A perennial question that keeps cropping up is how to get and stay healthy—whatever that means for you. Maybe you’ve gained unwanted weight, your digestion is giving you trouble, sleep and energy are not what you’d like them to be, or your doctor told you that your blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol is too high. Maybe you’re just feeling stressed out or are often in a bad mood. All these are indicators that your health will benefit from some TLC (tender loving care). But, where to start?
Today I will give you several actionable steps you can take to get you on the right track. As a doctor of natural medicine, this is really my bread and butter. I have been working with people over the years to help them get started and stay focused. It’s actually not as difficult or nebulous as it may sound! Let’s go for the low-hanging fruit first—as I’m fond of saying.
Eating for nourishment should be your center, your foundation, your main focus—no matter what else you add to your personal strategy. Here’s what to do to get the most mileage out of your initial tweaks:
- Get rid of artificial and processed foods. Now! They have so little nutritional value and burden you with toxins your body has no use for.
- Eat mostly plants, the color of the rainbow, roots, leafs, and all the other good things. Balance raw and cooked vegetables according to your needs.
- Eat what’s local and in season, whenever possible. Opt for organic as much as you can afford it. To prioritize your dollars, read up on the Environmental Working Group’s website.
- Dial back sugar. Seriously! Not just all varieties of sugar and artificial sweeteners but also foods high in natural sugars. Two servings of fruit per day are a good rule of thumb for most people.
- Find out if going gluten-free and/or dairy-free improves your wellbeing. Countless people have realized that they’re doing much better without either or both.
- Don’t be afraid of fats. We all need sufficient amounts of healthy fats for a gazillion different body functions. And fats will keep you satiated longer, so they can actually help you lose weight, if that’s something you’re striving for.
- Don’t overeat. Eat when you’re hungry and stop before you’re full. Make sure you’re not distracted while eating your delicious meals. Good company helps, too.
- Aim for a window of at least 12 hours overnight when you don’t consume anything other than water or unsweetened herbal teas. You may need to ease into this practice.
- Stay well hydrated. Drink mostly spring or filtered water and go easy on caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages.
Of course, what goes in has to come out. So, if you aren’t moving your bowels at least once a day or have other signs and symptoms of irregular bowel function, get serious about addressing this. Natural medicine offers you a whole range of options to boost your gut health. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s one of my favorite subjects.
You don’t just want to move your bowels, though, but your whole body. Strength, endurance and flexibility have countless health benefits. If you’ve been mostly sedentary for a long time, start slowly and build up. A gentle stretching program or beginner’s yoga can be a great place to begin, along with a 20-30 minute daily walk.
As you get used to moving around again, you’ll notice that you’re starting to feel better, have more energy, get stronger, and even balance your weight gradually. Active people produce more endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain killers and feel-good hormones.
Watch your energy and sleep habits. It’s amazing how many people don’t get enough quality sleep, either because they stay up too late watching TV or because they have health issues that interfere with their ability to get restful sleep. Do you know if you may have sleep apnea? This could be more serious than you think.
Once you’ve got your bases covered, you should consider fine-tuning your strategy according to your personal needs. You’re now ready to use foods as healthy medicines, for example to relieve pain and inflammation, to help balance your hormones, or to stay sharp. Several different types of nutritional supplements can enhance the effectiveness of your nutritional choices. A healthy diet is often just not enough. Many of my patients benefit from taking a high-quality multi-vitamin supplement, magnesium, vitamin D, fish oil, etc. Not everyone needs them all, and some people may benefit from even more specific recommendations.
As a clinical herbalist steeped in both Chinese medicine and Western naturopathic medicine, I include botanical therapy in almost all my treatment protocols. Especially women who experience stress, hormonal imbalances or challenges in connection with their reproductive health often benefit tremendously from carefully chosen medicinal herbs and formulas. For example, ginseng and ashwagandha are now among several very popular so-called adaptogens many people take on a regular basis. But how do you know what’s the best choice for you and how much to take? Most conventional physicians or nurse practitioners are not educated in botanical medicine and usually cannot give you solid advice. To get the most out of these natural therapies, it pays to work with an experienced professional focused on this form of medicine.
Finally, to tie my list of ideas for you together into one nice big bouquet of healthy-living strategies, consider the environment you’re living in. How are noise, air pollution and other stressors affecting you? Would your home, car and workplace benefit from a detox, i.e. removal of unhealthy chemicals? That includes skincare products, household cleaners, garden supplies, and so much more. Again, visit ewg.org for ideas and more information.
Consider also the company you keep. Are you surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people you can talk to? Are you making time to relax? Do you meditate or use other mindfulness practices? What’s your life’s purpose? Do you feel that your life has meaning by sharing your gifts and talents?
All this is to say that you cannot improve your health by simply popping a daily multi-vitamin (though it may help). Good and vibrant health means so much more. Health is not just the absence of disease; it is a profound sense of wellbeing. In fact, people with chronic disease are not categorically excluded from feeling well and healthy. You can chose what’s most important to you and work towards that goal. You don’t have to do it all by yourself, either. Do it with your family, your friends, your faith community, etc. And don’t shy away from engaging professional help and advice if this can set you on the right path sooner.
© 2021 Christiane Siebert