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Small and Powerful Steps to Wellness

Small and Powerful Steps to Wellness

Part 3. Pushing the Envelope to Fight Health Saboteurs

If you have read the first two articles in this series How and Why One Family Started and How We Did It Affordably you know that my family and friends have taken some radical departures from the Standard American Lifestyle to climb back toward wellness. I have thrown a lot at you in two articles, and you may still be shaking your head at how we achieved all of this. Some of it seems so hard, as anything new can be. In this third article I will cover a few other paradigms that have proven critical for our success:

  • Giving in to Unhealthy Food Cravings Is Not About Lack of Willpower
  • Hormesis
  • The Four Agreements

I will wrap up with the criteria we use to find a health care practitioner because sometimes the issues and the questions require more help than I and my community can offer.

Damn Food Cravings!

I grew up eating more cookies, cake, candy and ice cream than probably anyone you know. I have a mouth full of mercury and crowns to prove it. I spent almost 40 years needing a sugar fix, but that came to a screeching halt when we changed what we eat. I will explain more in a moment, but first read Dr. Mark Hyman's article: Food Addiction: Could It Explain Why 70 Percent of Americans Are Fat? This is the first key to understanding how America as a country got into such a health crisis. In addition to causing obesity, addictive foods contribute to diabetes, poor heart health, autoimmune diseases and more.

Understanding that addictive foods feed the bad critters in our guts (also known as your microbiome) is the second key to understanding food cravings. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD and author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), was years ahead of the medical research regarding the gut/health connection. Her book explains that we are largely made up of microbes, both helpful and harmful. When the harmful microbes dominate, which is the case for almost everyone I know, disease is the result. Removing the "food" that feeds the harmful microbes (processed food, cookies, cake, candy, ice cream, grains, dairy and a few other things), causes them to starve and die. They go down with a huge fight, intensifying their demands to be fed when you no longer provide them their food, and their hunger intensifies your food cravings. There is literally a war for your health occurring in your gut.

When my family felt weak and wanted to give in, we knew it wasn't a lack of willpower that made it so hard but the efforts of the microbes trying to survive, demanding that they be fed. Being hijacked by bad critters was my motivation to hold on and starve them out. I have a healthy competitive streak and losing this battle wasn't an option. When enough of them died, we were free of bad food cravings. It took about 30 days.

Talk about Food Freedom! At age 42 I was finally in control and craving-free! It still is breathtaking. I am completely immune at the grocery store and can easily walk away from any temptation.

Looking back, I see this is a time when we unknowingly used The Slight Edge - taking it moment by moment, day by day, making one small good decision after another good decision, which led to our freedom.

How Might Kids Deal With Food Changes?

If you have kids, you may wonder how they will deal with such a dramatic food shift. In some ways Ryan and I were fortunate because Colson didn't eat any mainstream junk from the regular grocery store. His junk was all organic and he was taught that the mainstream grocery store junk was poison. The joke was on us, though, because he ate poisonous organic junk and had food addictions.

I am convinced that our shift away from food addiction was made easier because of our doctor of Oriental medicine. Our doctor said we had to change the way we eat in order to reduce Colson's environmental allergies. Because our doc is such an amazing guy and Colson has always highly regarded him, he complied. If Colson would have begun to push back, I would have blamed our doc. That is an easy solution that directs the frustration away from the family at a time when the family is stressed enough in its efforts to make substantial lifestyle changes.

We have had to deal with Colson's frustrations of eating differently (and Ryan's and my frustrations as well), but he knows how much better he feels staying clean and rarely straying. Now Colson is highly educated about food and when he does stray it is intentional and calculated. He has become knowledgeable enough thanks to the podcasts he overhears and the work I have done for our family and with others that by age 11 he was fluent in the removal of unhealthy, inflammatory foods. One morning I came into the Tai Chi room late (we were regularly practicing Tai Chi with seniors) and he was lecturing on food choices, and the seniors were asking questions and taking notes.


Hormesis significantly helped us on our healing journey and we continue to use it when we are feeling weak about a lifestyle choice. Even after nine years we are faced with temptations to stray from our path and sometimes we knowingly and calculatingly do. Other times, though, we have an internal battle to do the "right thing" and we turn to hormesis.

What is hormesis? Dr. Kurt Harris, MD, gives the best definition that I have found:

Hormesis is when a small stress induces a healthy response in an organism, such that the organism is healthier than without the stress exposure. Any stress that we have defenses for, that we would expect to encounter on an evolutionary basis, is a candidate to be hormetic.

My family has applied hormesis physically and psychologically with great success and I provide some examples below. If you search my blog you will learn about the many great adventures we have taken to make hormesis a part of our consciousness. While we all experience hormesis opportunities daily, being aware of and taking advantage of them was not part of our paradigm until I learned about The Flinch by Julien Smith, who was interviewed by Robb Wolf on a fantastic podcast. You can connect to the podcast and download the The Flinch for free by clicking on this link: The Flinch.

Whenever Colson or I get stuck or unmotivated we yell "Hormesis!" and charge ahead. Here is one of my favorite psychological temptations that Colson and Ryan strongly overcame: Cake = Ignorant Americans and MDs…and a Little Hormesis .

Most of our challenges are food related. When faced with a food temptation that we know is bad for us, and if we fall under its spell, we may look at it, smell it, touch it, sometimes taste it…and throw it away. Throwing our food challenge in the garbage or staring at it in the grocery store and walking away grows the healthy response that Dr. Harris discusses above. With each temptation or challenge we face down we get stronger, which is a marriage of The Slight Edge and hormesis.

Since becoming active in identifying and testing hormetic situations, we have recognized eight hormesis benefits, and I am sure there are more:

1. Having FUN

2. Being in the moment

3. Getting stronger

4. Being surprised

5. Building stronger relationships

6. Growing respect for self and others

7. Growing awareness of living in the moment

8. Having even more FUN!

Hormesis will look different for each person at each point in their journey. When we began actively playing around with it we were pretty far along on our health recovery and we could have a little fun with it. If I would have learned about hormesis when I was sick and tired and barely functional, it probably would have helped spur me to take action because I can't stand walking away from a worthwhile challenge. Hormesis in 2006 would have involved giving up dairy, wheat and sugar, all much more important accomplishments than those I report in my blog three years later. One small good step followed by another and another can change a lot of things!

Positivity and The Four Agreements

Obviously hormesis has been a very positive concept for my family. Even so, we live in a world that endlessly bombards us with messages that we are not good enough, we should live scared and we can buy our way to a better place. Often it takes a serious, life changing hardship (or in my case more than one) to help cut through the Standard American Lifestlye and see what really matters. What matters to me is:

  • Enjoying my little family of three
  • Having a safe place to live
  • Eating nourishing, healing food
  • Maintaining good health and improving where possible
  • Helping others

Even without watching television and all of those commercials and 24 hour news cycles, the creep of corporate America still affects me and causes me sometimes to think about what I don't have instead of celebrating the fact my family continues to maintain its core principles.

We are all on journeys trying to do our best, and many of us are in cultures that don't support our efforts. When my family gets sidetracked we always go back to Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements. I can't say it any better or differently, so here is a direct quote from Don Miguel Ruiz:

The Four Agreements are:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

The Four Agreements have always served us well and are part of our family's culture. We won't ever be perfect in their practice, but they help us get back on course when we stumble.

How We Select the Practitioners Who Help Us Improve

I fortunately chose great practitioners who are true healers, with one exception. Early in my journey I encountered one practitioner who only cared about getting his patients to follow his treatment plan, which increased his profit. When patients exceeded the number of treatments covered by insurance, he kept pushing them to keep coming, even when they couldn't afford it.

For my family treatment plans are absurd. The human body is dynamic and if a person takes advantage of the healing journey, healing can happen more effectively and quickly than anyone expected. Under a treatment plan, a person who has dialed in their healing path and is reaping the benefits would still have to pay for treatments that they no longer need.

What Makes a Great Practitioner?

Now for the fun part. The great practitioners who have treated me have several things in common.

  • They truly care about you and want to help. They become partners in your healing – it is a two way relationship, not a one way street where you do whatever they say.
  • They treat every patient and every physical challenge individually.
  • They are flexible in their approach. If they don’t “get it right” the first time, they look for other solutions.
  • If they are unable to help you, they will tell you that as soon as they know it and then refer you to another practitioner.
  • They are open to you questioning their recommendations and exploring them further.
  • If their treatments are only a piece of your healing puzzle they will refer you to other practitioners and try to heal you as part of a team.
  • They continually study and educate themselves.
  • They educate and empower you. It is their goal to have you taking care of yourself as soon as you are able. The number of treatments and the money they make is a non-factor.

I experienced practitioners like these when I fractured my back just after marrying Ryan. The MD told me that it was a bad sprain and gave me some pain killers and muscle relaxers, which did nothing. I had never been to an alternative or complementary practitioner, but now was the time to try. I went to my husband's chiropractor, who was over his head in regards to my injury, and he referred me to his chiropractor, who was a genius. This new chiropractor was the only one who knew how badly I was injured, and without the benefits of x-rays. My injury was finally diagnosed three years later after it healed in a slightly deformed way.

My husband's chiropractor also referred me to an acupuncturist. The acupuncturist prefaced his treatment with a statement to the effect that not all acupuncture styles are the same, and if his treatment did not work, he would send me to another acupuncturist. Within 40 minutes of beginning treatment, the excruciating pain was diminished by about 70 percent and the spasms were gone.

Finally, my husband's chiropractor referred me to a massage therapist who specialized in severe injuries. What an amazing healer that man was.

The fantastic thing about this story is that my husband's chiropractor knew that I needed practitioners who were more skilled than he was, and he immediately referred me, losing me as a patient. The people to whom he referred me worked wonders and I couldn't have asked for any better treatment, yet they were all willing to refer me if I did not get results. They all believed in the synergy of their separate treatments and specialties, worked together, and money was not their motivator.

Final Thoughts and A Must Listen

Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, was interviewed in Robb Wolf's podcast, episode 268. I have heard Dr. Perlmutter speak a number of times and each talk was amazing. In episode 268 he knocked my socks off regarding why people should take the healing journey.

Humans are at an exciting time for reclaiming health. The research is finally supporting what some critical thinking MDs and other health practitioners have known for a long time. Healing foods are no longer fringe, although there still is significant pushback from many in mainstream medicine. Dr. Perlmutter's and so many other's work is pushing the cultural and informational roadblocks out of the way. Really thinking about and internalizing what he and other leaders are promoting leads to life improvements that I couldn't imagine, and that is crazy big motivation. It may be hard to consciously remember what wellness feels like, but at a deep level, your body knows.

If you have questions about this article or would like to hear about specific parts of my family's journey, feel free to email me at and I may be able to address your questions. You can learn more about us here: Thank you for reading.