Sometimes getting to root cause can be lengthy and complex when it comes to health. I know this because that's basically my job to do the finding out. Other times it can be more simple but for all of us as biological entities there are some core things we need to do consistently to begin to promote optimal health.
If someone asked you to write down a few simple strategies you could build into your life that would improve your health, if you did them consistently, you would probably manage to write a few good suggestions down. In fact, try it just now. Take a pen and paper and write down a few ways you could improve your health by incorporating some simple strategies.
We all know that we need to drink more water, get better sleep, stress less, meditate more, move our bodies and eat more veggies. So where does it all fall down? Well, first of all lack of motivation. To make changes we need to be really motivated. To be motivated we need knowledge and belief about something before we’ll make the effort to actually do it, especially when the alternatives are sooooo attractive.
Why drink water when you can have another coffee or a can of something which gives you an immediate buzz? Why go to bed earlier when you are so enjoying that series and another episode surely won’t harm? It might even do you good as it’s relaxing after all. Plus you won’t sleep when you do get to bed so why bother? You tell yourself you’ll stress less when this episode of your life has passed and all will be well again. You can’t stop scrolling your phone because it brings you comfort and community and the thought of putting it in a drawer for a while fills you with such distress. You're managing your five a day so surely that’s enough and you’re too tired to cook. You’d like to eat more healthily but your family, friends and work colleagues mock you whenever you do try and the stress is just too much. Plus they are eating all the things you want and their messages of ‘one won't harm’ send you sliding down the snake again when you were just trying to climb the ladder.
So, yes it takes a lot of motivation and support to make changes. Ultimately the biggest motivator is knowledge. It really is true that knowledge is power and when I think back to things I used to do as part of my normal routine, I cringe as I know that my life is on a much better trajectory now thanks to the privilege of knowledge. But I know that it’s not just knowledge it’s understanding as understanding brings absolute belief. I had a client recently tell me excitedly of how her son had done so amazingly well in only 3 weeks of some key changes with supplements. The diet is much slower due to complex needs but he has made a small start bless him and his sleep and behaviour are already much better. She was so relieved and explained this with delight to her hubby who said it was a load of nonsense and just a coincidence. Hmmm. That’s a tough one. My heart went out to her because she and her son have done so well but we all need encouragement and support. The problem is she understands and so she completely believes but her hubby has no knowledge or understanding and that’s where the conflict comes. I see this all the time in clinical practice and it can really derail good intentions. We have to be really convicted to make life choices which we know are going to help us but we have to quieten those voices around us which are going in the opposite direction.
We also need energy to make changes and although people might say you just need to eat better to get energy there's way more to it than that as there may be some significant health challenges or even medications which are depleting your energy and which need addressing before we can make any changes. Sometimes in the clinic we have to start by supporting multiple key nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalance and mental health issues before we can even begin to look at the diet in the wider sense. Then as energy comes back we can begin to do more. But where we do always start are with the key areas mentioned in this blog. So if you're someone who is genuinely struggling with some complex issues, just start with some of these small changes and see how you feel. My advice would be to work on hydration and sleep as these are the two that everything depends on. It’s amazing the benefits from these two alone and if you do need further support with sleep drop us an email and we can make some suggestions or why not book one of our ‘Feel good Thursdays’ (we are changing the day from Friday!) which will restart very soon.
So, let’s take a few examples of the core things we all need to be doing and think about the why. First of all, hydration! We know we should be aiming for around 2L for women and 3L for men but do any of us actually measure this? Caffeine is dehydrating so the goal is to have more non caffeinated drinks such as herb teas or hot water with lemon. But measuring is the key so that you know you have had x amount of water a day be it a cold drink or hot. My favourite way to ensure I personally get my allowance is to fill a lovely jug each morning and slice up some gorgeous lemons in it. I then fill it again in the afternoon. I find this easy to do on a work day as speaking to people makes me thirsty. On a non working day I find it easier to forget! But I only drink caffeine in my green tea in the morning and after that I’m caffeine free so I know my overall hydration is better than it used to be. Before I hit menopause fourteen years ago I used to drink builders brew all day but when I realised the impact this had on my hormones and my sleep I literally changed overnight and haven’t looked back! The impact of hydration is huge. The body is made up of 60% water and it relies on it for so many functions, including circulation, bowel function, lymphatics and immune health, detoxification through liver and kidneys, hormone balancing, mental health, skin and so it goes on. We also lose water every day through sweating, breathing and removal of waste so we really do need to add it back in. When we get that penny drop, it motivates us to do something about it. But I promise you when you do, the difference is dramatic.
The next most impactful change you can make is around the topic of sleep and interestingly if you get hydration right and the caffeine reduced, sleep is already on the right track. Of course there are many other reasons for poor sleep and we address these in clinic, including nutrient deficiencies such as magnesium and omega 3, cortisol dysregulation, melatonin deficiency, blood sugar imbalance, chronic pain, nocturia and low progesterone to name but a few. These are things we can test for and optimise as appropriate but meanwhile the core things for all of us are the same. First of all, apart from reducing caffeine we need to have a night time routine. We are very good at doing this for our children and we would not tell our children to binge watch netflix while consuming crisps and wine and go to bed as late as they could. We get them into a warming bath, give them a soothing milky drink or herb tea, read a book, avoid screen time and other stimulation etc. So us grown ups also need a wind down routine, an agreed cut off with ourselves for screens not just because of blue light which suppresses melatonin but also due to the stimulation. We need to do calming activities and then get into bed with a book or listen to music. Journaling which means writing down all your thoughts, worries, emotions, goals and dreams can be really impactful and this is something I personally find very helpful. Epsom salt baths are another favourite of mine as they contain magnesium which we absorb transdermally and this helps sleep. I also always do guided meditation in the bath as it’s such a convenient time to do it and adds to the relaxation. But I always say (and I have found this to be so true in clinical practice) that if we get sleep right we can conquer the world!! That's because when we sleep right we immediately feel better because also without knowing it we are supporting our detoxification which happens when we sleep. We also increase insulin sensitivity which we need for our blood glucose metabolism. Imagine the impact this has on our hormones, our nervous system and our immune system! If you know sleep is a problem for you have a think about why and begin with these simple tips. If it’s still an issue come and see us and we can properly investigate for you where those underlying reasons are coming from. But I promise you, this is not something to ignore. Sleep is pivotal to all aspects of health and until we fix this one the others are much more difficult. By the way, did you know that ensuring you get adequate daylight in the morning though our eyes elevates our serotonin which then converts to melatonin at night? So perhaps an early walk or time in the garden might be just the thing or sit beside a window. Exposure to light during the day is so important for a healthy circadian rhythm.
My next tip is to make time to do absolutely nothing. My favourite way to do this is on a sunny day in the garden where I don’t even want to read. I just want to listen to the birds and feel the sun and a gentle breeze on my skin. On a rainy day I enjoy listening to the rain or the sound of the wind. Meditation or quiet time, however we do it, is also core to health. Do you have a diary? Have a look at it right now and check where you have written the words ‘quiet time.’ Hmmm that's something to just pause and reflect on isn’t it? We go from one thing to the next to the next and we don’t give ourselves time to pause. Depending on how and where we work our stress hormones might be elevated for much of the day. So we consciously need to build into our diaries those opportunities for rest and to just bring down that cortisol. It might even be only when you go to the bathroom but find a way to do this and it will be another game changer. There are lots of good apps like Headspace or Calm which you can add to your phone, free guided meditation on youtube and of course prayer time so find something which works for you.
Movement is the next core thing to get right for all of us. Sitting is regarded as the new smoking in terms of health risks and in my job I sit a lot in front of a computer. Many of us in fact are screen bound and with working from home becoming the norm, it’s so easy to get no exercise as part of our day. My younger daughter was doing a hybrid role with 3 days a week in the office which meant that she had a half an hour walk in and back giving her at least 6000 steps so if she walked at night she could add to that. Now she has changed jobs and this time apart from the odd monthly trip the head office she is home based. We were talking last night about how she could build movement into her day and this is something we are encouraging each other with. Myself and her dad are doing our big walk at night after dinner as I know this will boost insulin sensitivity but also help calm those stress hormones ready for sleep. Through the day I know I am up and down stairs a lot as my office is upstairs and I try to get an extra short walk if I can. The other night I really didn't feel like going at all and my hubby wasn’t well so I made myself go and ended up listening to a relaxing podcast while I walked and after just five minutes I felt much better and walked for an hour. If health challenges mean that movement is a tricky one for you, come and speak to us as we can help you get to the bottom of why that is and help you on your way. What I will tell you is that if we get the core things right around sleep and hydration and identify the underlying reasons for suboptimal energy and address some of those, the movement part becomes more of a realistic possibility.
Finally, my last tip here is listening to your body after you have eaten. Do you feel great, full of energy or do you feel sluggish and lethargic? Do you feel hungry again? Do you feel hangry? Has your mood dropped? Have you become bloated or gassy? Have your symptoms just worsened after eating? Maybe your skin became itchy or you had to run to the loo. Maybe your joints started to ache or your reflux kicked off again. The impact of food on our health moment by moment day by day is mindblowing. This can also be a very good reason why people say ‘oh I can’t eat veggies as I feel worse or that food causes this symptom to get worse so it’s just not worth it for me.’ You can see where people get frustrated and confused when it comes to food. Also there are so many mixed messages out there from ill informed people and even so-called experts getting it so wrong, that it’s easier to give up in this haze of confusion. But simple changes begins with eating more of the anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices, etc so maybe just as a simple step you could try adding an extra veg (that does feel comfortable) to each of your meals or try a spice such as ginger or turmeric which can be helpful for pain management. You can drink these as teas which are also actually very good. I'm being very cautious here about which veg I recommend as I know that while cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are ideal for hormone detoxification, in fact they are essential! I also know that for some there might be an issue with bloating. This is where listening to your body around food is so important as there may be some areas that need support before we can build certain vegetables into the diet. For example some people with IBS also have an underlying issue with something called SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) which means that high fodmap foods such as cruciferous veg do not sit well until we have addressed the root cause. But once we have we can add them back in again. So the bottom line is don’t get into a rut with food and always reach out if you need help navigating the confusion. When we no longer tolerate certain foods and they begin to trigger symptoms we need to look at why and address that so we can ultimately incorporate more foods back into our repertoire. If we don’t we can end up trapped in a vicious circle of choosing from a narrower menu and end up losing enjoyment but also key nutrients which we need to compensate for, then a domino effect of further symptoms ensues.
If you do try some of these tips, let us know as we’d love to follow your progress and to know that we have inspired you. I’m always saying it but what we do in the wonderful world of functional medicine is simply the best job in the world as we help our clients find their way to optimal health and there simply isn’t anything more rewarding than that.
If you’d like to know more about what we do have a look at this page and remember you can always book a free discovery call to find out more.
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