It happened again. I was talking with a client last week who said, “When I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, my doctor said I could eat anything I want. He said food wouldn’t make a difference.” (I hear some version of this from clients frequently.)
I said, “He was wrong.”
Neither Jill nor I are doctors. We can’t diagnose, prescribe, or treat. We work with clients, not patients. We both have deep respect for the rigorous training MDs go through and their high level of licensure.
At the same time, some doctors (like all of us in certain situations) haven’t experienced the power of lifestyle medicine or learned about a whole-systems approach to healing, so they think that food and lifestyle are irrelevant. (I’m not denigrating doctors at all. Lack of exposure is to blame more than anything else.)
The science supporting the effectiveness of lifestyle medicine is overwhelming and the number of practitioners who are adopting this approach is growing significantly.
Anecdotally, Jill and I see lifestyle medicine transform lives every day. During a recent session, a client told me that after our work together, she felt better than she had in a decade.
My client last week (whose doctor dismissed her interest in food) also told me that she’d done a clean eating protocol twice in the past and felt great each time. So while her doctor may have told her that food didn’t matter, her body knew that it did. What evidence is more powerful and convincing than feeling amazing?
Have you been told that lifestyle changes don’t matter when it comes to autoimmunity (or the health of your endocrine/hormonal system)?
What’s myth and what’s real?
Here are some things you may have heard about autoimmunity (or any other condition) — and what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
What you may have heard: “Food doesn’t matter.”
What’s more accurate: Food is medicine.
Food communicates directly with all the cells in our body. What we eat and drink isn’t just fuel, it’s a chemical messenger that tells our cells to store fat or burn it, tells ours nervous system to calm down or amp up, tells inflammation to rage through the body or to stand down and behave, and encourages the immune system to be overactive or function normally.
Food also talks to the epigenome (a group of chemical compounds that tell our genes what to do), helping our bodies turn on the genes we want to activate and turn off the ones we want to stay quiet.
In fact, food is more than medicine. Food is code. At every meal, we’re programmers writing HTML for all our body’s functions. If you want a glitchy body, write bad code. If you want to achieve your optimal expression of health, write good code.
What you may have heard: “It doesn’t matter what you eat. You just need calories for fuel.”
What’s more accurate: When it comes to calories, quality trumps quantity.
In situations where people need to maintain a healthy weight, fortify against a life-saving but appetite-eroding medical treatment, or support thyroid health (the thyroid is so nutrient-dependent) they sometimes hear the advice to eat whatever they want. But in these situations, quality counts. Unhealthy calories (processed, sugary, brimming with bad fats) will do more harm than good — especially when health is already compromised, since many conditions thrive on toxic foods.
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What you may have heard: “Get 8 hours of sleep.”
What’s more accurate: Getting enough sleep IS important, but it’s not the whole story.
The quality of your sleep matters, too. Do you toss and turn a lot at night? Do you wake up every night at 3:00 am and can’t fall back asleep? Do you get up a lot to pee? Do you wake up feeling exhausted, even when you’ve gotten 8 hours? These other measures matter just as much as duration. If you consistently get 8 hours of sleep at night, but they are crappy hours, your healing will stall. (Read my recent Experience Life magazine article on optimal circadian rhythms here: Get in Sync.)
What you may have heard: “Supplements are a waste of money.”
What’s more accurate: Targeted supplementation can help, but the quality of your supplements matter. So does relative precision.
Taking a scattershot approach to supplements (trying one of everything!) and/or choosing whatever is on sale at grocery store will be less effective than personalizing your supplements and paying attention to brand quality.
In some cases, what you’ve heard — that supplements are a waste of money — may be true. When someone isn’t eating a clean, primarily whole foods diet or is completely sedentary (or both), layering on a bunch of supplements will do little good. Supplements become effective when built on a base of other healthful practices.
What you may have heard: “You have to meditate.”
What’s more accurate: Stress reduction is hugely important, but it can take many forms.
Most practitioners, whether they practice in the functional/integrative model or not, know that too much stress is bad and that stress reduction needs to be taken seriously. Many tell people to meditate and leave it at that. (I’ve even had functional medicine practitioners tell me that I HAVE to meditate and then close the door behind them.)
Don’t get me wrong, meditation is a powerful, life-transforming practice that works for many (I do it), but it doesn’t always work for everyone. Reducing stress can take different forms: getting a massage, working on a paint-by-number, grabbing your sweetheart and making a plan to see all the Oscar contenders this winter.
Stress-reduction gurus can make it seem like meditation is mandatory for relaxing and optimal health. It can definitely help, but the only mandatory component of this equation is the stress reduction part. If acupuncture or playing on a rec volleyball league is how you de-stress, that is what counts.
You’ve likely heard more “truths” from practitioners of all different types of practices — allopathic, functional, integrative, etc. What have you heard? What do you suspect is untrue? What do you know is true for you? Let us know in the comments section below or on Facebook.