The other week, life came full circle in a way that left me with my mouth agape. During my medical training I read a book that completely changed the way I saw medicine and wellness: Spontaneous Healing, by Integrative Medicine Pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil. His ideas that the body is inherently designed to restore health (if we get out of its way and help it along as naturally as possible), and that patients should be viewed from a holistic, big-picture perspective rather than focusing on their “disease”, set the stage for the physician I am today.
When I became severely depressed in my second year of my ER residency, this crisis forced me to look at my own physical and mental health holistically. Thank goodness I had this perspective to draw from and radically changed my way of life (dancing is an amazing anti-depressant), as I’d hate to think what might have become of me otherwise.
I recently spoke at a conference at the Integrative Health Institute of Mount Royal University, and was beside myself with excitement that I’d be presenting alongside my health and wellness hero. You can imagine how I felt when we met. When Dr. Weil smiled warmly and said he was familiar with my work, it was all I could do to just keep standing up and smiling!
I found his health advice to be as relevant and even more useful today than ever. With Dr. Weil’s permission, I’d like to share with you these 10 favorite tips I learned from this wellness legend:
1) Have a better definition of health
Weil noted that most people, even doctors, are limited in their capacity to describe what true health is. In his words: “Health is a state of balance and wholeness that allows you to move through the world and not get sick. You’re exposed to toxins, but they don’t cause cancer. You’re exposed to germs but don’t get ill. You’re surrounded by allergens but have no allergies. More than anything, it’s about an inner quality of springy-ness and resilience – like a child’s knockdown toy that won’t stay down.”
2) If you’re sick, ask yourself “why is healing not happening here?”
Don’t just focus on finding medications to cure or mask the symptoms (though of course medications do have their place). Weil advised to focus on discovering what needs to be adjusted to allow for the body’s natural healing power to kick in. This isn’t “woo woo” power – we’re talking natural cellular repair, inherent immune function and other very real phenomena here.
3) Create positive behavioural change by making it fun
Weil described a couple of clever, over-the-top initiatives that demonstrated that making positive activities really fun (stairs that play musical notes, a trash can in the park that makes a hilarious sound when you throw a piece of garbage in) can mobilize people in astonishing ways. How can you add in some fun, to get yourself to make a health change that you long to achieve?
4) That fruit juice may be almost as bad as a can of cola
Yes, he really did say that, quoting a colleague. We’ve known for a while now that the fructose in high-fructose-corn-syrup (which sweetens sodas and many other foods) causes all sorts of health problems. Though the fructose in fruits isn’t a problem – there isn’t much and it gets balanced by fiber – fruit juice gives your body a cola-like dose that’s hard to digest and may mess with your liver. Yikes!
5) Stay out of supermarket aisles and shop the perimeter
I’ve heard this said but it’s worth repeating. If you stick to the perimeter of the supermarket, where the fruits and veggies and whole protein sources are (especially the fish), you are sure to enjoy much better health than if you walk through those aisles purchasing manufactured foods your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.
6) Happiness is not necessarily the goal of life
I focus on finding evidence-based tips that boost happiness because I was so depressed – when I speak about happiness, for me that means not being depressed and feeling good about life many more days than not. Weil explained that the origin of the word happy is related to words like “luck, fortune and happenstance”, all external forces and “not a good place to pin your hopes”. He said that simple contentment is a much better goal; being fine with your circumstances, no matter what they are. Amen to that.
7) Disengage electronically after 3 pm
Weil has started doing this daily, and oh how I long to. He’s concerned that our current information overload from media, the internet, phones and texting “is changing our brain function in bad ways”. I’m sure he’s right.
8) Live in a way that balances your life
I loved the three things he mentioned that can help make your life more balanced: 1) Get your environment under control so it optimally supports your wellness; 2) Eat meals at regular times as your body thrives with this routine; 3) Remember to breathe, and spend time daily focusing on deep, relaxing breaths whenever you can
9) Understand that your typical whole wheat bread is not a whole grain
Any bread that you can squish into the size of a pea (after removing the crusts) is made from pulverized grain, not whole grain.
10) Boost your immunity by “living right” More important than finding the right supplement to boost your immunity, “living right is the main thing,” explained Weil. “Eat right, exercise, and reduce your stress – it really is that simple”.
Thank you, Dr. Weil! And hopefully this is the last night ever that I’ll be up late, working on my computer…I seriously doubt it, but at least a few days a week here and there I will aim to imitate Dr. Weil’s enviable 3 pm disconnection!
So which of these tips did you like the most? Have you had an astonishing experience in your life when things have come full circle for you? As always I invite your comments and questions below !