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Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity-Step 1: Commit

 
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Root-Fix Framework to Preventing and Reversing Autoimmunity- Step 1: Commit

For those of you who missed it, last week I wrote the first of a nine-part series discussing my Root-Fix Framework for Preventing and Reversing Autoimmune Disease. In this article, which can be accessed by clicking the link above, we reviewed the growing epidemic of autoimmunity, a disease process personally affecting as many as 50 million Americans. We discussed what autoimmunity is, the background and significance of autoimmunity, why it happens, and the shortcomings of conventional management in today’s health care system. This week I am extremely excited to begin discussing the steps you can take to start regaining your health. Working with people from around the world with complex health conditions and autoimmunity, I have found that there are foundational aspects of each individuals healing journey that need to be addressed for true wellness to occur. Over the next several weeks I will elaborate on each step of the Root-Fix Framework that I have used to help people transform their lives regaining a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When reading the articles over the next several weeks, it is important to remember that although most steps are prioritized in the preferred order of execution, everybody’s situation is unique and the order is not set in stone. It is also important to understand that in the majority of cases, we are addressing multiple steps simultaneously. 

Now I know I just said the priority of the steps is not set in stone, but I am going to make one exception to the rule as we discuss the first aspect of the Root-Fix Framework, commitment. Commitment may not be as exciting to think about as healing the gut, removing toxins, or killing stealth infections, but I am here to say that it is hands down the most important aspect of your healing journey. I am going to outline three areas of commitment you should reflect on before embarking on your journey to wellness: commitment to self, commitment to health, and commitment to something greater than you.

Commitment to Self:

Everyone who has traveled on an airplane with children has received the spiel from the flight attendant, "In the event of an emergency place the oxygen mask on yourself before putting the mask on your child."  Did you ever stop and think about why flight attendants are instructed to say this to every single parent flying on the plane? Why don't they just incorporate this into their general statements? The apparent reason is that the airline company knows that in the event of an emergency, the chances of a parent putting a mask on themselves before their child is slim-to-none. The reality is that as a society we traditionally tend to place the needs of others above the needs of ourselves, which is just second nature. We frequently overlook the logical aspects of these events letting our emotions direct us down a path of self-destruction. The reason I bring up the airplane example is that I will often see a similar situation unfolding in people suffering from autoimmunity, especially women. It may be your children, your spouse, a family member you are caring for, or even an employer. You continue to give 150% of your time and energy without consideration for the detrimental impact it is having on your well-being. Your health, happiness, and sanity take a back seat to the needs of others who benefit from your selflessness and generosity. Eventually, you can no longer compensate for the excessive burden of this lifestyle, and you become ill. Every ounce of the effort that was previously directed towards helping others is now completely consumed by just trying to get from one day to the next.

When recovering from autoimmunity or another chronic health condition, it is important to be a little selfish. You need to commit to yourself. Committing to self entails shifting your mindset to recognizing that your well-being is an absolute priority and you will never be able to fully deliver the best of what you have to offer to others until you are physically, emotionally and spiritually well. Committing to self is much easier said than done and it is a task that requires continuous evaluation. It often involves saying no to people who would traditionally expect you to say yes. It may even require the elimination of individuals and circumstances in your life that contribute to a toxic environment. Stress is an enormous trigger of autoimmunity that will be discussed in detail in the next blog. Committing to eliminating any and all unnecessary stressors from your life is an absolute priority to achieving optimal health.

 
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Commitment to Health:

As anyone who has battled autoimmunity can confirm, the road to recovery is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is filled with lots of ups and downs along the way. It is taxing on all fronts both emotionally and physically, but the result is far beyond that of what can be achieved by simply covering up symptoms with medications. The truth is that it often takes multiple insults over an extended period to get to the point where the immune system weakens and autoimmunity develops. For this reason, it would be unrealistic to think that recovery is going to occur overnight. It is a unique process that is different for everyone, but the result, which is wellness, makes the journey worth it. Committing to your health is another key aspect to recovery. You have to go into the process knowing that your life is about to change and sacrifices will likely be made. Committing to your health involves giving 100% to the process while understanding that it will not always feel as though you are getting 100% in return. It is also important to know that as much as you try to control things, you will never be in complete control. Adapting and overcoming the obstacles that will present themselves without completely stressing out is essential. Nobody is perfect, and you can't expect to be.

When it comes to your health, there are a few specific changes you can make to improve your chances of success. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine once said: "A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses" (1). I have come to realize through working with patients that one of the most useful tools to overcome poor health is the right mindset. If you do not believe you will recover, it will be nearly impossible to feel well again. With that being said, the people who stay optimistic, refuse to give up, and push through challenges, are the ones who defy the odds making miraculous recoveries. The power of optimism goes far beyond what I have witnessed in practice; it is also well documented in the scientific literature. A meta-analysis published in the Annals or Behaviors Medicine evaluated 84 studies and found optimism to be a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes (2). It is easy to become hopeless and frustrated when you are pulled down by the grips of chronic illness, but having the mindset and support system that will lift you back up when necessary is critical.

Another commitment everyone should make on their journey to wellness is a routine. As much as we like to say we will implement change, we often get side tracked by the various aspects of life that tend to pop up unexpectedly. Plan out a routine, write it into your schedule, and follow it. It may seem crazy at first but writing things into your calendar and setting reminders is a great way to develop sustainable habits. Living a healthy lifestyle is time-consuming and requires preparation. You want to prep for success which is a big piece of committing to self as well. Some routines you will want to commit to on a daily basis: 7-8 hours of sleep, healthy eating, at least 30 minutes of physical activity, meditation/prayer, and uninterrupted time with family/spouse. Some commitments will be made on a weekly basis: meal prep, grocery shopping, social interaction with family and friends, hobbies you enjoy, massage, yoga, etc.  Finally, some commitments will be made on more of a long term basis: vacations, health goals, physical achievements, etc. As difficult as it may be, committing to a set routine can drastically increase your ability to transform intentional acts into long-term health habits. 

Committing to Something Greater than Yourself:

The final commitment I ask you to make when battling autoimmunity is committing to something bigger than yourself. Medical literature has become inundated with articles reporting positive links between spirituality and a host of complex chronic illnesses including autoimmunity. There is extensive evidence supporting the fact that increasing spirituality correlates with decreasing levels of medical utilization, health-care costs, morbidity and death. The unfortunate truth is that even though the evidence is robust, spirituality seldom gets attention in the health care setting because health care providers feel uncomfortable discussing the topic (3). There is no doubt in my mind the people of faith who decide to offload their burden onto a power greater than themselves, recover remarkably faster than those who carry the full weight on their shoulders. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (4). Whether your spirituality lies in the Bible or somewhere else, there is no doubt in my mind that entrusting your burden to a force bigger than yourself, whatever that force may be, is one of the most powerful decisions you can make on your road to healing and wellness.

Remember, things that seem impossible just take a little longer to achieve. You are worth every ounce of the effort it will take optimize your health, you just need to make it happen. 

In good health,

Seth Osgood MSN, FNP-BC, IFM-CP, EMT-P

About the Author: Seth Osgood is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Seth received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.