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Living Inception: Is Your Wellness Just a Dream?

The latest sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio has been loved and lauded over the past few weeks for turning viewers’ minds into balloon animals – dreams, realities, altered states…which way is up in this cerebral action pic for summer? Director Christopher Nolan is known for his mind-bending fun in movies like Memento and The Dark Knight and this time, his Escher-like directorial hand has lead to box office bullion, with multilayered theatrics brought to life by the screen-popping stars of Inception.

While it’s all in good fun, Nolan’s otherwordly world also seems positioned to serve as a teachable moment for many aspects of modern life, where walking the line sometimes means treading a pretty blurry one. For instance, you thought you were living a healthy life. You’ve always felt like you were an active, vigorous individual. It’s been years since you ate an entire Duncan Hines cake as a midnight snack. But what are all those packaged food containers in the recycle bin? What’s this mid-morning energy slump? What’s all this talk from the doctor about HDLs?  Whether you are living in a full-blown dream or just a slight state of denial, maintaining good health can mean constantly re-calibrating what health and wellness really means.

Thanks to Christopher Nolan, we’ve isolated three concepts à la Inception that might serve to help us turn off the madness, tune in to reality, and drop back into health and wellness – in other words, to wake up from the dream and get real.


In the film, “inception” is a twist on the more common “extracting” or stealing ideas from the heads of unsuspecting targets in an effort to extract valuable information. In inception, extraction’s inverse, dreams are used to secretly implant an idea in a target’s mind. “Dream architects” take control and build a “dream landscape” that makes the dreamer take actions consistent with their dreams in their real life.

The scenario may be all too familiar when it comes to our health and wellness. It’s almost as if our minds have been infiltrated to think that fat, sugar, and salt is good (it certainly tastes good). That’s the architects at work, creating ideal taste combinations that make us desire more of these foods, scientifically created to provide our mouths and brains with a peak experience. Shaking off the idea that these tastes are not “real” – that is, that they are actually food evils created in a lab that allow us to lose our taste for good, whole, healthy foods – can be difficult. When we’re caught in the dream and exposed to these foods on menus, at fast food restaurants, on TV, at school lunches or vending machines and in supermarket shelves, well, we start to think of it as just the way life is.

But keep in mind that those entities responsible for placing these ideas in our heads are no different then those that Robert Fischer is subject to. Their agendas have nothing to do with our personal health and wellness. It might be time to reset our idea of reality.

“Hostile Dreams”

In Inception, we learn that the human projections in a person’s dream act more or less like white blood cells. If the dreamer becomes aware that a foreign entity has entered the subconscious, then the projections will become increasingly hostile.

So is it with health. Letting nutrition go by the wayside in favor of embracing false ideas planted by agents of sugar, fat and salt, and foods that fill us in the moment but are empty of nutritional content, can have dire effects in the long term. Poor nutrition can increase the risk of developing serious diseases later on in life. A poor diet increases risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. It also increases the chances of getting cancer and other diseases of aging.

Wonder why these health issues are affecting more Americans than ever, and obesity is considered an epidemic? It’s almost as if we are all living in a shared lucid dream, surrounded by the effects of poor health and unable to see through its dire consequences because they are everywhere. It’s similar to the classic fish tale: An older fish swims by two younger fish, and asks, “How’s the water, boys?” After a while, one of the young fish asks the other, “What the heck is water?” As the famed writer pointed out “This is water.”

Our water is the poor nutritional options that surround us and the waning health it perpetrates. Our seemingly benign but unhealthy choices will grow hostile over time. But realizing that lifestyle modifications and a nutritional diet can greatly lower risks of developing diseases and lead to a longer life is the beginning of waking up from this unhealthy dream.

The “Individualized Object”

Inception begins when Dominic Cobb is found washed up on a beach carrying a spinning top. The top is his individualized object—the personal totem that tells him if he is in a dream state or in reality. If the spinning top slows, it means it’s subject to the laws of gravity and therefore exists in the real world. If it spins and spins, we’re in a dream.

What’s your teetotum? What tells you whether you are in a wellness reality or in an unhealthy fugue state?  Maybe it’s an uncomfortable feeling associated with tightening clothes. Maybe it’s a logy feeling after a meal. Maybe your sleep is disrupted. They are your personal teetotums, telling you your nutrition has gotten off track. Give your top a spin, and see if it’s subject to the laws of overeating, lack of exercise and poor nutritional choices, or if it’s consistent with the healthy life you want to be living.

Waking Up from the Wellness Dream

It’s OK to experience the occasional limbo. Catching yourself between worlds is part of understanding where you really should be in your ongoing health and wellness routine. Just be careful – if you think you might be trapped between what you want from healthy living and what you’ve been convinced you want, just don’t build a life around it. You’ll waste a lot more than two hours, and before you know it, well…fade to black.

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