Health food stores are popping up like mushrooms after rain online and offline, thriving on people’s single-minded obsession with food.
What began as useful awareness that what you put in your body affects the state of your body (and mind!) has turned into an almost religious fervour pursued by those of us seeking to heal ourselves, our families, our pets and our planet.
I, too, have joined the conscious eating masses years ago, resorting to diet as medicine for my ills. I had a difficult, distressful marriage, and was an immigrant into a radically different culture, environment and climate than what I had been used to. I was fatigued, anxious, and had muscular pain shooting down my arms and legs. I became increasingly sensitive to sugar, wheat, dairy, especially cold, sweet dairy, and fungus enriched cheese like blue cheese, Camembert and Brie. My favourite treats were eliminated and replaced by a collection of vitamins and supplements, and yet, I was still ill, and suffering.
Then I noticed something unusual: whenever I traveled to Israel and Romania to visit my family and friends, I got away with eating all that I fancied, including dessert made with white flour (not organic!), white sugar, and real whipped cream, and even wash all down with a glass of wine. I looked for answers in the food: the wheat has not been GMO-ed or sprayed with Roundup - but the sugar? How come I can eat white sugar and be well, when at home sugar makes me so sick?
An integral view on health has changed my mind: factors that lead to health or disease range from individual subjective factors, such as one’s beliefs about health, one’s self image, self-confidence, and emotional makeup, to objective factors such as diet, exercise, air quality, geographical positioning, home orientation, light, sound, electro-magnetic fields, and even architectural shapes; to intersubjective factors such as the quality of one’s relationships, shared meaning about health, the kind of affection, encouragement and support one gives and receives; to collective objective factors, such as the availability of medical care, the types of health care in society, and the material and financial resources available for healthcare.
Among these factors, some weigh more than others, and in my subjective assessment, for example, the quality of relationships weighs more than diet. If you haven’t spoken with your mother for thirty years, giving up sugar won’t make a difference. As I found out, living with daily conflict and emotional disconnect harmed me to the point that everything got to me, while when I spent time among people with whom I connect deeply, harmoniously and with great affection, I was well, and could stomach any food.
A single-minded view on health misses all that: the single-focused obsession with food, or the single-focused view that reduces health to biological chemistry, or the claim that if you only do this one thing (exercise, or zap parasites, or meditate) you will be healthy and well. Health is not the result of one single factor, but many, and it is useful to sort these factors in two categories: importance, and changeability.
What really matters
My work with clients looks at body pain and symptoms as signposts to pay attention to when navigating through life. Leading a person through an embodied inquiry into the physical pain reveals something that she must change, that may have been deemed by the person’s reason as secondary in importance, but held highly in importance by the body’s own wisdom. What transpires in a session is often surprising for my client, and has to do with either something from the past that hasn’t been fully processed or resolved, or a current situation that must be looked at and digested or changed. In twenty years of working as a healing facilitator, the root cause of physical pain and discomfort in my clients has been rooted in a relational event. I have not worked with people traumatized by earthquakes and tsunamis; everyone that I worked with has been affected by some kind of neglect, cruel behaviour, or some intentional or unintentional harm caused to them or by them in a relationship. I have not encountered yet a body pain that embodied inquiry revealed as being rooted in eating sugar, cheese or non-organic wheat. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist - I have not seen it.
Most often addressing relationships has resulted in a change in symptoms.
We are social animals. Our human species has no claws, powerful fangs, protective body scales, or the ability to spew or spray venom (other than verbal, that is). Our survival and thriving entirely depends on cooperation. We are deeply wired to connect and belong, and when we fail, or are threatened to loose the connection or belonging, we are risking our lives, and become ill. Social isolation is worse for us than many other harmful factors. Social connection, caring touch, moving and singing together harmoniously in community has been a favourite medicine used by all cultures, and present in all perennial wisdom traditions. That’s why I dance with a Tribe: many times I went to the weekly Biodanza - a conscious and relational dance movement started by Rolando Torro in Chile - and began my evening with a low mood and body tension, and ended up the two-three hour evening glowing with joy and pain free.
Another factor that seems to me to weigh heavier than sugar and cheese is the narrative one generates as a dialogue or internal dialogue, or participates in. All narratives have a point, a bottom-line conclusion of the story, and the point is either a deficit “And thus, my dear friends (or dear Self), this is how I am wronged / others are wrong / something is wrong with me / you / them / the world)” or a resource: “And thus, my loves / my Self, I learned and grew / I am better off / this is how I shine / this is what’s good about me / you / them / the world”. I encourage you to try an exercise in embodied awareness: scroll through the social media posts in your newsfeed, and look for the bottom-line point in each narrative, while noticing any changes in your breathing, body temperature, pressure, weight, movement, spaciousness and luminosity. This will tell you how each narrative affects you. Then pay attention to your own stories.
The Low-Hanging Fruit
I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Ottawa is situated in a valley, has high humidity and precipitation all year-round, and long, harshly cold winters. This affects everyone’s health, and I met more people with depression and arthritis in Ottawa than anywhere else. Humid, cold atmosphere reduces mobility, and I feel my own body moving differently here than in a warm, dry climate. And for many Ottawans, relocating is not an option. And for all of us, changing the climate is impossible.
What is wise and useful to do is to look at all contributing factors to health - and I like the QiGong philosophy for a comprehensive mapping of influencers - and to change those factors that are most readily available to you. Start with the low hanging fruit - but not one piece of fruit only, like a single-minded obsession with food: change all that is available for you to change, beginning with what is easy and available, and then working your way up to what really matters that is available for change.
Some of the things that I do to recover from trauma and grief, to heal and to thrive, and you can do too:
- A daily practice of prayer, meditation, Metta (loving-kindness) practice, Reiki, and QiGong
- Gratitude and appreciation
- Dance, move, touch, hug and kiss people
- Elimination of toxic relationships and conversations
- Watching only movies and video clips that uplift, inspire and enrich. Ingesting information that nourishes, staying away from information that poisons, especially news that I can do nothing about
- Feng-shui remedies in my home, including de-cluttering, and cleaning the house physically and energetically
- Personal hygiene practices, body and energy - shower daily, smudge myself with sacred plants daily
- Diet: eating what nourishes physically and emotionally, without obsessing about it
- Therapy, including bodywork, energy work, talk therapy and homeopathy
- Playing and cuddling with fur friends - dogs and cats
- Humour and playfulness
- Service: contributing to the well-being and happiness of others is powerful medicine
- Creative endeavours, such as writing, drawing, singing, dancing, cooking out of imagination
An integral view on health frees you from obsessions, puts things in perspective according to their importance, and opens you to a wider range of options for your well-being and thriving.
Remember that what matters is not only what you eat, but who you eat with, where you eat it, what are you looking at while you eat, and what you and the others are talking about while you eat.
And show this article to your doctor and your nutritionist!