When we think of the mind and body as two separate things, we also become too comfortable in casually separating our eating, sleeping and exercise habits from our ideas about general health. We know there is some kind of a mind-body link, but we don’t understand how all encompassing and pervasive it is. Take the example we have used in this chapter: inflammation in the knee. If we don’t understand the big picture about mind-body health, we might think that awful knee pain is just a sign that the body has gone haywire.
When we think we cannot trust our body’s responses or we somehow don’t work “right” anymore, it’s easy to feel that what we do has little effect on our problems. And so we continue to eat, sleep and exercise poorly and we have little belief that improving these “three-legged stool” activities will make a difference.
Can you trust how you feel?
A similar thing happens in mental health. People start to think that their emotions are haywire. They think they cannot trust how they feel, that their brain does not respond to their “sensible” attempts to control their feelings. So, believing that their emotions are out of control, they become even more discouraged and vulnerable to a slough of worsening emotional baggage.
We may find that the health changes we are trying to make are not effective. In dismay, we then protect our feelings by refusing to look objectively at how consistently we are actually doing what we said we’d do (vs. what we’d like to believe we are doing). Or, we may harbor faulty health preconceptions and we are so defensive about them that we aren’t open to finding out more accurate information that might make us more likely to accomplish our goals.
Our healthy diet may not be healthy enough
For example, we’re told to eat a healthy diet, and so we do what we think is healthy and it doesn’t really work. The most likely problem is that what we’re doing is not at a therapeutic level. In other words, our “healthy diet” may just not be healthy enough. For example, you may think you have a healthy diet when it includes meat sources of protein at every meal, or even every day. But animal products are generally pro-inflammatory. They are hard on your body. It’s not that you can never eat meat; it’s just that you have to recognize that eating meat will raise the acidity level of your body and create inflammation. If you choose to eat meat every day, the result will be yet higher levels of inflammation.
We just talked about variety in probiotics. We may think we are doing good things for our bodies when we eat yogurt, which is advertised as full of probiotics, but what was shown so powerfully in the research above is that in order to have a real impact on our health, the variety and amount of probiotics we ingest are critical. Eating a yogurt won’t give you enough probiotics, either in terms of variety or amount. It may help a little but it’s simply not enough to make a difference.
Add fruits and vegetables
Here’s another example: You might try to add a few servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet in an attempt to become more healthy. But a few servings a day won’t be transformative. You need to make a definitive change, such that eating “mostly plants” (thanks, Michael Pollan) doesn’t mean you eat 51% plants and 49% animal products. The point here is that in order to create a lifestyle that is anti-inflammatory, you have to really change your sleep, lower your stress level, increase your exercise and especially add more vegetables and fruits to your diet. Include lots of those beneficial secondary metabolites that help reduce inflammation and help get rid of free radicals.
You have to fight fire with, well … plants.
Doesn’t sound catchy, but it’s the truth.
Here’s a further example to underscore my point that, to become healthy, we need to make therapeutically effective lifestyle changes: Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are two more examples of underutilized anti-inflammatories. Vitamin D levels are inversely related to pro-inflammatory cytokines.1 What this means is that Vitamin D can help down-regulate your body’s pro-inflammatory messages. People understand that Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids are generally supposed to be helpful, but they don’t often experience supplementing with them as being transformative to their health. The primary reason for this is that they don’t take enough in terms of quality and quantity. They aren’t doing the treatment at a therapeutic level.
Be more aggressive with your treatment
One of my favorite ideas from the herbal medicine approach is that you have to be more aggressive in your treatment than the disease state is in its attack. You’re better off with “shock and awe” on your side rather than waiting for “peace talks” to work. If you’re ill, you can’t sit back and drink a cup of ginger tea, hoping that that alone will do the trick.
Take Responsibility for Doing Enough
Perhaps one of the most important points I want to convey is to take responsibility for your health, and to do it without getting sidelined by shame and guilt. What I’m talking about is helping you intensify your commitment to a course of action that will actually improve your health.
Only when what you do is therapeutically enough can you have a chance at realizing your desired outcomes!
1. Peterson CA, Heffernan ME. Serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha concentrations are negatively correlated with serum 25(OH)D concentrations in healthy women.J Inflamm(Lond). 2008 Jul 24;5:10. doi: 10.1186/1476-9255-5-10.