Certain environmental health issues became important to me on a personal level years ago. Intuitively, reading labels of the products I was putting on my skin and pouring into my washing machine seemed as logical to me as reading those of the foods I was consuming. My diet was comprised of whole, unprocessed, and organic foods. I knew the skin was a permeable organ, so why was I rubbing these chemicals all over my body?
The more I learned about how personal care products were regulated (or, not regulated), the more outraged I became and the more committed I was to seeking safer alternatives. I passed along information to friends and family who were open to learning. I researched companies, products, and ingredients and developed a savvy eye for green-washing.
As a health coach who promoted preventative self-care, I tried incorporating environmental health education into conversations with clients. Some were interested, but many were not. I didn't get it!
I wonder if they know that the hand sanitizer they just rubbed into their hands contains triclosan, a known endocrine disruptor that's also classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA?
And it wasn't just my clients. Lack of awareness was everywhere. I would notice someone in the gym locker room applying a popular brand of deodorant.
I wonder if they know that their deodorant contains parabens, a type of preservative that that easily penetrates the skin? Do they know that parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption due to their ability to mimic estrogen, along with reproductive toxicity? Do they know that parabens have oestrogenic properties, known to play a central role in the development, growth and progression of breast cancer?
I would pass by someone at the grocery store and catch a whiff of their perfume or cologne.
Do they know that in the U.S., manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the one word–fragrance "–without revealing what those ingredients are and instead refer to them as "trade secret." Do they know that seventy-five percent of products listing the ingredient “fragrance” contain phthalates and that phthalates are also endocrine disruptors, linked to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities?
I wondered if they knew that there were effective hand-sanitizers out there that didn't contain triclosan, paraben-free deodorants that actually worked, and even non-toxic perfumes that smelled good. I wondered if they knew that for every choice they were making as a consumer, there were safer alternatives that could minimize the long-term health risks of cumulative chemical exposure.
It frustrated me beyond belief that information like this, rooted not in conspiracy-theory or quack science but actual evidence-based research, lingered along the periphery of mainstream health awareness.
I wanted to be part of the movement to change that and started thinking about how could I make the greatest impact.
A behavior-change approach to environmental health:
I had learned a thing or two from working in the field of behavior change. Namely, it was never up to me to change someone else's behavior. They were behind the steering wheel. I was the passenger, visiting their life for a short time, helping to navigate. For any lifestyle change to be both effective and sustainable, I learned that a few key elements were critical.
They needed to feel like change was necessary. Along with education, finding this intrinsic motivation required a side-by-side comparison of their deepest values with their current behaviors and an identification of inconsistencies between the two.
They needed to develop a clear vision of where they wanted to go and they needed to feel confident in their ability to get there. I helped build their self-efficacy by meeting them where they were and helping them to make incremental progress with realistic, attainable shifts in behavior.
No matter how small each microchange they adopted was, they needed to always feel that what they did mattered. Every extra flight of stairs they chose to climb over the elevator; every sip of water they took instead of a diet soda. Embracing the notion that every choice you make matters is empowering. It's a mindset that takes on a life of its own. It becomes a continued source of inspiration for you and those around you to positively impact your own lives and the greater good.
I'm passionate about sharing this critical environmental health message and I'm committed to reaching my ALO readers in a way that facilitates meaningful, practical, enjoyable, and sustainable change. Now, I look forward to bringing that same passion to the Savvy Women’s Alliance community!
You Might Enjoy:
- Katie's post and a Savvy Favorite, "This Boyfriends Simple Fragrance Request"
- Do you have the urge to share? How to Start A Savvy Chapter