One of my clients, Hannah, is on a cocktail of various medications to treat her anxiety, depression, type II diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. She has trouble keeping track of them all and complains that every time she goes to the doctor, he adds a new medication or ups her dosage on a current one.
Hannah and I talk about all of the ways that she can take charge of her health through diet and exercise and reduce the need (or even potentially eliminate the need) for medication.
Hannah responds that she doesn’t want to change her diet and that she can’t exercise because it makes her feel sick.
Hannah tells me that “everyone” in her family is overweight and unhealthy and that she thinks she got dealt a bad genetic hand. Depression and anxiety are also rampant in her family and it’s hard for Hannah to imagine that she isn’t fated to suffer as others in her family have.
I ask Hannah if she believes it’s possible to improve her health through diet and exercise. Hannah hesitates before saying that while she thinks it might be possible, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
This idea that it’s easier to be sick than to be well is sadly far too common—so many people would rather suffer from the symptoms of chronic disease than make relatively simple lifestyle changes.
It’s learned helplessness, really.
I was reading an article called The Genetic Lie that addresses this idea pretty directly. People are frequently coached by the healthcare system (which itself is driven by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries) that our genes control our destiny and that medication is our best response:
The idea of genetic chronic-disease predestiny was dictated to us by doctors and corporations that intend to maximize billing in a market full of sick people. The evidence is beginning to suggest that the medical system is keeping its patients obese and diabetic because those patients are profitable. What other explanation is there if we know that diet and exercise can cure obesity-related diseases and keep people off medications and out of hospitals?
Prevention simply doesn’t pay. Medications and procedures do, especially when they treat the symptoms but don’t cure the disease. A client for life—until death.
Okay, that’s sad and I don’t think doctors are evil, they’ve just bought into these beliefs that they received in their training and pass them onto the rest of us.
Look, we all know on some level that our choices affect our health.
Have you ever known someone who was diagnosed with lung cancer, was dragging along an oxygen tank, and still refused to quit smoking? Yes, that person.
But that person is you and me, if we refuse to change our diet or increase our activity or take better care of ourselves in general when we face health issues that are simply our bodies’ way of letting us know that what we’re doing isn’t working.
How do you feel about questioning authority, the status quo, and current assumptions about best treatment for chronic diseases?
I’m not suggesting that you tell your doctor to “stuff it”, lol. But think about where you have control and what alternative treatments are available.
Molly is another client of mine. A year and a half ago, Molly was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis). Molly was stunned, but as she worked with her doctors she also started doing some research on her own. Molly learned that stress and diet seemed to play a role in the both the onset and the progression of MS.
Molly used her diagnosis as an invitation to live her life differently. This wasn’t easy for her at all—she was breaking some long-term habits, but she was highly motivated.
The three major changes that Molly and I worked together on were:
Stress reduction: Molly was a people-pleaser who almost never said ‘no’. She was chronically overextended. Molly started creating some firm boundaries, especially at work. She stopped working through her lunch hour and the extra 20 minutes to an hour at the end of the day. She made herself unavailable by phone and email after business hours with a few exceptions. Slowly Molly started reclaiming her life and her time.
Diet: Molly knew she needed to clean up her diet. She ate based on what was easy and convenient and that included a lot of processed foods. Molly read The Wahls Protocol (a book about treating auto-immune disorders with diet) and while it seemed extreme to her she started slowly shifting to a diet of whole foods. Molly doesn’t follow the protocol perfectly, but finds that an 80/20 approach is working really well for her.
Exercise: Molly hated to exercise. She was only slightly overweight but found exercise to be awkward and uncomfortable. Molly decided to invest in seeing a personal trainer once a week. The trainer helped Molly with building a simple repertoire of total body exercises that she could do at home. Initially, she had to totally force herself to do the 2 additional workouts at home (it helped that she really liked her trainer!), but as she got stronger and more coordinated it started to feel less tortuous even if she didn’t love it. Molly also committed to walking on her lunch hour (now that she wasn’t working through it) for 10 minutes and walking after work for 20 minutes every day.
A year and a half later, Molly hasn’t had any progression in her symptoms!
Is that because of the lifestyle changes that she made? No one can say for sure, but it’s obviously not hurting her. The truth is that Molly feels better—stronger and healthier—than she did before her diagnosis.
Do y’all think I sound like a broken record with my constant repetition of how important it is to take care of yourself in regards to stress, diet, and exercise? I feel like I have to keep shouting it out in an effort to drown out the voices saying that chronic disease, poor health, and obesity are just facts of life.
Have you had a health scare that forced you to make some changes? Or do you find that you resist making lifestyle changes even though you know it’s negatively impacting your health? Shoot me an email and let me know what’s up with you!