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Small and Powerful Steps to Wellness - Step 1

Part 1. How and Why One Family Started

If you are reading this article, then you are likely pondering some wellness choices and possibly changing your wellness trajectory. The Slight Edge[1], the simple and stunningly powerful book by Jeff Olson, gets to the heart of what choices can mean. We all make hundreds of choices every day, and our choices usually aren't monumental when viewed in isolation. In fact, they often seem to make very little difference, but over time they add up. The Slight Edge promotes the idea that choices are often easy to make and they are either helpful or harmful. We can make small choices and take small actions that are positive, which will lead to a great big positive outcome, or we can slide toward the negative.

I have found that my family's continuing journey toward wellness has some fairly universal principles. Whether you are a person who dives in and makes many changes at once or someone who needs to ease into change The Slight Edge way (my family has done both depending on our needs), I know that our journey has helped others. Before mentioning some of my family's healing discoveries and lessons learned (there are so many when radically shifting away from the Standard American Lifestyle), here are a few questions that may be helpful as you read:

  • Do you have an illness, or are you looking to prevent one?
  • What small choices did you make and how have they influenced your health journey?
  • If you are considering some lifestyle changes, are they small or do they seem large and overwhelming?

What made my family start the journey toward wellness?

I will keep it brief. My family's health journey began with the birth of Colson, our now 12 year old son. We switched to organic food and filtered water and thought we were on top of our game [insert scoffing sound effect]. Twelve years later (I am now almost 49 and Ryan, my husband, has just turned 48), after some serious health downfalls, I realize how profoundly naïve we were.

Because Colson had such a stuffy, sneezy nose right at birth and serious seasonal allergies were showing by age five (potentially life-threatening physical reaction after running through a field of tall grass), we were on a mission to figure out how to heal or manage his allergies without medication. We learned that food was a major component for triggering his seasonal allergies and for promoting his healing. What a hard connection to understand, especially back in 2008 before the Paleo lifestyle revolution (Eat real food, sleep, move, heal…but don't live like a caveman and realize that there are many paths to wellness)[2]. Because we wanted to be in solidarity with the dietary changes that Colson needed to make, we ate what he ate, and, amazingly, we all healed from various challenges, some of which we weren't even aware (see One Year Anniversary - A Year of Healing in Review ). Our son could finally breathe, and it was as if my husband and I had healed from a multi-year migraine and felt on top of the world because it was suddenly gone.

As you read further, keep in mind that we have been on our journey for 12 years. Since this journey is being condensed into three articles it might seem as though our positive strides and discoveries happened very quickly. In reality it took over a decade of study, mistakes (some repeated many times) and learning from those mistakes to bring us much improved health. Everyone's time table is different, their motivations are different and their solutions are different.

What are some of the lessons we learned?

  1. The human body wants to excel; it just needs the opportunity.
  2. It often takes a long time for health to decline and it takes time to undo the damage.
  3. When we began to heal it was like a holiday - our bodies gave us unexpected gifts over time and they were such fun surprises.
  4. Regaining wellness is a series of small steps, not an instantaneous outcome. Small steps are easy and we are always taking them.
  5. Vibrance isn't just for kids and young adults. We continue to regain our sparkle as we age.
  6. We are not static, so the healing journey never ends.
  7. With every bite we eat we determine how we will live.

This seventh lesson is so profound that it deserves a standalone paragraph. Most Americans are indoctrinated to believe that once we reach 40 we should expect to start falling apart. We were seriously puzzled by the reality that we felt better as we ate better. I began to tell people that "the older I get the better I feel!" This concept really blew my mind. I asked my doctor of Oriental medicine how long I could tell people that, as I was entering my mid-40s and surely this could not go on. He told me he had one better: "If you don't feel better every year of your life then you are doing something wrong." My brain short circuited on that one. Rather than planning for decline I should plan to feel better and better. But how?!?!? My doc explained that it took a long time to acquire all of my challenges and it takes a long time to recover from them. Seriously jazzed by that paradigm, we have stayed faithful to the journey. We have not been perfect, but we have approached perfection when the situation demanded it, such as my husband's 30 foot fall from a climbing tower or a miscarriage after age 40 that almost killed me.

Starting is Basic and Easier Than I Thought

I wouldn't trade the past nine years of purposeful, focused health recovery even though they were a lot of work (an understatement) and we have had some serious pushback from some people in our circles. I reclaimed my health, cured my husband's ADD, reduced and at times eliminated my son's sneezy allergies and stuffy nose, put my husband and son on a path to hopefully defy their disease-related genetics and I helped lots of people. I gained amazing friends, healers and mentors for whom I am deeply grateful. Looking back, I ask myself, "If I were just beginning my healing journey now, what would I do again and what would I do differently?"

What I Did Well

Build Community . This is the most critical in my family's journey toward wellness. Nine years ago I was fortunate to stumble upon a new non-profit group called the Holistic Moms Network (HMN) and a chapter was forming in my area. Many of the moms and dads in this organization were more knowledgeable than I and they were wonderful teachers. It is because of the HMN chapter that I learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), which is a nutrient dense, healing foods advocacy organization based on the work of Dr. Weston A. Price. The WAPF publishes a quarterly journal that has taken my family far on its journey. Because of the relationships built in these two groups I learned about how food, personal care products, household cleaners, electromagnetic frequencies, stress management and more impact our health. Looking back, I believe my body would have failed without their help in finding a new path and trajectory. Because of them, I am excelling.

Select Specific Mentors . There are a couple of people who had a huge impact on my journey. Melissa, a Holistic Moms Network member who had been working to heal her family from health challenges, was my first mentor, and for nine years I have been thanking her. It is because of her persistence that I finally started to understand the Food/Health connection at a very deep level. You can learn more about this connection from a number of healers, including Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD - we used her Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet to address my son's debilitating seasonal allergies and cured so much more for all of us (see One Year Anniversary - A Year of Healing in Review ).

My family will be forever and profoundly grateful to Ken, our doctor of Oriental medicine. He guided my family's healing journey and helped us figure out how to tailor our choices so that we could overcome new challenges and continue to excel. In a future article I will discuss the criteria that we use to select our local healers.

Now that I am hooked on the healing journey I continue to educate myself via online resources and my own experimentation. There are many nutrition and health leaders online, and while it is easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of information (some of it contradictory), it is worth the effort to find legitimate experts who truly understand the nutrition and a healing lifestyle. I have chosen these Internet leaders to learn from, all of whom write accessible blog posts and podcast: Chris Kresser, Robb Wolf and Dr. Ronald Hoffman, MD. These guys, along with Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mark Sisson and many others bring critical information to my family's attention. One of these leaders has answered free of charge every question I have asked over the last five years, as busy as he is. There is another MD to whom I am incredibly grateful (he does not want recognition). He is not high profile but just as knowledgeable if not more so, and for years he has answered every question as well. I am not a patient - we just met at a conference once - and he always helps me.

Wellness is contagious and when you join the healing community the momentum of others carries you along. Almost all have been on the journey, recovering from serious illness, and when they meet another who is on the journey they help when they can.

Ask, Ask, Ask . Breaking away from the Standard American Diet and Lifestyle is exceptionally tough. We are surrounded by addictive foods, relentless media, misinformed and at times antagonistic friends, colleagues and relatives and a medical establishment that values medication and surgery over the recovery of basic health. Those are a lot of barriers when navigating through a fundamental change in the way we live. As an example, when Colson was little, two people actually called us child abusers for not giving our son cookies, candy and cake the first two years of his life. It was maddening, but we didn't let their ignorance stop us. Experiences like these helped push us to build communities that would support the types of positive changes we were making. Relying on community and asking for advice is imperative. As I said above, I have found that those in the know are happy to answer. I have asked my way into the lives of some brilliant people and am amazed by what they share.

Pay It Forward . My mentors have invested their time in me and I have spent the last nine years doing the same with others. It just feels good.

Laugh At Myself . The journey can get so off the wall that at times I just have to laugh (examples below). Fortunately I can tap back into my mentors to regain my bearings when needed and then laugh some more.

Be Kind to Myself . Mistakes - boy has my family made them. Sometimes over and over. Voluntary, purposeful sugar consumption is our biggest one, but after nine years we finally have it under control. Looking back, this compilation is pretty humorous: Someone Slipped Colson an Oreo Cookie Mickey and the Night from Hell! Lesson learned again: take nothing for granted - ask, ask and ask. We try to be kind to ourselves when mistakes happen and we remind ourselves to be grateful. Mistakes are great for learning!

Create a Culture of and Expectation for Wellness. This idea sums up the keys to our success. Our society is programmed for sickness and we have worked hard to join in and create our own culture of wellness.

What I Would Change

Follow Slight Edge Principles Sooner. I was overwhelmed when this journey started. Bone broth, and fermentation, and raw milk, oh my! Nobody in my life ate these foods ever. Not only did I have to learn to add "strange" foods, but then I had to remove other "normal" foods as we became serious about healing for our son's sake. I didn't take action for three months after my son's first serious allergic reaction, as I tried to wrap my head around all of the changes we were considering. It was just food, for gosh sakes! At the time, though, it seemed like our foundation was shaken. I wish I would have known about The Slight Edge and that just one small good change leads to another and another, which leads to great big good changes. That knowledge would have unfrozen me during the months of non-action.

Question and Verify My Family Doctor's Recommendations. I needed to understand and take charge! If I would have researched and verified, my family would be further along on its journey, but I didn't. I thought: "They are MDs and they know more than I ever could about health, right? They go through all that medical training, after all!" I couldn't have been more wrong. If I would have researched and questioned, some of our health challenges would have been less severe. I know some fantastic MDs who are real healers, but they are too few. These days, Pub Med, which is published by the US Library of National Medicine, is my go to resource and then I crosscheck with the mentors I mentioned above. It can take up to 17 years for medical research to be implemented by MDs (see The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research ), so I do my own literature reviews. PubMed is such a fantastic resource, I have used it as a research tool to help many folks better prepare for meetings with their doctors and they have been able to educate their doctors about more promising therapies. When I don't quite understand what I am reading I am able to turn to my community of mentors for help.

That said, I find this cautionary article about medical research very helpful as I consider the medical research: Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science .

Of important note is that skepticism in relation to dieticians and nutritionists is warranted as well. As with MDs, there are a few good ones who do some deep, critical thinking and stay up on the medical literature, but not enough. One nutrition professor from North Carolina State University accused me of threatening people's lives when he heard about my suggestion that people make their own soups as opposed to eating soup out of a can. He seemed to have serious health challenges judging by his appearance, and he argued hard for the need for processed food. Boy was he mad and boy was I angry that he was teaching his students that processed food is fine to consume.

Don't Take Some Food Decisions Too Seriously. I and many in my community spent lots of time early on, when we were new to the journey, worrying about frivolous issues that seemed gigantic at the time. With experience I learned that they were non-issues. Here is one ridiculous example: Fermented foods should not be stored in or come in contact with metal because they leach metal. I actually worried that the fermented raw milk kefir that was sitting in the blender would leach metal from the blade. The less than one minute of metal exposure was a topic of discussion in my community for over a month. Really. I will laugh forever about that one! Heck, here is another ridiculous worry: The nutritional difference between a pastured duck egg and a pastured chicken egg is significant…or so I thought. I now know that there really isn't much nutritional difference even though on the surface it seems that way. I have blogged extensively about that - complete food dork I know - but when your health has failed and you are recovering you can go down some pretty odd rabbit holes. And curiosity can lead to great discoveries. In my case, it turns out that after cooking with duck eggs we could link my husband's daily headaches to chicken eggs, which was in no way an intentional experiment. Now I just laugh about my initial egg-based fretting, knowing that I was doing my best and it took me somewhere even better.

Don't Preach . I am guilty of it. I was annoying when I was doing it. It happens to all of us who take the journey and have experienced significant healing. So many great things are happening to us that we want everyone to know and we want them to all excel. The problem is that many people aren't ready to hear, so the preaching is a real turnoff. Now I gently test the water and if someone is receptive I give a little information. The journey is often overwhelming for them (as it was for all of us), so a little bit at a time is all that people usually can handle. Every now and then I meet someone who can handle a lot and they dive in.

It Is Easier To Know What To Eat Than What Not To Eat. The "Don't Eat" list is long and I initially tried to make and follow the Don't list, looking for ways around it. That took a lot of time. The "Do Eat" list is short and clear for my family and is generally as follows: meat, veggies, fruit, nuts (except cashews for Ryan), some beans, potatoes, duck eggs for Ryan and me, chicken or duck eggs for Colson, and rice for Colson and me. There are more details but that is it in short. Everyone's list will vary as each person is unique and has unique food needs and sensitivities.

Wrap-up

This is the first installment of three articles, and there is much information to ponder. If it seems overwhelming, take it one small step at a time, or Slight Edge it, as we say in my family. If I were starting again, my first small step would be to add bone broth to our diets and to remove sugar, which I discuss in a later article.

If you have questions about this article or would like to hear about specific parts of my family's journey in upcoming articles, feel free to email me at movingstronglyforward@yahoo.com and I may be able to address them. The next article in this series will deal with how we affordably changed our lifestyle, particularly our food, and I will share more strategies we use for success. If you want to learn more about us, you can visit here: www.movingstronglyforward.typepad.com. Thank you for reading.



[1] Note: I am not in any way affiliated with Jeff Olson or The Slight Edge; I have found it to be a very powerful tool for my family and especially my son.

[2] I almost hate to mention the word Paleo, as it can cause a knee-jerk negative reaction for some folks. For better or worse, Paleo has become the term that encompasses creating a real food-based, healthy sleep focused, beneficial movement, stress lowering lifestyle to improve health.