One of the reasons we wanted to transition to a more online practice was so that we as a family could travel and see new cultures and have new experiences. In this vein, we have spent the last 2 months traveling through Costa Rica. We are currently in the central Pacific region in a town called Jaco (pronounced Ha-co). We wanted our children to see how other people live and open their minds to the privilege that we often take for granted in the United States. It has been neat to see their realizations that not everyone has hot water or air conditioning. They got to spend some time in a home where the only stove was a brick fireplace with a wood fire burning to heat up a pot of water. We stayed in a home without hot water.
Costa Rica is by no means a third world country, being the wealthiest country in Central America, but there are differences for sure between the US and here. The average income here, however, is around USD$6800 compared to $47,000 in the US. And things are not that much cheaper here than in the US so there definitely is poverty. However, Costa Rica does have several things over the US. It has a longer life-expectancy, its Happiness score (rated by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network is higher than the US, and its citizens all have state-provided health insurance.
And the difference shows. The people here are amazingly friendly – especially to our family traveling with 4 girls between 3 and 10 years old. I can’t count how many times we have been told, ¨Que lindas!¨ or ¨Que bonitas!¨, or ¨Una familia bonita!¨ – all variations on how beautiful our girls are. We have had to be careful as grandmas here are very quick to give candy to our kids without asking. We have learned the hard way that our youngest two are very sensitive to artificial colorings – something this vibrant color obsessed culture is not afraid to put in their foods and drinks here. Our 3 year old started turning feral on us here and we were fretting until we realized the Kefir (drinkable yogurts) we were giving them daily contained either Amarillo #6 or Rojo #40 (Yellow #6 or Red #40). Once we cut those out, she was back to her normal only slightly feral 3-year-old form. I have seen this repeatedly in practice with ADHD children, that artificial colorings often destabilize impulse control in our children and pulling these from the child’s diet is one of the first interventions I undertake. I had one child years ago who couldn’t sit still for literally 3 seconds in a 45-minute visit in my office. She spent the entire time running in circles around my adjustment table. On a diet review, she was eating artificial colors at almost every meal. Cutting these out made her a completely different child.
There is a region just north of where we are in the Central Pacific area of Costa Rica called Nicoya peninsula. It is a recognized Blue Zone – one of 5 areas in the world where the residents live significantly longer than average and there is a large percentage of people who live to 100 years old. Along with this part of Costa Rica, the others are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Icaria, Greece.
Researchers have looked at the commonalities of these areas and have come up with 6 shared characteristics (taken from the Wikipedia page on Blue Zones):
- Family – they tend to put family ahead of other concerns
- Less smoking
- Semi-vegetarianism – the majority of food consumed is derived from plants
- Constant moderate physical activity – an inseparable part of life
- Social engagement – people of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities
- Legumes – commonly consumed
I have seen this being put into action while we have been there and have seen that we are feeling healthier by adopting these elements into our family routine:
Family: This has been one of the biggest changes for us. We have taken on homeschooling our 3 older children (in a partnership with teachers back home that they connect with weekly via video-chat and who assigns the weekly curriculum). At home, our kids would go off to school and often the younger kids would go off to a family member or friend so that we could work. Here we are together all the time, for better and worse. It has been an adjustment, but I have seen us growing together as a family. Our kids are more willing to help with chores and entertain each other with games and projects. We have made some friends with other families in the country as we have traveled and it has been great to share meals and life stories with people from very different backgrounds. Family is important and doing activities together as a family is paying dividends. We are not perfect and there are still times with too many screens are in play – but the collective experience of new surroundings has brought us together.
Less smoking: I guess this one does not really apply to our family as you can get less than the none we were doing before we left. It is nice that smoking is banned here in all bars and restaurants which is something that I have not always seen in foreign countries. I will say that if you are still smoking, stopping is the number one thing you can do for your health. We do have some natural or prescription options to help you quit.
Semi-vegetarianism and Legumes: This has been the biggest change for us here. We quickly learned that fruits, vegetables, beans, and rice are very affordable here where meat, dairy, and processed foods are often quite expensive. I have always lamented that often in the US you can find a dollar menu hamburger cheaper than you can find an apple. The subsidies to our farming system that make grains – especially corn, wheat, and soy – cheap in our country have really done a disservice to our country. Unfortunately, for many people access to affordable healthy produce is a challenge. Here is the opposite. We have been going to a farmers market (Feria in Spanish) weekly and filling up large bags of fruits and veggies. Last week we bought 5 full reusable grocery bags of fruits and veggies for around $50. This included 4 pineapples, 8 mangos, 20 oranges, 10 limes, 8 plums, onions, basil, 2 heads of lettuce, 5 lbs of carrots, 2 heads of celery, 3 bags of potatoes, 6 large beets, leafy greens, a quart of coconut water made as we watched, blackberries, kiwis, bell peppers and more. We are still working through all this as we clear out for next week.
We also have been pleasantly surprised at how much our girls like beans and rice. Their favorite is garbanzo beans followed by black and then red beans. The national traditional breakfast is called Gallo Pinto and it is a mix of black beans and rice sauteed with onion, sweet peppers, garlic, and spices. It is served with a natural sour cream called Natilla and fried plantains and usually with fried farm fresh eggs. I have been working on perfecting this at home and feel like I have gotten close to what we get at a restaurant. And the kids will eat it (except the sour cream) which is amazing. When you mix beans and rice you get a complete protein which can fully replace meat. We have not been eating nearly as much meat here – occasionally having some fish (shout out to our neighbor Stefan who brought us some Ahi sashimi that was caught that morning) or some chicken. The beans and whole grain rice are full of fiber which keeps you full longer and will definitely stay in our diet after we leave here.
Moderate, regular physical activity: I find us walking much more here. Probably because it is not cold and we are staying near a beach with warm ocean, we find ourselves doing things outdoors more. The older kids have taken surf lessons and both stood up on waves. We are walking and swimming daily and our bodies are liking it. Unfortunately, our culture has nearly perfected the art of not moving (not quite to Wall-E standards yet – I caught this movie on TV the other day in Spanish and forgot how good, and a little subversive, it was). We can easily go from sitting at home to sitting in a car to sitting in an office back to home without having to do much. It is much more work at home to stay physically active and the system and our brain chemistry is set up to make us fail – push through and you will see rewards.
Social Engagement: Humans need to feel like they have a life purpose and are working toward this. I have seen and heard stories of retirees moving down here and after the initial euphoria wears off, slip into depression and even substance abuse. We need to be around like-minded individuals who we can fellowship and grow together with. We often become like those we surround ourselves with. We need to surround ourselves with uplifting, inspiring people who push us to be better and who we push to be better. We have found a great English language church where we are staying and have been uplifted by a vibrant community there and impressed with their outreach programs to the poor in their community.
Both Julia and I feel more committed than ever with continuing to work with our clients to partner with them to better their health. This we see as our life purpose. We feel a renewed sense of excitement with the body’s ability to heal and look forward to seeing our clients find what they need to do to be well. We thank you who have entrusted us with your healthcare needs and we look to continue to honor that trust with the best of our abilities. Thank you for reading and have a great Holiday Season.
As always, if you have family or friends that could benefit from our services, please share. We see referrals of your loved ones as the highest compliment you can give us.