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Committing to Recovery

The hardest thing about getting well is making a total commitment to health.  I just listened to a seminar that said 95% of us have a chronic health problem that we would like to have disappear.  I don’t know how true that will feel for you as readers.  I know that for me, acne, an occasional asthma episode, and a tendency toward constipation didn’t feel like “chronic health problems.”  They were just inconveniences that could be addressed with medication.

My body had to pull out the “big guns” to get my attention.  When I received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I was finally ready to admit I had a chronic health problem.  For five months I was a model patient for my neurologist.  Then I felt an internal shift and my body said “no” to treatments that “might keep me from getting worse.”  The treatments didn’t even help me feel better.  I wanted to be well.

I looked far and wide for a program that might get me there, trying several in succession.  When I found The Wahls Protocol (TWP), the requirements seemed insurmountable.  No bread, no cheese, no milk, no sugar, no corn . . . How on earth could anyone manage a diet like that?

Doctor Terry Wahls had been diagnosed with an incurable and progressive form of MS.  She was her own test subject while researching components of what would become The Wahls Protocol, identifying and using supplements, real food, exercise and other measures to improve her health.  Since she believed her doctor’s prognosis, she was surprised by significant signs of recovery.  Within months, she got out of her wheel chair and even began riding her bike.

Colleagues encouraged Dr. Wahls to develop a research program examining TWP.  Because it required so many challenging lifestyle changes, first she had to demonstrate that people could actually adopt it.  Only then was she able to begin formal investigations to show that The Protocol improves chronic diseases.

As I learned more about TWP, I began ad
ding supplements, eating more vegetables and avoiding bread.  At first, I saw no improvements; but I didn’t get worse. 

I yearned to do the things I’d done with ease before my diagnosis—like walking the 100 feet to the mailbox or bringing in the trash cans.  I could still shop for groceries because carts were always available.  The pleasure of shopping for clothes was gone.  Not only was it hard to find a cart, taking off and putting on clothes was complicated by lack of control of my legs.  Before I could finish trying on even one outfit, I would be completely exhausted. More than anything, I missed being able to walk outdoors in parks or on nature trails.  Not only did my feet seem to have a mind of their own, the heat of a summer day left me with no strength.  Nature had sustained me before MS, but now it was hard to be outside.

For two years I ate Wahls-consistent food, meditated, and eliminated toxins from my environment. Physical therapy five times a week was the most challenging, though after a year I began to feel stronger and to walk at home without a cane.  This was not the triumph of a giant ballet leap or earning a black belt in martial arts—but I enjoyed improvements and celebrated eight weeks without a fall.

Then I had a visit from a beloved cousin who had developed MS 20 years before I did.  She had undergone weight loss diets and mercury amalgam removal.  Still, every year, she lost more function and could no longer drive or walk.  She had recently been discharged from a care center because she’d stopped making progress in physical therapy.  Double vision made reading impossible, and problems with temperature left her miserable in both warm and cool environments.

I served her a Wahls compliant meal and described my success with the Protocol.  She seemed to like the food, but asked for sugar. I filled my sugar bowl and handed it to her.  With a trembling hand, she put five spoonfuls into her tea then dumped the remainder on her salad and ate it. Then, I watched as she leaned to the left and almost fell out of her chair because she was no longer able to sit upright without support.

In that moment, I made a full commitment to do everything in my power to get well, no matter what.

What would it take for you to make that commitment?

Taking back your Health: Listening to the Body

The United States is a world leader.  Nevertheless, our health is at risk.  Fully half of the population is either diabetic or pre-diabetic, a quarter has one or more autoimmune diseases, and other chronic conditions abound.  These statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg.  Many of us “don’t feel good” and are “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  We label it “aging”—but is it really?  Looking at the elderly population makes it seem as though poor health is an inevitable part of growing old—but what if one could age without chronic illness?

We believed science could help, but “scientific findings” have supported many of the practices that currently make us sick.  While there is “good science,” published findings generally support marketing over health.  “Healthy” dietetic recommendations have included multiple servings of grain every day, limited the eggs we consume, limited the quality of good fat in our diets, and contributed to the increasing toxicity of our world and food supply.  Meanwhile, food manufacturers have added sugar, bad fats, and other addictive substances to our diets. Years of eating this way have left many of us with both obesity and poor nutrition.

I believe we can take back our vitality at any age by avoiding sugar and processed foods and listening to our bodies. The body’s job is to keep us healthy and on the right path.  It knows what helps or hinders.  Relying on the body as a guide can lead us to wellness and vibrancy.

Listening to the body, however, is an art.  The same marketing forces that misled us about food and healing have created a false sense of what listening really looks like.  Specifically, we expect immediate feedback from everything we do.  For example, when we take antibiotics, we usually know whether they are working within a day.  When we take stimulants or pain killers, we may see results in only 20 minutes.  By contrast, when we make lifestyle changes ranging from eating to exercise, the response from the body may take weeks. But the difference is notable—sustainable energy and vitality.

My decision to overcome a chronic illness allowed me to gain skills as a body listener.  I can offer the initial strategies to you as a road map.  We are all individuals, so some of my strategies may require adjustment to work for you.

This being said, see your medical doctor without delay if you have a severe physical injury, are bleeding profusely, cannot breathe, have a high fever, horrible pain, or are experiencing a possibly life-threatening emergency.  For these issues, seeing a medical doctor for acute care can save your life; for most other concerns, just listen to your body.

Five early steps of body-listening 

  1. Assume all sensations and emotions are valid communications.
  2. Bodies don’t communicate in your spoken language but with physical and emotional sensations—the body’s vocabulary.  Rather than reaching for drugs to relieve an ache or coffee to reduce fatigue, be curious and wait quietly.  What is the body trying to say?
  3. Place these sensations in context by recognizing when they occurred, how strong they are, how long they last, what you were doing when they started and how they changed as your behavior or situation changed.  Include factors like medications, exercise, food you ate and water you drank.  This will help you understand the message.
  4. Try changing your immediate behavior, watching comedy, or listening to music you love. The body has strong opinions about everything.  Remember the boundless energy of your first infatuation or how tired you felt when you struggled to complete a boring or time- wasting task?  Sometimes sensations are merely your body’s “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”  If changing your behavior or thinking changes how you feel, you are closer to understanding the body’s message.
  5. When you ask your body if something helps, do not expect an immediate answer.  It takes time before exercise leads to stamina and strength or nutrients lead to discernable differences in the way you look or feel.

This month, I challenge you to experiment with listening to your body as a way to start reclaiming your health.  Use the first two steps.  Before you reach for coffee or a pain medication, recognize it as a communication and stop to ask the body to clarify its message.  Fatigue or pain may be legitimate complaints that suggest a need for behavioral change.  Getting more sleep may be inconvenient—but sleep is when the body heals.

Healing with Food Part 2

Changing Directions

DIET is a four letter word.  Most diets work in the short run.  Nevertheless there’s a huge problem.  Specifically, following any weight-loss diet, within a year, over 93% of people gain back more weight than they lost.  Even a person who experiences significant health improvements from working with something like the Wahls Protocol often returns to their old style of eating, losing their gains.

What does it take to be successful?

Again, it comes down to who we are as eaters.  Success is almost always associated with a major internal change that places us on the right path. In the process, we succeed but we don’t diet.  We align with our core motivation and change our lifestyles and our lives.

I need to speak frankly, even at the risk of being self-serving.  Any change of eating habits is difficult—often so daunting that people give up before they even try.  In the last few weeks several of my associates have confessed that they are “addicted” or they “like dessert too much.”  All they are really saying is, “I can’t do it alone,” or “things (my body, my health) aren’t bad enough yet.”

Some people even look at me like I’m crazy to suggest that change is possible. But anything is possible with the right motivation and support.  I know.  I found my way back from multiple sclerosis, slipping into a healthier looking body than I’d ever imagined. Recovering lost functions, however, is a work in progress.

At first it was hard for me to admit that I needed support.  After all, I’d eaten all my life without help.  Then I attended “Terry Wahls’ Quick Start,” sections 1-3 for diet coaching and I began working with a rehabilitation therapist to regain my walking ability.  I am lucky in that my multiple sclerosis came to me as a core motivation.

Your health challenge might be your motivation, too—or maybe your motivation is something even bigger.  Either way, it’s worth exploring.

Healing with Food: Part 1

Your Personal Contribution

          The Center for Disease Control reported that in 2012, half of all people had one or more chronic diseases.  These illnesses are disabling and largely “incurable,” meaning doctors cannot cure them.  Some people may even feel blamed for becoming sick when doctors challenge their smoking, drinking too much, or not exercising. 

Yet the truth is, even where there is no cure, healing is always possible. 

To heal, good nutrition is essential. The body will fix itself when it has adequate building blocks. However, nutritious food choices are not enough; we can only be nourished by what we digest and assimilate—and that requires attention to our state of mind.  Being excited (eustress) or upset (distress) interferes with assimilation.  All stress shuts down digestive processes, and the nutritional cost may be as high as losing 40% of the nutrients we ingest. Stress has no place at the table.

Thus, the first step in using food for healing is to be able to leave “flight or fight” or excitement behind, leaving the body in “rest and digest mode,” a state of physical and psychological safety.

Strategies to Rest and Digest

1.        Take five to ten deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths before your first mouthful–becoming conscious of your intention to eat and heal.

2.        Slow your eating.  The body requires at least twenty minutes to recognize that it has eaten at all.

3.        Eat with family or good friends and keep the conversations uplifting.

4.        Make the atmosphere feel good.  Be aware of background sights and sounds.  Music may be preferable to the news.

5.        Avoid multitasking.  Instead, taste and smell your food.  Chew it.  Feel it.  Enjoy it.  Think of pleasure as a nutrient!

“Each Patient Carries his doctor inside him.”   Norman Cousins
Anatomy of an Illness