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Everyone needs a foundation, no matter what they are struggling with, and there are three steps to creating a healthier life recommended for everyone.
I often get asked this question: If I had to give a few pieces of advice to people to live a more healthy life, what would they be?
This is actually a hard question, because as a functional medicine doctor I believe in personalized medicine. What you need depends on where you are starting out, and there are no cookie-cutter solutions.
That said, everyone needs a foundation, no matter what they are struggling with, and there are three steps to creating a healthier life that I would recommend to anyone and that I pretty much recommend to everyone: do an elimination diet, learn to cook, and meditate.
I was reminded of this recently by patient I saw, a young successful woman in New York with a history of an eating disorder, who hasn't gotten her period in almost a year. It's easy to think, oh, she should just eat more and she will get it back, but her case is much more complicated than that. She has recovered from her disorder, eats enough food, and is not underweight. But she is still severely out of balance, and it is clear to me that what has happened to her sex hormones is connected to her cystic acne, her long history of constipation, and serious personal stress she is facing in her relationship.
With her, we will do nuanced functional medicine lab testing that will help clarify her situation. But as a starting place to begin the healing process, I want her to focus on building a foundation for a healthier body and mind with the three steps above.
These will just be the start of her journey, but they will form the foundation for her road to recovery, and if I had to give advice to everyone on how to be healthier I would tell them to do the same, no matter what symptoms they are dealing with or what their goals are.
So, you do nothing else to get healthy, do these three things!
1. First, do an elimination diet. I have an article on how to do it on MindBodyGreen.com, or do my 12-day detox program, Table, which will give you a jumpstart. Food sensitivities are rampant and no blood test can tell you what cutting out foods you are sensitive to can.
For my patient, her acne and digestive issues are likely in part driven by food sensitivities. Normally I would have her eliminate multiple things at once, but in someone with a history of an eating disorder, this is risky. We decided together she feels confident eliminating one thing at a time, so she doesn't have to feel too restricted.
2. Second, learn to cook. It's fun, sexy and pleasurable. And once you can make some basic healthy meals you are in the driver's seat for transforming your health. There is no single more important decision we make on a daily basis than what we put on our tables and in our mouths.
For my patient, cooking is going to be an important part of healing, because she is going to need to get more healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals in her diet to replace what has been depleted over time by stress, prescription drugs, and poor diet. Restaurant and packaged food can't be relied on to deliver what she needs, which includes vitamin C, zinc, and B-vitamins to support her adrenals.
Cooking is also a way she can show herself love through food, which is an important part of the emotional healing process.
3. Third, learn some kind of breathing, meditation, or mindfulness practice. These practices are basic skills for modern life, much like tying your shoes or brushing your teeth, except no one teaches them to you in kindergarten.
The research on what meditation and mindfulness does for brain plasticity, lowering stress hormones and even improving productivity is incredible. This isn't woo-woo stuff, it's based in hard science and can be life-changing if you do it regularly.
My patient, like all of us, needs a concrete way to get her head to participate in the healing process. Her mind has driven many of her imbalances so far. She has already made huge strides in finding mental and emotional balance by conquering her eating disorder, but she still has work to do to reboot her hormones, and managing stress in a healthy way is going to be a critical part of the process.