The other day I had a patient come into my office with chronic pain. For my line of work as a massage therapist, this is no big news. I would say about 90% of the population that I see are people that have chronic pain issues. This person was different. This person was all out of options (according to them) and had a very defeatist attitude. They had seen countless doctors, specialists, Physical Therapists, etc… and no one had been able to help them. They were convinced that surgery was in their future in one form or another (and the only solution to their pain). Then, I asked them a series of Yes or No questions, all of which involved what this person had done to help themselves. All the answers were an unequivocal no. This person had done nothing to help their cause; no self-care, no diet changes, and no lifestyle changes. I will state here that this is a typical response. As frustrated as it makes me, I usually just go about my job trying my best to make them feel better for the 45 minutes that they are on my table. However, that day, this person struck a chord with me. I thought to myself, if someone was completely miserable, in chronic pain and all it would take is some lifestyle changes such as diet and activity level…What is someone willing to change to feel better and live a better life?
The Cost of Being Unhealthy
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity is very expensive. The cost of being obese in America is $1,429 higher than a person of normal weight. Some statistics place it as high as $2,646 for males and $4,879 for females. With obesity comes diabetes (type 2) and cancer, among others, and with approximately 78.6 million of adults in America being obese, it is indeed an epidemic.
I am going to be brutally honest here; I was an extremely overweight kid, teenager and up until I was 33, a fat adult. I made excuses: job, relationships, school…yadda yadda yadda. It was all total bull. I was fat because I would eat a whole bag of Cheetos while watching TV; I didn’t exercise because I was convinced I was too busy and I really didn’t need to. I was a statistic. In some ways, I still am. Now, I am not saying that all overweight people follow the same example as I did. Some have very serious medical conditions that preclude them from losing weight easily, but I was NOT one of those people.
Food As Medicine
In modern Western medicine, food is used for energy, not for healing. When a patient is riddled with co-morbidities like cardiac issues, cancer, diabetes, obesity or IBS to name a few, then a dietician is recommended. This is not always the case, but it is mostly the norm. Many medical schools only have about 1-2 hours of nutrition classes for medical students, and some have it just as an option. So what can us as lay people do to take control and know how to use food as medicine when there are so many opinions out there?
Be open and honest with your healthcare team, and do your research. Your primary care doctor is usually the first line of defense. Go talk with him about your diet and ask for a referral to a dietician. A Registered Dietician (RD) is one who has gone through extensive schooling and knows the ins and outs of what is out there and can help you cut through all the nutrition bull out there. Another line of defense is a Functional Medicine Physician or an Ayurvedic Physician. They have additional training to help you use food as medicine. An RD, Functional Medicine Physician or an Ayurvedic Physician can help you with issues such as inflammation, fatigue, mood issues and chronic digestive issues through food. Elimination diets, blood tests, allergy testing and even some genetic testing can help root out the cause of your issues.
Exercise As Therapy
As I was losing weight, I discovered how fantastic exercise is as therapy. In college, I was diagnosed with Depression and was prescribed a various catalogue of pills to help my brain get right. They were not for me. It was when I started losing weight and running, lifting, and doing yoga that I began to feel better. I felt less toxic – to myself, to my family and even my friends. Turns out this is backed by science, too! According to a study done by University of California, San Francisco, hopping on a treadmill for 30 minutes releases the happy feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. More studies have shown that even minimal perceived improvements in your workout routine such as lifting more, running longer or punching just a bit harder have a positive effect on our brain and our self-esteem. Plus my dogs were way less spastic because they got to go out and run a few times a week.
[Related Article: Four Things To Do When You Really, Really, Really Don’t Want To Workout]
Dietary and lifestyle changes, even small ones, can make a huge difference in your life. The key is to start small and work your way up. Little tweaks along the way can really help. Don’t get discouraged; I am fighting the same fight every single day. It is a struggle to make good choices, exercise, eat the right foods, and to be the person I want my daughter to think I am. It’s hard, believe me, but nothing easy is ever worth achieving. However, if you find yourself uninspired, take thee to the Internet! With informative podcasts, inspirational and educational sites like this one (have you signed up for our weekly emails yet?) and videos galore on YouTube, you will be motivated in no time. So get out there and work on becoming your best self. When you feel you just want those last few Cheetos in the bag, think to yourself:
What am I willing to change to live a better life?
- Cost of Obesity: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- Institute of Functional Medicine: https://www.functionalmedicine.org/getstarted/free/
- Mind-Body Health: https://mind-bodyhealth.osu.edu/
- Benefits of Exercise: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/slideshows/7-mind-blowing-benefits-of-exercise