When Diet and Exercise Aren’t Working - - - A Single Question
“I eat a healthy diet, I exercise, and take supplements. I don’t understand why I have these symptoms.”
I start getting curious when I hear these things. And when the story continues, “I’ve seen a couple of different naturopathic doctors [or functional medicine doctors], and I’ve had some improvement, but generally I’m still in the same condition as I was before all the lab tests, the supplements, exercise programs and diets. . .”
I get really, REALLY curious.
When I have a client who tells me they have been eating a healthy diet - and through questioning this is verified - and also tells me they workout with moderate to significant intensity three to five days a week, but are not seeing improvements in their symptoms, the first question I ask invariably is:
“What do you think the underlying issue is?”
I have found that most people have a keen insight into what is going on in their own body.
The medical system, however, is not set up to take the thoughts, opinions, and theories of the “patient” seriously. Even within the alternative medical world, there is often the idea that “the doctor knows,” and the patient’s job is merely to relay symptoms.
The novelty of this question is incredibly powerful. Since most people have never been asked by a doctor for their own opinion of what is going on, it has the potential to break the assumed power dynamic of the relationship, and empower the client.
This question usually opens up a very rich and productive conversation, through which deeper underlying causes of a person’s illness are uncovered. It is not uncommon for things like toxic relationships, unfulfilling careers, or past emotional or sexual trauma to surface as having connections to current health complaints.
I find it heartbreaking how many people have been told that these issues have nothing to do with their health, or that because these elements are in their health history, they’ve been told that “it’s all in your head.” I want to address this latter point specifically.
“It’s NOT all in your head”
Just because you have a lot of stress in your life, a history of traumatic experiences, or a mental health diagnosis, DOES NOT mean that your physical symptoms are not real. This is perhaps one of the greatest and most horrific lies that doctors tell their patients (or insinuate).
One, if you are having physical symptoms, then the experience is very real for you, regardless of the cause, or origin of those symptoms.
And two, it is extremely well established that the connection between our thoughts/emotions and our physical body is very real.
[This connection is so generally accepted now that I’m not going to link to a specific source here, but rather point out two primary areas of research and scholarship, which are looking at exactly this connection: Psychoneuroimmunology and Psychoneuroendocrinology. Both of these areas of research are looking at how our thoughts and emotions impact both our brain’s physiology, as well as our immune system and hormonal system, respectively.]
But here’s the catch. A person’s symptoms may be very real, but if the underlying cause has to do with a toxic relationship, an emotional or physical trauma, or chronic stress, then medication, supplements, diets and exercise are likely not going to be enough.
The healing is going to happen on those deeper levels, where the problem actually exists.
This may be a scary prospect for some. However, looking around for a practitioner or therapist who is able to facilitate a safe environment for you to start to look at these areas of your life will make it much easier. In fact, just reading through this short blog, and thinking about how your personal experience may be impacting your health, is an incredible first step - seriously.
There are many avenues to travel down to heal from emotional trauma, chronic stress, or toxic relationships. It all depends on where and how a person is “stuck.”
Individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives, usually do not want to relive that trauma when they are going for therapy, and trying to heal. For this reason, psychotherapy is largely losing favor among individuals, like myself, who work with trauma in their practices.
Psychotherapy is wonderful for learning about our shadow side, understanding our ego motivations, our family of origin patterns and obsessive behaviours. But for trauma, it often leads to a re-traumatization as the story is told over and over again.
Somatic modalities, such as EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Body-Talk, and others, utilize awareness of body sensations to help facilitate the body’s innate ability to regulate and balance traumatic energy that has been trapped inside the nervous system. These are wonderful tools that are very gentle and effective at helping individuals work through their trauma without having to tell their story.
Counseling and Emotional Growth
Many people simply need assistance in learning more about their thinking and emotions.
Perhaps the most common area I see clients needing counseling for is with their negative self-talk. I have many clients who have a self-critic who makes it nearly impossible for them to live peacefully day to day. This adds a tremendous amount of stress on their lives, and also makes it very difficult for them to make positive changes.
Simple awareness practices can be a huge benefit for those on this type of healing path. Here’s a quick list of my favorites:
Mindful breathing (a must)
Qi Qong, tai chi, or any martial art
Mindful walking, barefoot walking