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Excerpt from "The Baby Boomer Diet: Body Ecology’s Guide to Growing Younger"

Baby Boomers: Forever Young

by Donna Gates with Lyndi Schrecengost

The following excerpt is taken from the book The Baby Boomer Diet: Body Ecology’s Guide to Growing Younger by Donna Gates with Lyndi Schrecengost. It is published by Hay House (October 2011) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com . 

Born in prosperity, harbingers of change, Baby Boomers have made a significant impact on the world. But what will be our final legacy?

It’s been nearly 40 years since the Baby Boomers arrived at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre alfalfa field to attend Woodstock, an outdoor festival that was as much a counterculture “happening” as it was a celebration of music. Area residents didn’t know what to make of these “hippies” in bohemian dress who abandoned their cars and walked for miles to stand before the concert stage. Woodstock’s political provocation, defiance of convention, and back-to-nature innocence would make it one of the defining moments of an entire generation. Now, 78 million strong and approaching retirement, we Baby Boomers are showing few signs of slowing down.

The Baby Boomer generation is usually defined as those individuals born between 1946 and 1964, and today we comprise more than one-quarter of the entire U.S. population. The “first wave,” or Boomers who were born in the decade between 1946 and 1957, arrived soon after millions of servicemen returned home from war. Between 1945 and 1946, the number of U.S. marriages doubled to more than 2.2 million; and 92 percent of the women who could have children, did. A flourishing economy encouraged couples to have large families, and in 1946, 3.4 million babies were born in the U.S., 20 percent more than the previous year. For the next decade, the annual total would hover above the four million mark, and the surge in births would continue until 1964. In that final Boomer year, the first wave hit college, the Beatles arrived in New York for their first U.S. tour, and Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing an escalation of the war in Vietnam. The youth movement had begun, and we Baby Boomers were coming of age.

Why This Book? Why Now?

Although Boomers rode into the world on a wave of optimism and promise, we also inherited some of the worst ills and environmental crimes of the century. In his book The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine Are Destroying Your Health, journalist Randall Fitzgerald notes how many of his fellow Baby Boomers are afflicted with diseases that used to be reserved for “old age,” from multiple sclerosis to cancer to Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease. He describes the extent to which Baby Boomers have been duped by the myth of “better living through chemistry.”

A famous commercial that aired during the 1970s promoted a relatively new product called “margarine,” which looked and tasted very much like real butter. Mother Nature, played by a memorably indignant Dena Dietrich, is not pleased that she, too, has been fooled by this deceptive substitute. Amid a fury of thunder and lightning, the commercial concludes: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Today, in so many ways, the irony of this visionary statement is coming to terrible fruition.

The petrochemical era that was born along with the Baby Boomers initiated an onslaught of toxins that are exacting a heavy price on this and subsequent generations. The incidence of neural disorders has tripled in Western countries; and researchers have begun to link it to exposure to crop pesticides, synthetic chemicals, processed foods, and industrial chemicals. As Fitzgerald notes, between 1952 and 1987, the production and use of synthetic pesticides in the U.S. increased 13 times faster than before the war. From genetically modified foods to sex hormones, from industrial contaminants that pollute our air and water, to overuse of antibiotics and inoculations, seemingly inescapable toxins have besieged the bodies of Baby Boomers for decades.

The Mission

Baby Boomers were born during a period of unprecedented prosperity not witnessed since the Gilded Age. A growing number of our parents were truly living the American dream; they purchased nice homes, sent many of us to college, financed trips to Europe, and provided us with an ever-increasing array of luxury items largely beyond the reach of earlier generations. Critics of Baby Boomers point out that this emphasis on materialism and immediate gratification created a generation of overindulged “Peter Pans” who are slow to accept the realities of the adult world. Baby Boomers, they complain, feel a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of responsibility. But others defend Baby Boomers as idealistic free spirits who broke boundaries, catalyzed social change, and helped make the world more tolerant and open.

Although I was never a flower child and chose to bypass the drug scene of the ’60s, I have always identified with many of the generational values we Baby Boomers share. I understood how important it was to break free from what our parents had taught us and to find the courage to follow our own unique path, even if that journey was a lonely one at times. What I identify with most about Baby Boomers is our openness to change and our empowering pursuit of self-fulfillment. We are very much a generation that believes: If you don’t like something, change it. And we have. This is why I believe we have the creativity and the obligation to transform the way we take care of ourselves and the planet.

Who Are We Kidding?

Sixty-one percent of Boomers surveyed by AARP in 2004 said they felt younger than their age. Yet two in ten of these cited physical health as the one area of their lives they would most like to change, while three in ten said that their physical health was worse than they expected it to be at this point in their lives. Only a little more than half thought they were likely to achieve their goal of improved physical health.3 The Washington Post reported that a number of recent large surveys are showing some surprising feedback from Boomers who appear to be less healthy than their forebears were at the same age. In spite of their gym memberships, Boomers are less physically active than their parents and grandparents, due in part to long commuting times and jobs that keep them in front of a computer screen all day. Although there are fewer smokers in our generation, more of us are likely to report chronic pain, drinking and psychiatric problems, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and debilitating levels of stress.

One wonders if we Baby Boomers feel young in spirit, in spite of what our bodies may be telling us. Or do we just have higher expectations for ourselves? The reality is, despite our optimism, our greater prospects, and the millions of dollars we will spend on our health, we Boomers will confront new and often premature health threats simply because of the world we’ve been living in and the choices we’ve made.

Our bodies were not designed to absorb synthetic chemicals, even in small doses, throughout an entire lifetime. Environmental toxins alter our DNA. They damage our immune systems. They increase our predisposition to illness and disease. And they are passed on, through the umbilical cord and blood of the mother, to our children and grandchildren. In fact, from the moment sperm and egg cells come together, toxins are already present. Children born today are coming into the world with serious infections, weakened immune systems, and increased susceptibilities to certain diseases.

Baby Boomers grapple with new psychological stresses as well. Since the 1970s, globalization and other economic developments have seriously eroded the kind of job security that was the norm in the decades following World War II. Today, Baby Boomers are particularly vulnerable to these economic shifts, and are often among the first to be laid off and the last to be rehired by employers who perceive them as more expensive and less flexible than younger workers. Once again, our generation is faced with redefining itself; and, for some, this will literally mean starting over. Rising life expectancy, aging parents, and faulty pension plans mean that many of us will need to work much longer than our parents did, whether we want to or not. This makes our continued good health not wishful thinking but a practical necessity.

As we Boomers struggle to stay young, many of us have turned to quick-fix solutions—cosmetic procedures, anti-aging hormones, and extreme diets to stave off the aging process. But these methods are akin to repainting a dilapidated car. At first glance, these cosmetic changes may improve the appearance, but they don’t account for more important and deep-seated issues. These can only be addressed through an understanding of our inner ecosystem; and how diet, food purity and selection, and lifestyle choices can lessen the effects of aging, giving us not just longer lives, but better ones.

We Baby Boomers are celebrated for our independence, for ignoring and even defying convention, and for our unswerving idealism. We are a generation of trendsetters. Staying healthy and vital is not just a pipe dream for us; it is our calling. We have long been the forerunners of social, political, and environmental change. Now it is vital that we also bring about a revolution in health and develop truly revolutionary roles for maturity. It is time that we harnessed our resources—our sheer numbers, our money, our wisdom, and our will—to heal our bodies and our planet.

Our greatest mission lies ahead.

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