As a society, we have somewhat recently returned to the notion that pharmaceuticals are not the only potential cure for what ails us. Lifestyle changes, including stress management, sleep, meditation, and different eating habits are increasingly cited as effective supplements to -- or even replacements for -- more traditional Western medicine. A particular focus is being placed on food's medicinal potential.
This about-face is fascinating and, in my never-studied-medicine opinion, can potentially shape a much more balanced, whole-body (dare I say more affordable?) approach to preventing and treating illness in our culture.
But in our zeal to embrace the simpler, "more natural" solutions, we risk forgetting that food as medicine has its limits.
The more mainstream the idea that our diets and lifestyles can dramatically impact our physical health, the more I start to see the suggestion that ailments are the result of personal irresponsibility:
"Oh, you're sick? It's probably because you've been eating [dairy/gluten/sugar/soy/caffeine/legumes/whatever the dietary scapegoat du jour may be]."
People dole out nutritional advice left and right in response to their friends and family members' health challenges. "Have you tried [insert trendy natural supplement/herb/food group]?" We start to believe that if changing our diet hasn't fixed whatever problem we're trying to address, maybe the solution is more restriction or tinkering. We beat ourselves up when problems like autoimmune issues, infertility, or chronic illness persist, laboring under the misconception that we have fully mastered our own bodies and can feed or starve anything away.
I suspect this is especially true for people who already make an effort to care for their bodies with exercise, proper rest, stress management, a well-rounded diet. We expect that, for all this effort, our bodies will reward us by functioning properly all the time.
But that attitude is almost hubristic. Being informed and proactive about our own health is great; thinking that everything that happens to our bodies is within our control is misguided. So in case you need a reminder (and I know I often do): go easy on yourself.