So many New Year’s Resolutions come down to one thing: how to take control of your health. Whether it’s a commitment to eating better or exercising more or exercising at all, I would venture to say that most of us include something about health and fitness in our yearly goals.
We all know the statistics about how quickly New Year’s Resolutions become judgments of our failure. We set out with aspirations to become a new person only to find ourselves returning to the same habits we’ve always had. The old maxim rings true: Wherever I go (or whatever I resolve), there I am.
A personal success
A couple of weeks ago, when Todd and I were discussing our New Year’s Resolutions for 2020, he said something that surprised me: “You don’t have to put exercise on your list of New Year’s Resolutions, because you’re already doing it.” And he was right. I made it a habit last May, and I’ve been exercising almost daily for eight months now. At the same time, I’ve been eating nutritious, healthful food, and significantly reducing the amount of meals I eat out.
I didn’t even set out to lose weight. I set out to clear chronic cystic acne and to improve my overall health. In the process, however, I lost 17 pounds (7 in the first 10 days), and at last count, something like 7+ inches. I’m happy to report that my skin is better, too. And not that I can guarantee this kind of outcome for everyone, but I’ve also tapered off antidepressants for the first time since the birth of my second child and terminal diagnosis of my beloved dad, eight years ago. So how did I do it?
A second education in food
The long story is that our winding path with Isaac’s challenges has lead us to explore some things over the years that we may not have otherwise tried (or even heard of, for that matter). When there is no set roadmap for helping your child, you become more open, more curious, more involved in addressing your child’s health than you might be if his or her development were more typical.
While this is not a path we chose to be on (and not one we would wish on others, as it’s hard on both the heart and the pocketbook), there is no doubt we have built a storehouse of knowledge about health along the way. And it’s become a huge part of who we are as a family and the day to day choices we make.
I’ll save our adventures in dieting for another post (I’ve learned to cater my cooking to gluten-free, GAPS, Paleo, dairy free, and anti-candida, some for short stretches, some long). But here’s one of the most important principles we’ve learned in our second education in food: believe it or not, 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut. That means that if something in our body is ailing or out of whack, there’s a high chance something is wrong in our diet. And when we remove foods that are inflammatory and replace them with more healthful, nutrient dense foods, we may see symptoms of disease disappear entirely.
More than skin deep
So in February or March of last year, when my complexion started to crash, the first thing I thought about was what in my diet might be disrupting my immune system. Isaac was starting to have acne, too, and while I knew we shared the same genes, I also knew that we share the same food.
We removed gluten from our diet long ago in hopes of changing Isaac’s behavior for the better, a path many families of children with special needs explore. What we didn’t anticipate was that six months or so into eating Paleo (which is entirely grain free, thus also gluten free), Isaac would barely be having symptoms of asthma anymore. At all. Food literally is medicine.
When I was young, I’d had terrible trouble with my skin. It took three rounds of Accutane to set it right and an occasional treatment of Spironalactone afterward for adult acne. I had truly battled troubled skin in my youth and early adulthood, and I was not willing to welcome this problem back into my life. Despite making dramatic changes several years ago, I’d become complacent about my diet more recently and was relying too heavily on convenience foods and eating out, which is an easy pattern to fall back into, given the world we live in. I couldn’t pinpoint what was causing the flare ups, but I wanted it to STOP.
I knew I would have to play hardball, with food.
Take control of your health – my starting point
Because of prior experience, I felt confident that I could effect change, both for Isaac and for me, by changing what we ate. I’d recently learned of Mark Hyman, MD, an internationally recognized leader in functional medicine, and decided to see if he’d written anything about treating acne. What I found was the article below, which Dr. Hyman notes is his most-clicked blog post ever (so clearly, I’m not the only person who has faced this battle):
10 Simple Strategies to Eliminate Acne
This article was my starting point. I’d already eliminated gluten. I would follow Dr. Hyman’s guidelines and eliminate sugar (again) and dairy next. And I decided to order his book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, and follow it as closely as possible. By this point, it was May of 2019, and I was ready for change. It’s time, I told myself, to take control of your health.
The 10-Day Detox Diet
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Everything above is the long story. The short story is this: on May 6 of last year, I started following the program outlined in Mark Hyman’s book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, which includes a thorough examination of food along with a holistic plan to “reset” your health through a combination of diet, exercise, and stress management. If you follow the program, you WILL experience change, enough so that you may adopt some of the habits for good. That’s what happened to me.
In The 10-Day Detox Diet, Dr. Hyman encourages readers to take a retreat-like approach to the 10 days, prioritizing our health over everything else. Most of us can’t take a true 10-day retreat. I certainly couldn’t. But we can commit to reordering our priorities for 10 days, focusing on our health above all else…and still keep our life (job, kids, household, sanity) afloat. I know we can, because I did it. If your health is out of control, you owe it to yourself to do it, too!
10 days to take control of your health? Totally worth it.
A holistic approach to health
The 10-Day Detox Diet is more than just an eating plan, though it is that, too. It is a holistic approach to health, including food, exercise, sleep, and reducing stress.
Food and exercise
In addition to an enlightening exploration of food and food culture , The 10-Day Detox Diet offers a wealth of delicious recipes, from simple to complex, some of which stayed on my weekly rotation long after my 10 days passed. It also includes a journal, where you answer questions around your food habits and hangups, to help you change not only your eating but the way you think about food.
The “diet,” which you know by now is far more than a diet, also requires that you exercise for 30 minutes every day, preferably in the morning. As someone whose yoga pants had never been to yoga, who hadn’t worked out since the months before my wedding almost 15 years prior, this was truly daunting for me.
I settled on walking as my exercise of choice, and even then, I didn’t know if I could get up in the morning for 10 days in a row to check this box off my list. And I certainly didn’t think I’d keep doing it after the program ended. But here I am, eight months later, still walking nearly every morning. It’s like a gift I give myself to start the day. (See post, My Morning Walk, with Robin.)
Sleep and stress reduction
And finally, two of my favorite requirements of the “diet,” prioritizing sleep and reducing stress.
The minimum requirement is to sleep seven hours per night, with eight being even better. In my case, this had less to do with waking up earlier and more to do with turning off the phone, the television, and my racing mind in time to get in bed, be still, and truly let down.
The stress-reduction requirement is to take a 20-minute “detox bath” every night, with a mixture of Epsom salts, essential oils, and baking soda. It felt almost odd to give myself such a luxury, but it revealed to me in clear contrast how very little I typically do to help myself relax and let go of the stresses of everyday life (something every mom must do!). And as a bonus, the bath helped me decompress enough that I fell asleep more readily and more quickly.
The keys to my success
Each of these realms–food, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction–is important when it comes to our health, but giving weight to all of them, together, for a 10 day period, is powerful. It truly changed the trajectory of my health, and it can do the same for you.
The program outlined in The 10-Day Detox Diet isn’t easy. Quite the contrary. But I succeeded with it for two primary reasons.
1) I already believed in food as medicine. I had confidence that I would see results if I followed the protocols. And I did.
2) I had a deep-seated motivation. Your motivation to take control of your health might be different from mine, but you must have one. Mine was getting rid of acne, which had already plagued me as a youth. I WAS NOT GOING BACK! What is yours?
It’s one thing to push ourselves to achieve a goal and something very different for a goal to pull us in the direction of success. Over this 10 day program and for many months to follow, my motivation to clear my skin literally pulled me out of bed in the morning to walk off stressors, prepare nutritious meals for the day, and make my health the priority it should be.
What pulls you?
And what about you? What motivator is so powerful that it could literally pull you out of bed in the morning to take control of your health? Identify that, and you are far more likely to succeed at this or any program you undertake.
I am in a very different headspace since following The 10-Day Detox Diet. And I’m thrilled by the changes I’ve made. I hope for the same success for you. I’m sharing my story for anyone who may feel stuck or complacent or in downright crisis to let you know that it is possible to take control of your health. You can do this. You are so worth it!