No “A” for Effort

One of the fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine is to rely on the healing power of nature, and use the gentlest form of treatment possible.  The starting point for this is always lifestyle:  a healthy diet, exercise, adequate restful sleep, and purposeful stress management.  We can debate endlessly about the best format for each of these, and how they should be applied in specific health conditions — just browse the Internet for a few minutes, and you’ll find as many opinions as there are web sites.  No matter the specifics, a healthy lifestyle has been proven over and over to result in longer life and less chronic disease.

With a background in biology, though, one conclusion I’ve come to is that nature doesn’t give us an “A” for good intentions.  If we don’t stick to these healthy lifestyle factors, we quickly become susceptible to debilitating health conditions.  Biology doesn’t provide us with a pension at retirement:  “You’ve been a good (boy/girl) for so long, here’s your gold watch — just take it easy from now on.  Lie on the couch, have a smoke!”  I don’t think so.
Have you ever broken your arm or leg?  It probably had to be in a cast for anywhere from 6-12 weeks — and when the cast came off, that limb was significantly weaker than the opposite side.  Lack of exercise was a necessity, but it caused significant muscle atrophy in a short period of time.
A healthy diet is similar.  If you’ve tried to lose weight, for example, and found that you just couldn’t take the pounds off, keep a diet diary for 1-2 weeks.  You could do this on paper, or through online utilities such as SparkPeople.  If you’re diligent about recording everything that passes your lips, you might be surprised at how the “little” things add up:  a few M&Ms from a co-worker’s desk.  Finishing up the leftovers on a spouse’s or child’s dinner plate.  A late-evening snack in front of the TV that’s more out of habit than hunger.  We intend to follow a healthy eating pattern, but biology is unrelenting — it counts every calorie.
If you’re following an elimination diet to try to avoid foods to which you’re allergic, the elimination has to be as complete as possible.  You’re trying to calm down the immune system response.  Our immune system is designed to respond to the tiniest microscopic organism with a huge symptomatic response (ever been knocked flat by the flu?).  Likewise, “just a little bit” of an allergic food can keep that immune response going, leading to more symptoms.
Don’t take this as all doom-and-gloom:  rather, use this information as inspiration to keep up your good habits.  For just as biology ignores good intentions, it does respond to our continued efforts.  We always have the power to make healthy choices, no matter what happened yesterday.

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