How to be Healthy in a Sick Society

We live in a society that makes being healthy and happy difficult. And if you are part of the roughly 1 percent of people who are healthy, happy, and positioned to continue thriving, you are what author and journalist Pilar Gerasimo calls a healthy deviant. Because to thrive in our sick society means you’re bucking trends, resisting social conventions, and defying the rules; being healthy means you’re deviating from society’s standard way of doing business.

Basically, Pilar says, if you aren’t breaking the rules, you’re probably breaking yourself.

Why do we bring this up and what do we do with this information? We bring it up because Pilar was in the first-ever Studio/E cohort, back in 2011, and she has just published a book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World. We think this book has the potential to radically change the way you work, because your health translates directly to your ability to contribute both at work and at home.

So what do we do with this information? We take control, deviate from societal norms, and pursue healthy habits because we know they’re good for us, not because the glossy magazines suggest we do them. We break away from normal, because — why would we want to be normal?

In this article in Thrive Global, Pilar provides some alarming U.S. statistics that explain why normal isn’t something to strive for:

  • 50 percent of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with at least one chronic illness (many have more than one).
  • Two-thirds are overweight or obese.
  • More than half of Americans rely on daily doses of pharmaceutical drugs.
  • 80 percent aren’t thriving mentally and emotionally.
  • 97.3 percent aren’t practicing even four of the health habits essential to well-being, such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and BMI, and getting regular exercise.

A big reason for many of these statistics is that humans today are an evolutionary mismatch for the environment we live in. Our bodies have not been able to adapt to the rapid changes with which we’re constantly trying to keep pace. We are, Pilar says in her book, “the first generation of humans ever to have been exposed to anything remotely like our current circumstances.” And therefore we, as a species, are having a hard time staying healthy. We see our health-threatening problems — such as illness, stress, weight gain, etc. — and we address the symptoms, not the causes. Taking a step back to understand what’s going on with our bodies and our worlds (i.e. gaining awareness) can help us gain a holistic perspective rather than being hyperfocused on symptom-level interventions, which don’t take into consideration the real issues, much less the real solutions.

The premise of the healthy deviant movement Pilar is advocating for is to challenge popular assumptions and embrace a handful of simple self-care practices. Pilar’s book is more than 300 pages of research, personal stories, and tips to incorporate this information into your own life. For the sake of this post, we’ve selected a few of the simplest, most approachable lifestyle adjustments to help you break the norms, be healthier, and therefore be the best you can at work. These suggestions are not ground-breaking, but rather a gentle reminder to take care of yourself so you can perform at your highest potential:


Breathing is one of those things we do subconsciously and therefore rarely think about. But do you know how revitalizing some intentional, deep breaths can be? If you need to calm down, reset, or simply change your state, Pilar suggests doing a few breaths to the count of 4-7-8; that is, breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. You can do this at your desk, while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, or even during a meeting. Go ahead and try it now while you read this post. It’s more revitalizing than you might imagine. Try to do a few of these daily.

Take breaks

We work in a culture that glorifies work, work, work. In a typical office, it is more acceptable (and possibly even celebratedto work 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM than it is to take a break to meditate or work on a puzzle, for example. One of the most provocative arguments Pilar makes in her book is that you should take a break from working every hour and a half to two hours. A 20-minute break several times a day will ultimately result in more productivity than working eight hours straight. Again: you will be more productive in an eight-hour period if you take three or more 20-minute breaks than if you worked those hours straight. The science behind this idea is based on something called ultradian rhythms, which are patterns hardwired into our DNA that dictate how our bodies function in time. It matters less what you do during your break than the fact that it’s something different from what you were doing before. If you were sitting at your desk thinking hard, try taking a brief walk. Or, if you were up in front of a crowd teaching, take a quiet, close-eyed break. Truly paying respects to our bodies’ natural rhythms means we’re taking breaks every 90 to 120 minutes.

Forget the diets and exercise regimens

The diet and exercise regimens found in fitness magazines are often overwhelming, barely achievable, and rarely sustainable. Instead, Pilar suggests practicing conscious eating, like eating whole, natural, and unprocessed foods most of the time. But don’t obsess, and don’t count calories. If you’re trending toward the brightly colored fruits and vegetables and steering clear of things like meal replacements or low-fat, reduced-fat, and other processed, packaged foods, you’re eating consciously. The best part of this way of eating is that instead of having cheat days, you can eat in ways that feel good to you most of the time, and if you want to indulge periodically, you can do so without guilt.

As for exercise, focus on building strength and flexibility instead of losing weight or achieving a certain body composition. Do whatever feels good for your body and, importantly, you enjoy doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nature walk or a game of squash — as long as you’re moving often and consisistently, you are doing right by your body.

Go to the bathroom

This may sound silly, but Pilar’s research has us convinced: We need to take more bathroom breaks. Too many of us hold off on bathroom breaks because we’re “too busy,” it’s “not convenient,” or we “need to finish something.” But bathroom breaks are important for reasons beyond the obvious; sometimes the message that you need to go to the bathroom is actually your body’s request that you take a break. Standing up and walking to the bathroom is beneficial whether you actually go or not.

Create a nighttime ritual

If you go-go-go all day long, you’d think you’d be able to just plop into your bed and fall right asleep. But that’s not the way the body works. After a hectic day,  your body requires a deceleration period, or a time to slow down and settle the mind, body, and the systems that interconnect the two. To achieve deceleration like that needed to sleep, begin your ritual about an hour before bedtime. Shift the energy in your home to a relaxed state: turn down music and lights, and put away the screens. Like all of these adjustments, this is just a simple step that will make a really big difference in your night’s sleep and, in turn, your day following.

The practices above are painfully simplified versions of what Pilar digs into in her book, as there is a lot more to becoming a healthy deviant than taking breaks, breathing, and not forgetting to go to the bathroom. Becoming aware of what society sets you up for, then deciding to take a different path, will jumpstart you down the path to being healthy. Here, Pilar has more strategies and tips on this subject. And if you want even more, check out her podcast called The Living Experiment, which she co-hosts with Whole30 cofounder Dallas Hartwig. This episode is a good place to start.

Being healthy and happy in an unhealthy world is an act of rebellion. It’s also the only way to bring your best self to work and to create the prosperous future we know you desire. We hope, after this insight from Pilar, to see you all on the rebellious side.

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Pilar Gerasimo is one of the nearly 1,000 Exploratory Leaders who have gone through the Studio/E Expedition program. If you’re interested in spending time with interesting people doing cool stuff like Pilar, check out our programs page.

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