Everywhere these days I see people using food as medicine. Whether it’s the paleo autoimmune protocol, an anti-inflammatory diet, or the GAPS diet, the healing power of food is in the spotlight.
I think this is fantastic!
I would guess that most people will see 90% of their health problems disappear with a return to real, nourishing food and healthy movement. You can read these kinds of stories all over the blogosphere–recovery from autism, healing PCOS, eliminating asthma, reversing Type II diabetes. They’re truly inspirational.
But then there are the rest of us.
Desperate to resolve my own health problems, which ranged from chronic infections to debilitating allergies to extreme fatigue, I worked for several years with doctor after doctor, naturopath after naturopath, book after book, blog after blog, looking for the perfect combination of diet and supplements and cleanses to heal my body.
I did candida diets ad nauseam, the Body Ecology Diet, the nearly-vegan mostly-raw Eat to Live diet, the Blood Type Diet, the paleo diet, and all manner of elimination diets to find the source of my chronic inflammation or avoid my food “triggers.”
My old health blog was a bit of a journal of these experiments. I talked a lot about the latest crazy eating plan I was on in my quest for healing.
And you know what? I got some relief. I really did. Being gluten-free, dairy-free, and grain-free helped.
Then again, I was living gluten-free, dairy-free, and grain-free . . . with no end in sight. This would be my life-long prescription, and while I was better than before, I was nowhere near vibrantly well.
Why Isn’t Nutrition Always Enough?
You might think of it like this. Does your car need the right fuel to run? Absolutely! If your car doesn’t start, what’s the first thing you should check? The gas tank, of course . . . and, uh, maybe the oil and other important fluids?
(Can you tell yet that I know almost nothing about cars? What was I thinking with this analogy!)
But if you’re putting generally the right stuff into your car and it’s still not running, isn’t it time to fix the car instead of endlessly tweaking the exact composition of your fuel?
That’s not to say that once you’ve got your car going again, you might tweak your fuel for optimum performance. Of course. But let’s get the car moving forward at least!
I think it’s the same with nutrition. Good fuel (food) is essential. Even if you’re ill and not getting well through food, it’s still better to put good stuff in so you don’t compound your body’s burdens.
And yet, what do you do when good fuel–even tweaked and perfected and targeted fuel–isn’t doing the trick? Fix the car.
I think a lot of people like using food for healing because it’s natural, and I’m right there with them! I just think that there are some amazing healing modalities out there that, like food, work with the body, honor the body’s created design, and heal in ways that generate more healing over the long-term, rather than offer a short-sighted bandaid fix.
Re-Training the Body with Homeopathy & NAET
Oh, that glorious day when I walked back into Dr. M’s office! I’d actually seen him years before but was too freaked out by all his talk of “energy in a bottle” to persist with his treatments. (Plus I got immediate relief from his treatment of the one symptom that was troubling me back then!)
This time I was more desperate.
A chiropractor who specializes in homeopathy (a form of energy medicine), he listened to all of my complaints and everything I’d tried. Then he performed his own specialized testing and said something that shocked me:
“You can manipulate your nutrition for the rest of your life and it’s not going to heal you because your body doesn’t know what to do with the food.”
He told me that homeopathy, a form of energy medicine, could help re-teach my body how to respond appropriately to food and the rest of my environment.
He was right.
I worked with him faithfully, and within 18 months (I was really sick starting out) I felt radically better than I had in years and could eat whatever I wanted. Because I’m truly passionate about nutrition, I was still eating healthfully, but I could eat gluten and dairy and anything else. My severe hypoglycemia resolved, and I didn’t have to rigidly control my food and eat exactly every 2.5 hours. It felt like a miracle.
The difference was so apparent that almost my entire family, out-of-state in-laws included, began traveling to see Dr. M. We all saw the benefits.
Recently, I’ve taken another leap forward in this process of re-training my body’s reaction to foods through NAET, Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique. I originally sought it out for my son’s eczema but was so impressed with the practitioner’s story of recovery from chronic fatigue that I took the plunge myself. Am I ever glad!
The thinking in NAET is similar to Dr. M’s philosophy: it’s not that food x is bad; it’s that the body doesn’t know how to respond to it and process it constructively.
I’ve seen the results in my sleep, energy levels, and digestion, as well as in my son’s eczema, mood, and sleep. We’re crazy excited about it!
Now that we’ve moved away from our beloved NAET practitioner, I’m at a loss about our next step, but I’m keeping my ears open for anyone who’s offering techniques to heal the body itself and not just manipulate what goes into it. In the mean time, we’re living with some dietary restrictions to ease my son’s symptoms. I just know now that this doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
(It’s worth mentioning here that I’ve seen other kinds of practitioners with similar ideas about re-training the body whose techniques did not work. One example is a doctor I went all the way to Oklahoma City to take my son to see. He promised dramatic results from his nervous system reprogramming, and we noticed . . . nothing. So once again, you win some, you lose some, and it’s only through persistence that I’ve found what works for us.)
De-Stressing to Heal
If you want to instantly improve your digestion and the functioning of your nervous and endocrine systems, your first stop should be de-stressing. As long as your body is in stress-response mode, nothing will work quite right. All the good food in the world or even all the best energy medicine can’t counteract your body’s stress responses.
I think this is a crucial point in the world of alternative healing. It’s all too easy–I know, I’ve done it–to get caught up in finding the perfect diet or healing protocol and executing it perfectly. Eating nourishing food becomes very non-nourishing when it’s too stressful. Any change is stressful to some degree, of course, but when you find yourself acting like a fearful, anxious, or paralyzed person, you know you’ve gone too far.
Some ideas for de-stressing:
- Prioritize sleep. If you can’t sleep (I know all too well what this is like), at least rest while lying down. Meditation or deep relaxation exercises are even better.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation. See this page for some of my favorite resources. I firmly believe that these have played a huge role in my overall healing, not to mention their direct and dramatic impact on healing my chronic low back pain.
- Get outside every day. We were made for nature and suffer physiologically when we don’t get it.
- Simplify your life. Cut back to what really matters to you.
- Practice gratitude. I think that choosing gratitude profoundly changes something in our spirit as we approach food, healing, and our lives in general.
- Use emotional acupressure tools. I’m a huge fan of the TAT (read my article about it here) and some tapping techniques that I’ll share in another post. (EFT is a popular one, though I have little experience with it.)
- Seek emotional healing. The internal tension we carry with us adds stress to everything we do every day of our lives. We carry trauma, pain, disappointment, and a sense of injustice. Anything you can do to heal from these is valuable. Consider prayer, finding the right counselor (this is admittedly tough!), theophostic prayer, healing and personal growth ministries (Karis Fellowships has changed my life), and energy healers who focus on emotional and soul healing.
Kimi at the Nourishing Gourmet blog is currently running a series on reducing stress with some more ideas.
Is Your Body an Island or Is It Part of a System?
A wrench in the de-stressing puzzle: Your body may respond to more than just your own stress. Mine does.
Through a surprising series of events, I ended up working with a Bowen Family Systems Theory coach who was able to demonstrate that my body physiologically responds not only to my own stress but to the stress of the people in systems around me, most powerfully my family of origin.
You’re probably already familiar with this concept to some degree. Maybe if your mom is seriously stressed out, you feel kinda stressed too.
What you probably don’t know is that (a) this is happening on a physiological level too, (b) it’s not really about a single person or relationship but about the dance of an entire multi-generational system, and (c) the same phenomena can be demonstrated among animals. In other words, it’s not about psychology (it’s much, much more basic and fundamental than that), it’s not unique to humans, and it’s very scientific. It’s also not about pathology or about “toxic” people or relationships.
A simple example: scientists recently published findings that a female rhesus macaque’s (a kind of monkey) genetic expression changes within weeks of a shift in her social position in the clan. Based on the position she occupies in her most powerful social system, even her immune function will change. Whoa.
I could get SO geeked out writing about this today, but I’ll save it for another time. (You’re welcome.)
My point for now is that I have been able to give my body a better chance to heal by slightly altering my position in the system I was born into and by ever-so-slightly separating from the system. My body spends a little less energy responding to the entire system’s plight now, which means it has a little more resources to direct toward its own healing. In fact, applying Bowen Theory has solved some of my most un-solvable and debilitating health symptoms.
That all sounds incredibly esoteric, I know, but there it is. I’ll have to figure out a better way to express it next time. All I can say for now is that if you’re intrigued, check out the Bowen Center’s website, and if you’re in Houston, TX, look up Victoria Harrison.
I still believe in the power of food to cure. I’m actually passionate about nutrition. I just think that some of us need more help than that, and there aren’t a lot of voices out there offering options besides pharmaceuticals and short-sighted solutions.
For me, because of the foundation laid by the homeopathy, NAET, stress-reducing practices, and Bowen Theory, my body gets more out of food than ever before, and I think nutrition may be a tremendous source of healing for me as I move forward. I’m currently exploring Ayurveda for its digestion-healing potential and have seriously considered following the GAPS diet for a few months to see if it might help heal my gut. We’ll see! It’s just one more exploration.
Resources Mentioned Above
Our experiences with NAET here and here
How I use the Tapas Acupressure Technique for emotional healing and stress relief here
My favorite mindfulness & meditation resources here
The Bowen Center website here
A list of my favorite Houston-area practitioners are here