Health and Wellness Disease

America is a nation of illness, much (but certainly not all) of it due self inflicted behavioral patterns. America is also affluent, with standards of living, health expectations, and "wellness" behaviors that are frankly obnoxious in the grand scheme of things.

There has to be some middle ground. That life consuming thing that you're following to be healthy and feel better and get in shape - Is it worth the time, the money, the mental energy? Is it really necessary?

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I hacked and wheezed and sniffed twice per year. For all of my childhood, late October and early April were ugly, with upper nasal passage and sinuses filled with cement. My eyes itched. My mouth was dry, from both breathing through it and the side effects of ineffective decongestants.When this pattern lasted into young adulthood, well past the completion of years of allergy injections, I accepted it as a normal part of life.

In my early twenties I experienced three or four years of intermittent acne and severe gastrointestinal distress. A deep, hardened lump would appear on some random part of my face, gradually ascend into a small mountain, then develop into a scab from being picked at.

On two separate occasions I took months of a strong anti-inflammatory steroid for the treatment of lower abdominal pain, diarrhea, and severe anemia. Lower and upper GI tests were inconclusive, and the GI specialist diagnosed ulcerative collitus (UC). He said UC is a lifetime diagnoses and the best I would do is manage it.

But then...

I switched to eating a completely organic paleo diet. They didn't call it paleo back then, but it was definitely a gluten and dairy issue. My abs came in and the allergies cleared up almost over night. When I added significant amounts of kale and Quinoa, and went with only free range sources of protein (mostly chicken and salmon) the acne and GI issues both resolved within 6 months.

I wish that were the truth. But it's absolutely not. The allergies and acne issues did clear up sometime between the ages of 25 and 27. After a few years of symptom-free management, I stopped taking UC medication around my 30th birthday.

And the truth is, I have no idea what happened. Whatever changes I made to my life in that time, they certainly were not diet, medication, or exercise-related. Even the GI specialist, who warned me and did follow-up blood profiles, upper- and lower GI tests was baffled.

This is what I do know.

If I went gluten free or organic or what-have-you and experienced such a dramatic difference, I would be a huge believer. If I went to the right church and prayed specific healing prayers and was wiped down with special, God-ordained oil, I would be a huge believer. If I did the Tony Little Gazelle while watching Lifetime specials, I would be a huge believer.

But I did none of that. Here is what I did.

I kept on, (mostly) listening to my doctors, and began listening to my body. I came to a more stable season of life. The house, the job, and community of friends was established. One day I looked back and saw getting all As and one B in seven years of college as evidence of an unhealthy college life.

So with the help of my wife I decided to loosen up and have fun. Sometime in there I did make a conscious effort to think more of others. This treatment would be forced upon me in much greater dosages with the birth of our first child. I stopped obsessing about fitness and such (though training continues to be an important part of my own "life management" to this day). If anything, I slackened my "healthy" diet by 30%.

I gradually became more acquainted with perspective, gaining some appreciation for the place and times in which I live, and my small place in the world. I did earnestly pray. I found a gentle and wise, challenging and provocative Jesus who always points to a type of obedience that ends in love, grace, and peace.

Ah, peace.

And yet these are only a few of the things that occurred in my late twenties. Again, I have no idea exactly how or why those illnesses resolved. Nothing in this essay is meant to be proscriptive. Many people struggle with various health complications through no fault of their own, and not for lack of trying to do whatever it takes to feel better. But I do want to point out the complexity and mystery of our autoimmune system and life in general. There is so much going on in your life journey right now that is so far beyond any one medical specialist much less poorly evidenced or otherwise anecdotal advice.

-Most of the time try to eat minimally processed foods.
-Manage stress.
-Get enough rest.
-Move better so you feel better and can be more active (my specialty).
-Listen to your body. ALSO listen to your doctor (especially if you have a doctor that takes the time to know you and listen to you). We don't know nearly as much as we think we know, so listen to your doctor, if only for an exercise in humility.

There's no short-cut to these and no magic in them, but I would say the net effect is miraculous. We would do well give all of them a serious and honest effort before ascribing to some restrictive, lack-of-perspective advice, dietary or otherwise.

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