Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Listen to your body

We live in such a weird historical moment in terms of health and well being. There are standards, set in stone or so they lead us to believe, that indicate what is healthy and what isn't. We are supposed to eat certain foods, drink a certain amount of water, avoid eating and drinking various things that are allegedly not good for us. Some doctors will insist we follow the protocol, even if drinking that much water sends us to the bathroom every ten minutes. What is up with that? What are these doctors thinking?

According to the numbers on reports based on blood tests and such, we are healthy or not healthy, no matter how we actually feel. You know when you have a physical, after which the doctor says your enzymes or blood gasses or whatever are fine (or not), that diagnosis is based on a number which corresponds to a statistic that someone else decided was good or not so good. What does that have to do with you, except in the most general sense?

Having standards isn't the worst idea, but I wish these benchmarks were looked at as general guidelines rather than hard and fast facts. Because we are such unique creatures, there is no standard that applies to all, not that I see anyway.

There's also the truth that there are trends in standards. What is deemed "unhealthy" today could suddenly become "healthy" next year, or vice versa. Cholesterol used to be bad. Then there was good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Recent studies have linked drastically stripped down cholesterol (from prescription drugs) to strokes and other rather major problems. Cutting edge research indicates it's inflammation of the blood vessels that makes cholesterol stick and block the flow. Maybe cholesterol itself isn't bad at all. Rather, it's the inflammation that's bad. These designations are based on studies but those studies, when repeated, often yield different results.

Besides the scientific standard, cultural perspectives play a large role in determining what's healthy and what isn't. In Germany, doctors tend to diagnose problems with digestion more often than anything else while in the U.S. we think in terms of infection and antibiotics. Does that mean that Germans suffer less often from infections than Americans, or that German doctors diagnose differently? Dr. Jerome Groupman's book, "How Doctors Think" speaks to the way in which these standards exist outside of actual experience, outside the context of individual situations.

We have learned not to pay attention to the obvious, for instance, a study was conducted to prove that children who do not eat breakfast have a harder time concentrating in school. They had to do a study to prove this? Wow.

Here's my common sense advice: know your limits. When you're tired, rest or sleep, when you're hungry, eat. If you have to go to the bathroom, don't hold it! Go. If you notice that your knee is swollen, skip the tennis game today. If there's a food that's supposed to be good for you, but you don't like it, don't eat it! Those new fancy sneakers? If they hurt your feet, don't wear them.

If you aren't feeling well, even if your numbers are perfect, pay attention. Your situation is far more indicative of what's going on than the number on a computer screen, derived from a test and according to a standard set by someone you will never meet.

OK? I say yes. These standards come and go, but if you tune in to your own body, you'll soon figure out what does and does not work. We are complicated beings.

Be well. Shalom.


ellen abbott said...

Excellent advice Reya. It's amazing how little common sense people use.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks, Ellen. Yeah ... those studies. For heaven's sake!

Val said...

such good advice - without this there is just confusion

Val said...

ellen that is a big flamingo in your pic