The chemical makeup of your body is like the soil that we grow plants in. For your body to grow and heal, your chemical makeup needs to be full of balanced nutrients — just as soil has to be full of balanced nutrients for us to raise beautiful and healthy plants. This simple principle has not been incorporated into the conventional medical understanding about health and healing. Nutrition research has shown that we can change the chemistry of our bodies to improve metabolism and encourage healing throughout our lives. In fact, every time you eat — every day, at every meal — you change your body’s internal chemistry, for better or for worse. Food promotes healing or does just the opposite.
Food is especially helpful in balancing inflammation. Inflammation is the reaction of our body to substances that may harm us, such as bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells. Since ancient times, inflammation has been described as redness, heat, swelling, and pain. A few simple mechanisms were thought to be responsible for these reactions. In recent years, we have been learning a lot more about the inflammatory response and about its far-reaching effects on our health.
Diet is more powerful in preventing the common diseases than either drugs or medical care. It has been known throughout the ages that foods are important for healing and optimal health. In primitive societies, there were traditional foods for certain life events such as childbearing and old age. There were herbs and roots to be ingested or mixed into topical preparations and used as remedies. Indeed, there were medicinals from herb gardens before modern chemicals were ever invented. A search of the botanical literature on functional foods — foods that can have a beneficial effect on the internal processes of our cells — turns up many pages of references from all countries and prominent institutions. There is strong science behind the idea that food promotes health, and we need to make use of it.
Your Food Choices
When I first assess a new patient for chronic illness or pain, a diet history is part of the assessment. I see daily proof of the old adage “You are what you eat.” I ask people if they eat vegetables and fruit. Almost everyone says yes. Then comes what for many is the harder question: “How many servings of fruit and how many servings of vegetables did you have yesterday?” Far too often, the question is followed by silence as I wait, hoping they are trying to count up large numbers. Then comes the truth: “Well, I don’t eat them every day. I had an apple on Tuesday.”
So the first order of business is to get people to improve their diets by adding more vegetables and fruits. I explain that eating habits affect pain because diet can either increase inflammation or decrease it. Diet can nourish your cells or leave them vulnerable to further damage.
When dealing with diet, I try to add healthy products before I take away the less healthy ones. I want people to like the process and not feel that I am depriving them of something they are used to eating. A nutritional strategy helps people take charge of their health and lets them see the connection between pain and their overall health. There are times when I prescribe necessary medications, but people are more likely to leave my office with a recipe for lentils or chicken soup than a pharmaceutical prescription.
Love Your Food
Eating has the potential to be one of the great pleasures in life. It’s the satisfaction of a primitive instinct, and it should be a sensual experience of vision, touch, smell, and taste. Traditionally, eating has also been important for maintaining the social fabric of society; a meal was a place to make friends and spend time with families. Nowadays, eating has become something we just have to do, like filling the gas tank in our car. And sometimes it takes even less time.
• Try enjoying your food by using some adventurous approaches.
• Make a rainbow on your plate using the natural colors of food.
• Focus on the taste of your food by eating slowly. Savor each flavor, and stop before you are full — tease yourself.
• Don’t do other things while you eat; focus only on eating.
• Have family-time meals. Make conversation and tell stories about what each family member learned that day or feels grateful for.
• Listen to your favorite music while you eat.
• Be a daredevil — take a risk and try a new food. Try a small amount of that new food on five separate occasions before you decide if you do or don’t like it. That was the rule for my kids, and they ended up liking most things they tried.
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Excerpted from the book Holistic Pain Relief: Dr. Tick’s Breakthrough Strategies to Manage and Eliminate Pain. Copyright © 2013 by Heather Tick, MD. Reprinted with permission.
Heather Tick, MD
, is the author of Holistic Pain Relief
and has been an integrative medical practitioner for over twenty years. A sought-after speaker, she lives in Seattle and works at the University of Washington, where she is the first Gunn-Loke Endowed Professor for Integrative Pain Medicine.