Why I Wrote a Book on Healthy Deviance

posted by Pilar Gerasimo 04/09/2016 5 Comments

I started noodling with the idea of writing a book back in 2001. It took 13 years for me to get around to actually embarking on the project and another five to actually sell and write the thing.

To be fair, I had a few other things going on. During that time, I also put out more than 100 issues of Experience Life magazine. I wrote my Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed Up World, launched RevolutionaryAct, and worked up the “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy” mobile app.

I also wrote a bunch of monthly columns and feature articles for Experience Life, hosted a weekly FM radio show called “Get a Whole Life,” and created a TV show pilot. I gave talks, consulted, taught some online classes, took people through my “Refine Your Life” workshops.

Then I did a brief stint running the Healthy Living vertical for Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post, did some deep work with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, consulted for some other very cool companies, and helped to rekindle my family’s organic farm.

And now, at last, I’ve finished this book: The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in on Unhealthy World.

Why did I write this book? Well, I guess for pretty much the same reasons I’ve done all that other stuff: I want to life in a healthier, happier, more sustainable world. And I think that is only going to happen if we have more healthy, happy people showing up to address the challenges we are facing — both individually and collectively.

Here’s some context on just how big those challenges are:

  • Today, more than 50 percent of adults in this country are chronically ill.
  • Two thirds of us are overweight or obese.
  • Today’s kids are the first generation in U.S. history predicted to live less long than their parents; huge numbers of them are chronically ill before they turn 18.
  • Seventy percent of U.S. adults regularly take one or more prescription drugs.
  • The top-selling drugs are meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression and heartburn — all lifestyle-related conditions that can only be healed through lifestyle changes.
  • Seventy-five to ninety percent of the money we are spending on healthcare is being spent ineffectively on chronic, lifestyle-related diseases.
  • Globally, said ineffective treatments of chronic disease is projected to suck up $47 trillion dollars over the next 20 years (think of all much cooler and more interesting stuff we could do with  that kind of money!)
  • Fewer than 20 percent of us are considered to be mentally and emotionally thriving; the remaining 80 percent, according to psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are “just getting by” or “living lives of quiet despair”.

Yikes. Just stop and think about that for a minute. The majority of U.S. population is sick and/or overweight, and/or depressed. Only a relatively tiny minority is healthy, happy and thriving. And most of these trends appear to be worsening. Yikes!

So, what does it mean to live in a society that reliably produces more unhealthy, unhappy, vulnerable people than healthy, happy, resilient ones — and tanks its own economy in the process?

It means, quite plainly, that the society we are living in is sick.

That sickness shows up everywhere — in our families and communities, our healthcare system, our food supply, our businesses, our built environments, our media, our government, our schools, our religious institutions, our financial systems, our ecological systems, and especially in our relationships to ourselves and each other.

The tricky part is that fixing all this is going to require a whole lot of strong, healthy, hopeful people — people who are energized enough to bringing their A-game and swim against the tide.

Unfortunately, the world we’re living in now produces far more people so depleted that they probably aren’t even bringing their B-game. Most of us don’t really have time or energy to think about swimming in new directions, because we are barely treading water as it is.

That’s what I want to change — by empowering and emboldening people who want to change it for themselves.

The great new is, a few healthy oddballs are already doing just that, defying both authority and convention to beat the unhealthy odds. In this book, I explain how they are doing the nearly impossible, and how you can, too.

The Healthy Deviant has a few key premises:

  1. That being a healthy, happy person in our predominantly unhealthy culture requires socially non-compliant (i.e. deviant) acts and attitudes. Because unconventional viewpoints and behaviors are inherently counterintuitive, and because they often carry risks, costs and other social disincentives, relatively few people are inclined to embrace them. However, while the barriers to Healthy Deviance might seem daunting, they can be relatively easily overcome with the right strategies and know-how (descriptions and scientific evidence for which appear in the book).
  2. That our culturally-skewed, historically limited view of our present circumstances leads us to embrace approaches that work against us. Basically, we’ve all been fed a whole lot of BS about what it takes to be a healthy and happy in this culture. As the result of misleading media, symptom-oriented medical counsel, and our own short-sighted myopia, most of us have been misled about the true scope and nature of our collective discontent and disease. We’re so focused on our own personal and immediate symptoms and struggles, we can’t seem to get a clear view of their true origins and the underlying mechanisms that are producing our collective, widespread challenges. This “can’t see the forest for the trees” dynamic makes us vulnerable to superficial and ineffective quick fixes. It encourages us to inadequately address our perceived problems, and to ignore their real root causes.
  3. That our repeated experiences of failure with ill-fated health-improvement tactics has lead us to wrongly believe our health issues are unsolvable or too difficult to overcome. The struggle, deprivation and lackluster results most people experience with conventional health-improvement prescriptions leads many to conclude that they are not worth the amount of effort and discomfort they require. This engenders learned helplessness, exhaustion, passivity, victimization, and shame. It inclines many to seek out pain-management and distraction strategies rather than innovating toward more rewarding ways of living, and in this way, exacerbates many people’s health struggles. It also skews our idea of “normal” health and fitness in an ever-lower direction.
  4. That by embracing Healthy Deviance, we can break free from these limiting conditions, and make it easier for others to do so. By integrating practices and perspective shifts that revitalize rather than depleting and defeating us, we can blaze more rewarding paths toward our own ideals of health and happiness. Both by modeling successful approaches and outcomes and by directly challenging old conventions, we can become a growing throng of bright-spot outliers who collectively shift cultural norms, raise hopes, and by extension, change the world for the better.

The Healthy Deviant makes a case for these ideas both through objective argument and subjective experience. It integrates insights drawn from sociology, positive psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurochemistry, combining them with my own personal narrative and ample opportunities for reader self-reflection.

And the best part is, I don’t just tell you all this stuff, I show you — with close to 100 hand-draw charts, infographics, and illustrations. With exercise, reflections, journaling prompts, and real-life experiments.

The book even offers a “14-Day Healthy-Deviant Adventure” program that helps you try on some Healthy Deviant perspectives for size, integrate some simple but transformative practices into your own life, and experience both the immediate and longer-term rewards for yourself.

The Healthy Deviant officially launches on Jan. 7, 2020, but you can pre-order it now. And I hope you will because I think you will love it! One thing is for sure: It is unlike any other health book you have ever read. 🙂

For more info (and to take my “Are You A Healthy Deviant?” quiz), check out www.HealthyDeviant.com.

Thanks for coming on this ride with me!

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joni luxem 03/16/2015 at 3:12 am

I do a volunteer radio program for the State Services For The Blind and read your article Repossess Your Health.I have worked out all of my life,eaten healthy foods,do yoga and have a loving family.Still I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.I have many friends and loved ones that have chronic illnesses and cancers.Who like me have lived very healthy lives.It is always hurtful to read articles such as yours that devote a line or two to say they do not mean to ridicule or blame the ill victim,but that really that vast majority of us create our illnesses.I agree with you that exercise,yoga,calmness,loving relationships,making healthy food choices,getting plenty of good sleep are fabulous ways to create a great life today.However Pilar,we have no control over what happens tomorrow with our bodies. Those of us trying to make the right choices and dealing with chronic illnesses feel so sad and ashamed deep down when we hear people such as you make such cavalier statements.Blessed are those with the compassion to know what it is like to be ill.

Pilar Gerasimo 04/24/2015 at 10:22 pm

Hi Joni! I just received your reply to my “Repossess Your Health” article (below), and I’m so sorry to hear you found it hurtful.

When I wrote, “Certainly, there are illnesses and injuries that can come upon any of us, unbidden, and over which we have little or no control,” I was intending to cover precisely the sort of uncontrollable health situation you describe. Although that passage was brief, I felt it directly addressed the concern you raised, and I consciously chose to include it very early in the article for that reason.

I also emphasized, just a little further on: “in some cases, there really is little to do but manage a given health challenge or injury with as much consciousness and self-compassion as we can muster.”

I regret that you did not find these statements to be adequate comfort or reassurance, though, and sincerely regret any unintentional offense or frustration my column caused you.

I, like you, have seen many friends and family members suffer significant and chronic health challenges despite their best attempts to take good care of themselves. And I certainly feel immense compassion for anyone struggling with any disease, whatever the cause.

No one is immune to injury or illness, and that’s even more reason for us all to appreciate whatever level of health and vitality we are fortunate enough to enjoy at a given time.

Wishing you the very best,

Shana Lemke 05/21/2015 at 10:26 pm

Hi Pilar, I always look forward to reading your articles in Experience Life. I was just reading Joni’s comment regarding her health condition and want to say that I too was doing a good job of eating right, exercise, yoga, etc and still became completely disabled with adrenal fatigue among other ailments. And I have to say that I feel like you and I were twins separated at birth. I am so passionate about wellness and my tag line that I was using for my business was ” Be happy, be healthy and enjoy life”. I too am writing a memoir about my illness and return to health. Anyway, my point in writing to you is that after I found a functional medicine doctor and followed the protocol I found that I also had some very deep spiritual wounds that I also had to deal with. These wounds were the source of my physical issues. Some of them causing me to feel that I did not deserve to be healthy and whole. I am just curious of your thoughts on this. Respectfully yours, Shana Lemke

Pilar Gerasimo 12/17/2015 at 5:34 pm

Thanks, Shana. I think you make a great point, and I totally agree that emotional and spiritual wounds often “speak” through the body, and ask for our attention that way. Sometimes such wounds can be addressed or transformed through physical healing processes (like bodywork, yoga, and other healing modalities). In other cases, physical healing can’t take place until the underlying issue is resolved more directly through therapy, reflection, spiritual practice, life changes, or other forms of support. I’m so glad you are writing about your own experience, and that you found your way (healing is often a complex journey). On a related note: If you haven’t already read it, you might enjoy The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.

Thanks for taking time to write!

The (Slow) Way of The Healthy Deviant - Pilar Gerasimo 06/06/2017 at 2:51 pm

[…] this book I am writing (The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being Weirdly Radiant, Resilient, and Good in […]


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