8 Weeks: Chapter 1
Week 1: Beginning Your Journey to Better Health
“You can treat the leaves
or you can treat the roots.”
Ancient Chinese saying
Consider 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health to be an operating manual for your body and mind. It is an 8-week guided program of self-education, self-evaluation, and self-care. The self-scoring questionnaires will help you pinpoint areas of imbalance in these ten major areas:
- diet and nutrition
- brain chemistry
- sex hormones
- thyroid and adrenal hormones
- blood sugar
- digestive system including yeast
Based on your answers, you will be able to order specific lab tests for further exploration.
The second part of the book will give you detailed information on the key areas of imbalance, suggesting further testing as needed, then giving detailed recommendations to help restore balance. These include dietary modifications, natural hormones, herbs and supplements, detoxification programs, and exercises. You’ll create new habits that will help you move into the future with greater resilience, energy, and overall health.
Here is how best to use this book:
1. Read the book all the way through first, to familiarize yourself with the material, including the steps you’ll have to take to resolve your problems.
2. Work through the chapters of the eight-week Vibrant Health Plan one at a time, beginning with your food-mood-activity diary, journal, questionnaire, and lab tests, so you have an idea of where you are and where you want end up on your journey to good health. (The lab tests appear early so you can get the results sooner.)
3. Start incorporating the suggested dietary and lifestyle changes. Often, this will be a huge jump-start in changing how you feel. Record these in your journal.
4. Use Part 2 to dig deeper in both understanding and treating your specific problems, one at a time. You will find the relevant supplements listed in each section. Then, to prevent repetition, the details on each supplement can be found in the “Supplement Guide” at the end of the book.
5. When you’ve completed the program to address one imbalance, you can start on another. Please be kind to yourself and address only one major problem at a time.
6. Work at your own pace. The suggested 8 weeks is a good average, but some women may take more and some, less. It depends on your starting point and your own style.
Your investigation in the first eight chapters of this book will lead you to possible root causes of your health problems. Like most of my patients, you may appear to have more than one underlying imbalance. You won’t always have to handle them one at a time since, in many cases, by handling one major problem, others will resolve, too. I find, for example, that once most women’s hormonal imbalances are resolved, many other problems such as anxiety, depression, overweight and insomnia will often clear up, as well.
Some of these programs may require that you see a doctor, especially if you need prescription medications. We will direct you to a list of qualified doctors, and tell you how to best communicate your case to them. This time, we expect that you will be equipped with enough information to become a partner with your physician, working together with you to bring about your return to Vibrant Health.
Please be realistic. If, for example, you have more than 10 or 15 pounds to lose, we won’t hold out false hope. You won’t lose 50 or 60 pounds in the course of an eight-week program, but you will be well on your way to achieving a healthy weight.
You’ll find easy ways to make better nutritional choices, to make exercise more fun, and to better understand the healing power of herbs and supplements. Most important, your intuition will often know what’s best for you, so we’ll give you some tools to help you re-connect with your inner wisdom.
The Vibrant Health Plan calls for gradual changes, so be gentle with yourself! Part of this whole program is learning to really care about yourself, your body and your feelings.
This first week will involve starting your journal, then attending to what you eat and drink—what to add and remove, and basic information on exercise, plus the importance of quality sleep and proper breathing.
Starting a Wellness Journal
The word journal sounds a lot like journey. In fact, your journal will become the road map on your journey to health. Besides your own reflections, it needs to hold extra sheets such as the ongoing “food-mood-activity” diary, a supplement schedule, lab test results, newspaper clippings, website printouts, and any other related information. We have provided a sample “food-mood-activity diary” that you can photocopy and use in your notebook—or create your own. You’ll need some blank, free-form pages as you go along, but this forms the backbone.
Keep your journal in a handy place. In the coming weeks, you’ll refer back to it over and over as you assess your symptoms and create your plan to address them.
For this entire week, and for the rest of your eight-week Vibrant Health Plan, write down everything you eat and drink – meals, snacks, juices, coffee, and alcohol. Include the approximate quantities as well. Your nutritional habits will become obvious as you write them down, and perhaps prompt some immediate changes. Do you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day? If not, you’ll see it easily in your journal pages.
Pay attention to your patterns of eating and drinking, as well. Write down why you ate or drank just then (hunger, boredom, fatigue, etc.) and how you felt afterwards (energized, guilty, deserving, etc.). Use a scale from 1 to 5 showing your hunger level.
Here are some examples of questions to consider when you eat:
- How were you feeling before you ate?
- Did you feel true “gut hunger?”
- Were you eating to relieve stress or a low mood?
- Were you eating or drinking out of habit, and not really hunger or thirst?
- Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
- Did you eat normal portions?
- How do you feel now (e.g. satisfied, healthy, guilty)?
Notice whether you are eating sugar or drinking coffee to raise your mood, energy, or concentration, and having lows an hour or two afterwards. Then you find yourself craving a donut or another cup of coffee. Or notice if you reach for a glass of wine to calm you down when you feel stressed.
Your symptom list is useful in tracking food intolerances, discussed more in chapter 14. For example, you might notice a stomach ache after eating dairy, or fatigue several hours after eating corn, or wheat, or even some great health food. Or you might not even have a reaction till the following day. Food intolerances are tricky that way, and often need careful detective work to pin them down.
Also note how much you exercise – what you do, when, and for how long, and add up the total minutes spent daily. This includes not only your time at the gym or power walking or using the treadmill in the basement. Walking the dog for 15 minutes counts. So does the 10 minutes you spent vacuuming the house and the 20 minutes of weeding the garden or raking leaves. Hey, even folding laundry qualifies.
You’ll also log the hours you sleep each night, meaning actual sleep time, not time spent watching TV or reading in bed.
Each day, include a line or two about how you feel, your energy levels, and your mood. Looking back at these entries after just a week can be a real eye-opener and help you see some simple ways you can make changes that will have profound effects on your health.
You may be surprised at what you discover when you read your first week’s journal. A good example is Kate, a 35- year-old full-time accountant and mother of two teenagers. Her complaint at our first meeting was “I just can’t lose those 15 pounds, and I am exhausted all the time. My family doctor just told me, ‘What do you expect? Full-time job, two children, it’s no wonder you’re tired!’ But I’m not convinced. I know there are things I should be doing to improve my health, but I’m just too tired to think about them, let alone do them.” Kate had brought her preceding week’s food-mood-exercise diary. Kate realized that she was getting almost no exercise, and that the majority of her diet was made up of starchy carbohydrates — bread, pasta, rice, and bagels. Inspired by the possibility of really changing her life, she vowed to stop the starch overload. She planned to eat a protein-rich breakfast, and bring a more balanced lunch with her to work, including cut-up vegetables for snacks. She was also going to use the stairs at work instead of the elevator to get to her fourth floor office. These were small changes, but they were a great start, and would make a big difference in her life.
You’ve heard this before, and it’s true: you need at least 64 ounces of water a day. That’s eight 8-ounce glasses of good, pure water. It represents the amount of water lost by an average-sized person in a day through the skin (sweat) and kidneys (urine). Your urine output should be two to three liters a day, clear and light yellow, unless you are taking lots of B vitamins, which makes it bright yellow. Dehydration is more common than we think. For more information, see Dr. F. Batmanghelidj’s Water:For Health, for Healing, for Life: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty! (Warner Books, 2003). Avoid tap water, which can be full of contaminants and heavy metals. (See Chapter 15) Caffeinated beverages don’t count in your water quota, since they actually leach minerals, taking water with them, as well. Why do you need water? We are composed of 60 to 70% water. Two-thirds of it is in the cells, where it is essential for all chemical processes. The rest is in bodily fluids such as blood and lymphatic system, which carries nutrients the cells, and removes the toxic by-products of metabolism from your system. What’s more, studies show that water restriction actually increases the laying down of fat. Here’s an easy way to count your glasses of water: fill up a 64-ounce bottle with water and refill your cup from it throughout the day until it’s gone. And drink more if you like — this is just the minimum. It is much better absorbed and utilized when you sip it throughout the day rather than gulp down a glass or two every few hours. You can substitute non-caffeinated herb teas, too.
Make Time for Sleep
Sleep gets its own section in your Week 1 Vibrant Health Plan because it is so essential to all aspects of your health. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum health, performance, and safety. According to the NSF, “when we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to ‘pay back’ if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.” Yet the average American gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, and at least two-thirds of all Americans are sleep deprived. Make a pledge to yourself right now: get eight hours of sleep a night, and get it as early as possible. Yes, naps count, to a degree, but you can’t add more than one hour of napping into your sleep total because interrupted sleep isn’t as deep and rejuvenating as continuous sleep. Practicing good sleep habits will contribute to the best possible snooze once you get in bed. This means having a comfortable and comforting bedroom and turning off the TV. Taking a warm bath, drinking a glass of warm milk, and putting on some soothing music will help you get the sleep you need. Having trouble falling or staying asleep? We address this in chapter 9 on stress reduction. Here is one of case of insomnia that illustrates some of these points. Mira, another participant in the women’s health group, noticed in her weekly journal that she was actually not sleeping very well, waking up several times during the night and having trouble falling back to sleep. She realized that there were some ways she could improve the situation. She began by not watching television before went to bed. She also cut out her after-dinner espresso, and began taking one of the multivitamin formulas that I recommended. Stay tuned for her progress report.
You can live for a month or more without food, four days without water, but only four minutes without air. Air is the stuff of life. In fact, some Asian cultures believe a person is predestined to take only a fixed number of breaths in a lifetime, so it is a good idea to breathe deeply and slowly to prolong your life.
Predestination notwithstanding, there’s no question that breathing deeply and slowly has profound effects on your body, mind, and spirit. Deep, slow breathing brings oxygen, in exchange for carbon dioxide, to the individual cells, where it produces the cells’ energy. When we don’t get enough oxygen, we get tired, cranky, and dull because of the increase in carbon dioxide levels. That’s why a few deep breaths help recharge your cells and can change your world from dull gray to Technicolor. Your breathing is a reflection of your emotions. When you are anxious or afraid, your breath becomes rapid and shallow. When you are happy and content, your breath becomes slow and deep. You can also use your breath to change a negative emotional situation. Think of a near miss in traffic. Your heart is pounding, your adrenaline pumping, and your mind racing. If you simply stop and take 10 deep, slow breaths, these physiological symptoms related to stress will disappear in seconds. We’ll have more about stress later. For now, remember that your breath and your mind and body are connected. Most of us breathe too shallowly. In fact, your lungs are the size of two footballs, and most of us are using only one-third of that capacity. Now is the time to develop the habit of breathing more deeply, so begin by spending a few short minutes every day doing just that. You’ll be ahead of the game if you stop several times during the day and take a few deep breaths. To get the most out of any type of healing work and more importantly, out of life, developing optimal breathing habits is one of the most valuable things you can do. I recently came across an excellent program that helps you with deep, healing breathing– check it out!
Stretch Your Muscles
Most of us spend a great deal of time sitting, whether it’s at a desk, on a plane, or when we’re on the phone. Some simple stretches, even once a day, will help get out the kinks, promote better circulation, and help you feel centered and energized. There are some stretches you can do in bed when you awaken, when you’re making your morning smoothie, or even when you’re at your desk seated in a chair. Practitioners of yoga say you’re only as young as your spine, so a flexible spine is an indicator of a youthful and healthy outlook on life. Start this week to do the simple routine shown in “Morning Stretches” that moves your spine in all of its six directions. You can do it in five minutes. Be sure to record your breathing and stretching in your Wellness Journal. You may begin to notice some changes even the first day. Keeping close track of your progress will serve as an inspiration in the coming weeks. It’ll also help you in your search for the underlying causes of your symptoms, so become a prolific writer and note anything that seems different. As insignificant as it may seem now, a few weeks from now, it may become an important clue.