend, or knows a friend of a friend who has beaten cancer, or diabetes, or some other malady, through some type of a “Juice Diet.” One of the ones that I remember is the Hallejuah Diet. Is there any truth to these claims? Is there a juice diet that works? One of the previous articles about Dr. Szekely mentions a lady in Tahiti drinking a “white juice” for longevity and health. Thanks, Bill
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