Every day I get asked “should I xxx”? Fill in the ‘xxx’ with anything you like: typically something along the lines of “take this supplement” or “follow this specific dietary style”. Regularly I hear the question “should I avoid xxx” (normally gluten, dairy, carbs)…
It would be lovely to be able to answer these questions without reservation or caveats. I even see clients who have had other clinicians answer the same questions with complete certainty. Clear that gluten is the devil food or carbs are a sin, a particular ethos or agenda drives countless professionals to endorse or refute many dietary styles, supplements or the elimination of certain nutrients.
However, as these clients have come to me despite following another practitioner’s recommendations, they are clearly still suffering.
Many practitioners approach healthcare heavily weighted towards a specific approach. Most frequently, they are thoroughly invested in the tradition or approach which ‘healed’ them. So many who are practicing in the alternative or complementary health space arrived there through their own journey, and almost all of them have a story to tell about the methods, diets, supplements, protocols and approaches which tipped the balance for them.
Hypocrisy as a Treatment Paradigm
However, I am someone who wants to be slightly hypocritical. OK, scratch that. ENTIRELY hypocritical.
“Do as I say, not as I do” is often frowned upon as an approach to life. However, in my practice it is precisely the approach that I promote.
Why? Because I am not the perfect representation of the precise health practices I want all of my clients to engage in.
This is because my way to be healthy is different from the way to be healthy for every single one of my clients. I am not here to make all of my clients into my own personal version of healthy. Instead, I aim to allow my clients to find their version of healthy.
For that reason, I often confuse my clients when I have a more liberal stance than the diets they read online, or occasionally I am more strict. I always surprise my clients when I tell them the way that I eat (which I do rarely).
I constantly watch nutritionists and exercise aficionados Instagramming their meals (or their detox shakes and smoothies), Snapchatting their way through a workout and uploading their favourite recipes to Facebook for their communities. I am not only a bit rubbish at social media promotion, but I also have no desire to share my life with the world in this way.
The reason for this is that there are some times when I get it “right” according to a textbook of Paleo or ‘healthy’. And there are equally a lot of times when I do things “wrong”, according to those same textbooks.
What I have learned over years of self-experimentation and acquiring self-knowledge is how to behave healthily in a way that suits me: my physiology, my psychological state and the way I feel at any given moment. Inputting the right nutrients into my body is dependent on so many factors, and has remarkably little to do with a ‘protocol’ that I am ‘following’.
With every meal choice, what matters to me is that I am choosing foodstuffs that suit my body, not those that the global police of the ‘healthy’ community approves of.
More importantly, I am not doing what I tell my clients to do and I don’t ask my clients to do what I do.
My recommendations to each and every one of my clients is drastically different. And I suppose I could Instagram my meals or Snapchat through my workout, but I don’t want to give the impression that what I do is right for everyone. It literally, honestly, 100% is NOT what I would recommend for most of the clients I help.
I am not any form of role model in terms of the precise “what” of what I do. Perhaps the only thing I would hope that my clients emulate is the way that I approach my health.
In each moment I am making choices which fully and deeply resonate with my wellbeing. The things I choose, therefore change, vary and evolve.
And I get it wrong. I eat something rubbish. But I always learn a lesson from it.
I have long since realised that, given my genetics and my history, there is rarely a ‘perfect’ experience. There is, however, how I handle it: physically, emotionally, psychologically (and ALL of these are important, because if I freak out mentally it absolutely impacts me physically).
So to answer the “should I xxx” question begins with the recognition that there is a different answer for every person because every person is different and unique.
What Is Your Desired End Result?
A second reason why these questions are hard to answer is because assessing whether a certain intervention or change should be made must always consider the goal and aim behind that change. Not only is each person different, but what each person is aiming for is also unique.
So in order to accurately respond to these questions, I need to know the result you are hoping to achieve.
I make a couple of my close friends laugh because I sound like a politician when these questions come up. I neatly swerve committing myself to any answer because, in truth, I can’t answer them a lot of the time without asking a host more questions in return.
Whether you should consume certain supplements is dependent on the relative nutritional content of your diet, whether the supplement in question will balance with the nutrients that complement them in biochemical pathways, and also (a big question) whether you are truly lacking that nutrient in the first place.
Whether you should consume certain foodstuffs depends predominantly on the health of your body to begin with. It sometimes surprises my clients that I am not anti-wheat, anti-dairy, anti-grains, or anti-anything really. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the relative impacts of certain foodstuffs on the body (by virtue of my own chequered history with digestion) and can therefore explain the different physical circumstances in which all foods may be inappropriate and challenging, or nourishing and supportive.
True healing for each of my clients arrives at the point when they are starting to understand not only what is right for them, individually, but also when they are learning to recognise the signals from their own self which show them how to decide what’s right or wrong.
Developing a relationship with your body, your mind and your nutritional intake and lifestyle practices is the first step to finding answers to the “should I xxx” questions. It isn’t easy to recognise that there really isn’t a universal ‘rule book’ and nor is there a single approach that can work as well for you as it does for your guru/friend/family member.
I don’t imagine I’m ever going to stop being tapped for information regarding the latest supplement, diet style or nutrient receiving good/bad press. I don’t suppose I’m going to stop recruiting my favourite phrase, “it depends”, to respond to these questions. I’m certainly not going to start Instagramming and Facebooking my life.
But what I hope I can continue to do is give my clients the tools they need to begin to understand their bodies’ signals, interpret their own information streams, and start to develop a trust within themselves that they have all the tools they need within them to make the decisions that are healthiest for them overall.
My therapeutic approaches are unlikely to begin this way – and testing, alongside my knowledge, will provide the foundations for getting my clients on the road to wellbeing. And yet always, in the back of my mind, I am aware that my deepest hope for my clients is that they learn about themselves through working with me, and start to grasp how to treat themselves so that they can attain, and retain, their wellbeing – long term, independently, and uniquely in their own way.