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April 13, 2020

Food For Thought

Resilience: The Forgotten Marker of Optimal Health

There is an important marker of health that has been forgotten. It’s something that is not considered important anymore, because if it was, our whole health care system would operate in a different manner. It is resilience.

Here is a common scenario which happens thousands of times per day all over the world. It might have even happened to you. You go to the doctor for your annual check up. She does a complete physical, takes a sample of your blood and some body measurements. She doesn’t find anything abnormal and says they’ll call if there’s any issues with your blood test results. You are dismissed, with the parting words “Everything looks fine, we’ll see you again next year.”

But is everything fine? Is no news good news?

I would contend that it is not.

The Forgotten Marker of Health: Resilience

Way back in the day – before iPhones, computers, electricity or the modern toilet – we lived, breathed, ate, slept, moved, pooped, and bathed outside in the elements. We lived in a kill or be killed type of environment. To succeed in this environment we needed reserves. We needed to be able to adapt to changing weather, fluctuating food supply and possible predators. We were able to adapt more often than not, or we wouldn’t be here today. You are proof of our ancestors’ resiliency.

In the past 100 years however, our living conditions have changed so much that we’ve removed the need to adapt. As a result, our resilience has plummeted. Most people are on the edge of crisis, waiting for that one thing – whether it be a stressful event, bacteria or virus, or chemical – to push them over the edge.

One definition of resilience is “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”

Being healthy isn’t about never getting sick, hurt, tired, or weakened, it’s about how quickly we can bounce back from a stressor and return to optimal health.

We Use a Fraction of Our Capacity

In a paper published in the New England Journal of MedicineDr. James Fries describes how in youth, our organ function far exceeds what we need for daily living. For example, the heart and the lungs can increase their capacity by up to four times what is needed for functioning at rest. But as we age these reserves, which determine our resilience, can decrease.

Many people have come to accept this reduction in resilience as the natural course of aging. When this process gets out of hand and reaches a tipping point, we then call it a degenerative disease. It turns out degenerative diseases are highly modifiable by diet and lifestyle.

Western Diet Equals Western Diseases

British surgeon Denis Burkitt spent most of his professional life in Uganda observing East Africans. What he noticed was that they consumed an indigenous diet high in fiber and had almost no degenerative diseases that he saw in westernized countries. These were people that maintained high levels of resilience.

The Goal Is Not To Restore Health, But To Restore Resilience

Many of my clients come to me with little-to-no reserves. They eat one wrong food and their joints flare up. They lose one night of good sleep and they can’t function the next day. They need to work longer hours for a project at their job,and it takes months to recover.

Our main goal becomes getting them back to baseline. But then the secondary and critical goal is building up their resilience; getting their health bank account loaded with health dollars. Then, when life throws them a curve ball, they aren’t back to square one.

This is resilience, and this is where we should all be and strive to maintain.

How to Restore and Build Resilience

A clean bill of health from a doctor doesn’t tell us our health account is full, but that we are not in health debt. It’s a great starting point for filling the health bank account, or keeping it full. These are some of the ways you can begin to build resilience.

Build Immunity

Our immune system is an essential component to resistance. It shields us from the invaders and pathogens that can cause acute and chronic illnesses. If we spend the time preparing our immune system to reduce the likelihood of getting sick in the first place, we’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that can keep it down. Learn all about how to build bulletproof immunity here.

Support Digestion

At the basic level, our digestive tract breaks down food and absorbs its nutrients, but it’s also so much more than that. 70% of our immune system lives within our guts and our digestive tract is intricately connected to the brain. Supporting digestion with the best foods, herbs and supplements help keep us strong and resilient.

Stay Away From Refined Sugar

High sugar consumption is associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer. It’s one of the primary foods I recommend clients stay away from as sugar only detracts from our health and offers nothing of value in return. If you’d like to enjoy sweetness, opt for a natural sugar like raw honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or fruit – but remember not to overdose on those, either.

Eat Greens Daily

Dark leafy greens are a rich source of nutrients that support bone health, the brain, digestion, cardiovascular health and blood sugar balance. If you’re at a loss for how to use them, these 10 ways to use leafy greens are a great place to start.

Avoid Processed Foods

Many processed foods are loaded with what I call ‘the white devils’ – white sugar, white salt, white flour and vegetable oils. Processed foods are often junk foods, like sweets or starchy carbs, that don’t offer us much nutritionally. They also contain synthetic vitamins and minerals – meant to replace what manufacturers removed – that our bodies can’t truly absorb or use. Instead, put some of these 12 foods onto your grocery list and try these healthy snacks.

Eat Enough Protein

Quality protein sources are key to healing, growth and repair, hormone production, immune system health, brain function and energy production. Food sources of protein include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, bee pollen, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, and vegetables have some protein too. If you find eating enough protein a challenge, protein powders can help fill in the gaps.

Sleep

Sleep is an important time in our day when our body can rest and recover mentally and physically. It helps with cell regeneration, wound healing, brain regeneration, immune support, hormone balance and memory. Discover what you need to get a good night’s sleep and develop healthy sleep habits.

Reduce Chemical Exposure

We are exposed to a multitude of chemicals every day through pollution, plastics, personal care products, cleaning products, clothing, cookware and pesticides on our food. Many of these compounds interfere with our endocrine system and can lead to hormonal imbalances. I recommend being mindful of what we use on a daily basis for grooming and cooking, as well as the ingredients we choose to eat.

Support Brain Health

Nourishing the brain prevents neurodegenerative diseases and aids our mental health. Foods that support the nervous system and help us manage stress, like B vitamins, protein, nutritious fats and herbs, help us build brain resilience.

Exercise

Regular exercise reduces the risk of many diseases and helps us sleep better, plus if you exercise outside you have the added benefit of being in nature. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you practice, as long as you make it a regular habit.

Support Healthy Detoxification

Our bodies are constantly filtering and disarming toxins that can cause us harm. Detoxification is a natural process; still, there are multiple ways we can help the process along through our diet and lifestyle practices so those toxins don’t hang around long enough to cause damage. Some detoxification diets are unsafe and punishing. Discover the best foods, nutrients and supplements for detoxing here.

With this paradigm shift in the way we think about health and building resilience, instead of adding years to our life we will add life to our years.