What’s best for our health and the planet can also be great for our bank accounts. All it takes is shifting how we spend our money and our time.
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Over the course of a decade working with environmental groups, researchers, and businesses involved in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, I’ve learned a lot about the myriad issues comprising our current political and economic systems.
While these issues can seem complex and overwhelming, what science tells us is pretty simple: The environment doesn’t just affect our bodies — it is our bodies. The same toxins being dumped in the rivers and oceans are also running through our veins.
So where can we start in creating a healthier world?
We can live our values in the choices we make about what we buy and bring into our homes. All it takes is a little “holistic accounting”: investing our money, time, and energy in products and activities that don’t harm people or the planet — and saving a bundle by leaving behind the unnecessary stuff we don’t need.
This isn’t about deprivation; it’s about letting go of the toxic food, chemicals, and messages that are no longer serving us.
The great news is there’s also a long list of things to say yes to. Yes to safe products, healthy food, and companies that share our values. Yes to making your own meals, growing your own food, starting your own business, and supporting others who do these things, too.
Here are my tips for taking the first steps.
1. Investigate Your Daily-Use Products
We have an intimate relationship with the chemical industry before we even leave the house. Every morning, we use some combination of shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, and soap.
For my book, I looked into the ingredients in the products I used as a teen and learned I had been exposing myself to 230 chemicals a day, all before breakfast! Many of those chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and skin problems.
2. Streamline Your beauty routine
We’ve been trained to think we need a different lotion for each body part. Yet most of these products have more commonalities than differences.
And it’s not all about cost: Many expensive brands contain remarkably similar petrochemical formulas to less expensive drugstore versions.
Instead of buying five different lotions, spend your money on one high-quality, nontoxic product.
3. Say Bye to Hair Dye
We are constantly being told that we should look different than we do. Hair trends come and go. Research shows, however, that some of the most toxic products tend to be things that change the color or shape of hair.
So save time, money, and toxin exposure by forgoing expensive and toxic hair treatments. Try a natural solution such as henna for reddening or lemon juice for lightening blonde hair. Use heat treatments rather than chemicals for straightening or curling hair. Or better yet, wear your hair just as it is — straight, curly, gray, whatever!
4. Simplify Your Shopping List
As with beauty products, we’ve been trained to think we need a different kind of cleaning product for every surface and room in our home. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice clean most things just as well as chemical-industry concoctions, and are far less expensive. Stick with nature’s green cleaners or choose one high-quality, nontoxic cleaner you can use on all surfaces.
You can quit buying many chemical items altogether, including bubble baths, air fresheners, dryer sheets, and any “antibacterial” items containing triclosan. Studies have shown that antibacterial products don’t work any better than soap and water, and they increase the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They are also far more harmful to water and fish.
5. Pass on GMOs
Like an increasing number of health-concerned people, I’m not a fan of eating foods that are genetically engineered in laboratories. We simply don’t know enough about their long-term health effects. What we do know is that they create widespread dependency on chemical-centric agriculture.
You can opt out of this giant experiment on our health and planet by voting “No GMOs” with your fork. This can be challenging. Most processed foods today — anything made with soy, corn, canola, or sugar beets — are probably genetically engineered. So the best way to avoid GMOs is to avoid processed foods altogether. Or look for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label.
6. Shop the Perimeter
When buying groceries, the simple rule to shop the perimeter of the store will largely keep you away from processed foods that include artificial colors and sweeteners, and GMOs, and closer to areas where you’ll find whole foods that are better for the planet and your health.
7. Embrace Organic — Especially Meat
Selecting organic and free-range meats reduces pesticide and antibiotic exposure as well as the misery that our animals are going through on factory farms.
Yes, it’s more expensive. But if you buy fewer of the other products mentioned earlier, you can shift some of the savings to buying organic when you can.
Familiarize yourself with the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists, and download the free Dirty Dozen mobile app.
8. Go on a Media Diet
No detox is complete without reducing your exposure to the toxic messages bombarding you via the media. Take back your brainwaves from the hailstorm of hype telling you that you need to be as rich, beautiful, thin, and materialistic as the airbrushed models in ads or the characters on your favorite television shows. Turn off the TV, or be a cord-cutter and save money by ditching your cable bill.
9. Get Political
We can’t just shop our way out of our problems. We need to change the laws to incentivize producers to provide safer products, greener chemistry, and healthier food. We need to level the playing field for these products so they aren’t in niche categories in expensive stores that only some people can afford.
Get involved in efforts to give the chemical, beauty, and food industries a much-needed makeover. Let’s take back our democracy and build an economy that values life and health.
10. Join the Revolution
Activism is love. Time spent thinking about and researching these issues, taking action by choosing different products, talking to our friends and neighbors, and considering whom to vote for isn’t about spreading fear; it’s about spreading love.
It’s about creating the possibility of a future with a healthy economy, healthy communities, healthy kids, and a healthy environment. Every day gives us new chances to move our world in a healthier direction.
How to Detox Your Life, Save Money, and Change the World With Stacy Malkan (en*theos Optimal Living)
Where can we start in creating a healthier world? In this en*theos Optimal Living session, Stacy Malkan shares her top 10 tips for shifting how we spend our money and time — and why it's good for the planet and our health.