Often when people think about health they automatically think in terms of measurable specifics:
how often they get sick
what chronic illnesses they have
medications they take
what they eat
However, health is more than a collection of numbers, more than the presence or absence of disease, more than the food we consume. We are our thoughts; we are our relationships; we are our career and our hobbies and interests. It’s tempting to search for that “one thing” we need to do, or change, in order to improve our health but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. So many factors directly impact our physical health so where do we start?
Focusing on a single component like losing weight, running more, or eating kale every day cannot transform our health. It requires taking a step back and looking through a wider lens, taking an inventory of all the areas of our life and deciding what IS working for us, and where change may be beneficial. Change can be scary and uncomfortable so, to avoid the fear and discomfort, we choose to live in denial instead, fearing “what if” we admit something isn’t working. “Dis-ease” often manifests in ways seemingly unrelated to the condition/situation it stems from. Getting to the root cause is the only way to truly treat what “ails” you in order to allow you to live the way you want, and often the root cause is multi-faceted.
Research has shown that health begins in our gut. Not only is our gut our 2nd brain, it is also the throne of our immune system. The microbes that comprise our microbiome set the stage for our health performance. If our microbiome is thriving and active, our health will be a Broadway smash…if our microbiome is unbalanced and malfunctioning, our health will look more like a children’s backyard skit. There are more microbes living in our gut than all the other cells in our body combined. They are responsible for aiding in digestion and manufacturing the cells that make up our immune system, vitamins, and hormones; they produce an array of neurochemicals used by the brain to regulate learning, memory and mood; they can influence weight gain/loss and, when not working properly, can lead to autoimmune conditions and cancer, just to name a few. Many factors can negatively impact the microbiome including:
whether you were breast or bottle-fed
lack of sleep
exposure to chemicals in our environment
even the way we think.
So while health is initiated on the gut “stage”, the answer to restoring health may be out in the audience. It’s necessary to look at all the contributing factors and not just focus on one ingredient.
We are greater than the sum of the parts of our physical body. We have an indisputable connection that links our body with our mind and our spirit. Focusing our attention on, and balancing, all three areas is the key to overall wellness. So where do we start? First of all, we need to (re-) learn how to actually reside in our body. We are born with that knowledge but lose that ability quickly. Our body is an amazing machine that functions automatically, with very little input from us. We grow used to taking it for granted and therefore lose touch with the fact that our body communicates information and messages to us 24/7. We just aren’t listening, and no longer speak the language. In order to reconnect with our most important messenger, we need to BE QUIET. That means unplugging, and eliminating stimulation and distractions. It means getting comfortable being by ourselves. If we’re willing to make this a habit, gradually we will learn to interpret what our body is telling us about what it needs and wants…and the messages your body sends you will be entirely different than what my body tells me. It also means learning to change the way we think about, and speak to, ourselves, because we’re listening…and in time we believe what we hear! That can work for us or against us.
Achieving overall wellness is like following a recipe. There are NO short cuts and, if you leave out a key ingredient, all you end up with is an inedible mess. This is where the inventory comes in. If all we focus on is making a few obvious, “short term” changes, we aren’t going to improve our health. Feeling, and being, healthy is not the end goal but rather the vehicle through which all the other changes we want to make in our lives are attainable. It’s hard to imagine finding a new job that we love if we’re so exhausted we can hardly get out of bed. If we’re depressed, it’s hard to find the energy and motivation to communicate our needs to our partner. You get my drift…. So it’s important to gather all the necessary ingredients for this recipe. By taking an honest inventory of all the areas of your life, you can decide which areas are currently satisfying you, and which areas need to be nourished. Yes, this includes evaluating how you nourish your body, but it also means identifying what nourishes your soul. Then you’re in a position to establish goals and prioritize how to meet them.
The first step in the journey to restore your health is a willingness to look at the big picture and be honest with yourself. Change is necessary in order to grow. It is scary…and it takes time and a commitment to yourself. No one can do that for you. What are you willing to do to feel better and live better? Are you worth it?