Are We Overcomplicating Health?
Maybe being healthy doesn’t have to be so hard.
This morning, I went to see a new ob-gyn. I needed to get my annual physical, which I hadn’t done since moving to a new city a little over a year ago.
As I was led back to the exam room, my heart started beating faster. I think it always does in these hospital settings. Not that I was worried about anything in particular; I’m healthy and take pretty good care of myself.
But I was feeling a little frustrated about some minor yet lingering health issues I was dealing with—digestive issues, fatigue, and simply feeling kind of “blah” more often than not.
I didn’t plan to bring any of that up with the ob-gyn, though. I just wanted to get my annual physical checked off the list and get out.
And it’s not like I’ve been skimping on medical care completely. I’ve been seeing a functional medicine doctor for about a year. Functional medicine isn’t yet mainstream in healthcare, but is gaining traction as a more holistic approach to medicine. (If you’re curious, I wrote more about it here.) They’ll take a bunch of blood tests and hormone tests before “diagnosing” you, and any medications they prescribe come along with plenty of lifestyle modifications and supplements.
After my initial appointment last April, I was given a list of supplements to take—most of which I’d never heard of before (CoQ10? Glutamine? Ashwagandha?), and none of which were easy on the wallet. I had 5+ to take in the morning, more at lunch, and a huge handful to swallow at night.
Dietary changes were also recommended — no gluten, dairy, or sugar (I tried, even though pretty much every day was a “cheat day” for me).
The lifestyle modifications in my plan of care included specific suggestions for yoga, meditation, cardio, and strength.
As a result, over the last year, I’ve expended more brainpower about my personal health and well-being than ever before. That’s saying a lot, considering I’m a freelance health journalist and I’m also a health coach.
In the past few months, I’ve stressed out more than once over missing a yoga class, spent more on supplements than I’d like to think about, and went to Trader Joe’s more times in one week than I want to admit.
Sure, I definitely felt better after following the plan from my functional medicine doctor. But I’ve been wondering: Could I be overthinking this? Could being healthy not be so… difficult?
Back to this morning. Sitting in my stiff, awkwardly open-faced hospital gown, I started telling my new ob-gyn about my slightly chaotic past year. She was incredibly patient and down-to-earth, and I suddenly found myself opening up about the move I made to a new city. About the toxic job I quit to work for myself. About the health diagnosis a family member just received.
I told her how I couldn’t shake this pesky fatigue or those annoying digestive issues.
I told her about all the supplements, trying to be really careful about what I eat and how I exercise, and so on, and so on.
“It sounds like you’ve been through a lot,” she said. “And you’re doing a lot right.”
I caught my breath, and the words stopped spilling out of my mouth.
“Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself.”
I swallowed, a little skeptical — this wasn’t the normal type of medical advice I was used to hearing. But as someone who has a tendency to want to do it all — and do it all perfectly well — maybe this was exactly what I needed to hear: It’s OK to give myself a break.
Maybe this was exactly what I needed to hear: It’s OK to give myself a break.
Women have a tendency to put up with discomfort and stress, continue to push through it and handle it all, she explained. The move, the new job, the various stressors in my life — they all added up, I realized. And many times, stress can manifest itself as those physical issues I’d been dealing with.
I asked if I should continue the extensive (and expensive) supplement regimen I’d been prescribed. “Honestly, no studies have really proven the benefits of most of those supplements,” she said, reminding me of what I knew was true, deep down. If you want, get a multivitamin, and even a prenatal vitamin, which is great for women even if you’re not trying to conceive, she told me.
What it really comes down to, she said, are the simple building blocks of health we all know by heart:
- Get enough sleep — 7, 8 or even 9 hours a night.
- Eat healthy. (Like Michael Pollan’s classic, simple advice: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”)
- Drink plenty of water — 8 to 10 glasses per day.
- And be kind to yourself.
Because let’s be real: No one’s perfect. She admitted she didn’t go to yoga (which I actually do!) and sleep with her phone next to her bed (which I’m guilty of too).
“But really, as long as you’re sticking to the basics, you’re probably doing pretty darn well.”
After this past year, that reminder couldn’t have come at a better time. With all the distractions and bad news out there today, with all the trendy workouts and strict diets, maybe we all need to remember that keeping it simple is sometimes the best thing we can do for our health.