Updated: Apr 20, 2021
You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.
We are the only animals with the ability to go against Nature. Think about that, when the sun goes down, most animals go to sleep; we turn on the lights. We eat food that has been invented, enhanced, and fortified instead of simply grown. For as much as our advancements and discoveries have saved and improved our lives, it bears a bit of caution when we start to believe we can do better than Nature, or that we can ignore or override it.
In many ways, we have become quite removed from our original, natural state. Our ability to adapt is pretty miraculous, isn’t it? Our bodies can do just about anything we ask them to, and in the short term, the body easily bounces back into balance. However, when we constantly ask our bodies to operate on too little sleep, inappropriate nutrition, or too much stress, something has to give. The body prioritizes survival over all else, and so energy must be conserved and shifted to vital processes at the expense of mechanisms that can be de-prioritized in life-threatening circumstances.
Finding itself in a chronic state that was meant to be temporary, the body will start to complain. We call these symptoms (yes even excess weight is a symptom!), and in today’s world, there pretty much is a “pill for every ill.” You have a headache, you take a pill. You have a rash, you slather on some anti-itch cream. You're tired, you grab an energy drink. We keep going until we end up at the pharmacy picking up multiple prescriptions.
It's funny, but we don't often ask if these drugs and creams are curing the diseases they are prescribed to treat. Of course, some medications can do that, like an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, but when managing a chronic disease, the answer is no (which is why so many medications are prescribed lifelong).
Well what's wrong with treating symptoms? Medications are often life-saving and we are fortunate to have them. I certainly do not want to imply it is a bad thing to get relief from symptoms and prolong life. This is a wonderful thing for a short-term problem, such as following an injury or surgery or for eradicating a parasite or disease. Things get a little murky though, when we start talking about the chronic lifestyle diseases that currently affect 6 out of 10 of Americans, with 4 out of 10 having two or more simultaneously. If we are just using medications to indefinitely suppress or manage symptoms without addressing their cause, could that create a problem? Well what is a symptom, really? Is it something we have no choice but to live with, simply a discomfort or annoyance that we should to get rid of, or is there more to the story?
Symptom: subjective evidence of disease or physical disturbance, something that indicates the presence of bodily disorder, something that indicates the existence of something else. (Merriam-Webster.com)
Ah. A symptom is your body communicating to you that something is wrong, out of balance. When we treat the symptom as the disease, rather than a message or clue telling us where to look for an imbalance, we get into trouble (you know, "don't shoot the messenger"?).
All too often, well-meaning practitioners seek to silence or manage symptoms to help their patients and this is commonly the first and only intervention. But what if there was a way to find the reason for the symptom and resolve it by addressing that reason? Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
How do we do that?! Maybe you're thinking, "I don't know anything about health or how the body works! I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it!"
You're right - the body is incredibly complex. And yet, finding health really doesn't have to be complicated. If we untangle the web of health advice, it comes down to one thing: is this behavior in line with or working to promote how my body evolved and what it expects, or is it asking my body to deal with things it was never meant to?
Low fat/ Low calorie frozen/prepared meals or restaurant takeout (chemical additives, excess sugars, pesticides - think stranger-danger) vs. dinner made from whole foods
Watching stressful TV shows, movies, or news until midnight vs. feeling peaceful & going to sleep at a reasonable time (think fight or flight vs. rest & digest)
Going from sitting at work to sitting on the couch vs. getting up and moving periodically throughout the day (think use it or lose it)
Using chemical fragrance to 'freshen' the air vs. natural alternatives (think worse-than-smoking)
We are so often fed the message that our state of health or disease is something that just happens. You are vulnerable or must have a genetic predisposition (bad genes). Now, you may, in fact, have a genetic predilection, but did you know that genes can be turned on or off (this is called Epigenetics and it is an exciting area of research getting a lot of traction)?! The deciding factors in whether genes are activated or not are lifestyle choices - CHOICES! That means we can make different choices and get a different outcome or experience.
So it's pretty simple, actually: we just need to make choices that make more sense. When you make choices that support how your body works and allow your body to feel safe and nurtured you are winning. Your body has the miraculous power of Nature coursing through every cell - so even when we have cut our flowers, so to speak, the Spring (aka rebirth and healing) will come... That power is the impetus that will always drive your body to reclaim its natural state of balance. Remove the things that are contributing to your living in a state of imbalance and the body will do what it is designed to do - thrive!
If you're thinking it's a bit over the top to worry about what media you watch, use a plug-in air freshener, or whether you eat processed or fresh food, consider the evidence before you. We are only in the infant stages of the Technology Revolution and we are all living in an ongoing experiment in many respects. The meteoric (and continuing) rise of chronic diseases, cancers and obesity, (especially in children) should tell us something is out of whack. Even if you're nodding your head as you read, I'm sure you know someone who would give me the old eye roll. And that's actually what can make it feel so difficult to make healthy changes and maintain them.
Our culture has normalized over-eating, glorifies stress, and views sleep as somewhat optional. You know, just because something is 'normal' doesn't mean it's good. Normal just means 'common.' Considering the health of our nation over all, it's probably not that great to be 'normal.' Be UNcommon and you will have UNcommon health and vitality. To make changes that stick, you have to be willing to be a bit different, to stand out. It's actually kind of fun to be different isn't it?
You don't have to make sweeping changes over night. Simply focusing on a couple of small things is the perfect place to start. You will naturally build momentum as you experience the benefits from the changes you make and feel inspired to do more.
So where to start?
The No-Brainers: Sleep, Nutrition, Movement
Sleep: We hear a lot about the importance of sleep, and yet a lot of us still don't believe how very critical it is. Chronic sleep deprivation has been tied to obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and mood disorders.
Action: Get 7-9 hours of good-quality sleep.
1. Keep a consistent bed time and wake time - even on the weekends.
2. Get in the mood: try a bedtime routine where you dim the lights and avoid screens for a few hours before bed (use the screen light adjuster on your phone or try blue blocking glasses).
3. Avoid night-time snacking or late dinners for better sleep as well.
Nutrition: It seems like it would go without saying, and yet there are still a lot of people (even some doctors) that believe food doesn't matter. A calorie is a calorie. But the truth is, real food from nature is what your body has evolved eating and what it expects to see and knows how to utilize. The additives in processed foods create stress in the body. The additives are not only unrecognizable to the body and therefore set it on high alert, but they also place undue stress on our detox pathways and endocrine system, whether from unnatural amounts of sugar and fat being delivered simultaneously, or from the disruption of the normal hunger and satiety signals.
Action: Eat more REAL food prepared by YOU!
1. Become a label-reader. Even the pre-cooked chicken at the grocery store has things that wouldn't make it into your food if you cooked it yourself.
2. If you don't feel like you have time, just start by cooking at home one more night than you do currently. Once you're a little used to it, look into batch cooking or meal prep to save time.
3. If you already cook most meals, try upping your vegetable and protein intake and reducing refined carbohydrates.
Movement: If you've ever been told to "eat less and move more" I feel you. That's the absolute last thing you want your doctor to say when you're having trouble losing weight. And while eating less, is a gross over-simplification of how to eat for weight loss (there is SO MUCH more to the story!!) the move-more part is true. Now I'm not talking about workouts here, although I am a proponent of having a regular fitness routine. But it's not going to cut the proverbial mustard to just move for 30-60 minutes at a time 3 to 5 days per week and sit on your keister the rest of the day. No. Ideally you want to mimic the activity level the body evolved to expect.
Action: Have movement snacks - move your body frequently throughout the day - not just during workouts!
1. Set a reminder to get up from sitting every hour for 5 minutes. Go up and down the stairs, do jumping jacks, squats, or dance - just move and have fun!
2. Get a pedometer and challenge yourself to increase your steps, or simply get creative and add more or faster walking to your errands.
3. Think differently: whenever possible, try standing or walking in place while doing any normal activities that are normally done sitting
The Brainers: Toxicity/Detox & Joy
Toxicity/Detox: We are inundated with chemicals - from personal care to cleaning products, the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink. But we also need to think about non-physical toxicity we can absorb from our relationships, interactions with strangers, social media, and television. Any kind of toxin that enters the body (or the mind) must be processed and excreted. If the body cannot excrete it, it will store it away where it will be less able to inflict immediate damage. Supporting our ability to detox is critical of course, but it is always best to start by eliminating, or at least minimizing our exposure.
Action: Minimize the physical toxins
1. Swap out air fresheners/scented candles for essential oils & diffusers
2. Use gentler, natural cleaners (available at a lot of stores now) and swap wool dryer balls for dryer sheets
3. Eat whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Action: Minimize immaterial toxins:
1. Set a phone limit on social media or delete the apps from your phone
2. Take a break from the news for at least a day and see how much better you feel
3. Set healthy boundaries in your relationships by saying 'no' and distancing yourself from people when necessary
Joy: Somehow as a culture we seem to operate under the assumption that having Joy as a regular, robust part of every day life is not essential, and yet it has been shown to improve the likelihood that adults will engage in all the previous steps we've mentioned here, in addition to reducing stress and strengthening the immune system. Joy is rather like sleep in our capacity to under-value its power. Beyond that, there seems to be something about it that we feel guilty in allowing it to ourselves. We feel there are too many other demands that are more important or essential. It is all too easy to fall into that trap and neglect our deepest needs, leading to trouble and dysfunction in other areas or our life or in our health, though we may not make the connection.
Action: Even if it's only 5 minutes (you HAVE five minutes) a day, make sure to do something to give yourself a dose of 'Vitamin J.'
1. Get playful - this works well with movement - doing a silly dance and laughing at yourself (or making someone else laugh) is a great way to double up
2. Smile - pay attention to your facial expression and make yourself smile - this sends a message to the body of happiness and safety.
3. If something makes you annoyed or angry, try to step back and laugh at it instead. You could have a signal word you use (in lieu of an expletive) that will remind you that nothing is really as big a deal as we make it.
Choose one to start with and you are on your way to getting more balance in your body, which naturally ripples out to more balance and fulfillment in your life overall.
And lastly, don't go searching for others to give you truth but instead, trust your gut. In the end, YOU are the authority of YOU so let them roll their eyes as you laugh and savor every bit of this glorious life.