I admit it. I was addicted to sugar, caffeine, and adrenalin. I am a recovering dopamine addict, and it almost killed me. Twenty years ago, a freshly minted doctor, I swallowed the propaganda that doctors are invincible, that “MD” stood for “medical deity.” During my training, one of my surgical residents told me, “real doctors don’t do lunch.” I thought I didn’t need to follow the same rules of biology like everyone else. I believed sleeping, eating real food, and resting were luxuries, not necessities.
In fact, even though I knew about healthy lifestyle and nutrition, and had always exercised, I felt I could push the boundaries of my body. When I started my medical career, I worked 80-100 hours a week as a family doctor in small town in Idaho. I delivered hundreds of babies, ran the emergency room, and saw 30-40 patients a day. Sleep was an afterthought. It was the early 1990’s and I ordered Starbucks coffee by the case straight from Seattle, bought an espresso machine and served up 4-5 espresso’s a day. I lived in a perpetual state of fatigue and pushed my way through on adrenalin.
I continued those habits when I moved to Massachusetts and worked in an inner city emergency room. At the time I had two young children to care for, and worked endless odd shifts in three different hospitals. Some days I went without sleeping. I got through the night shifts by downing a quadruple espresso, a pint of Haagen Daz ice cream (coffee flavor), and a giant chocolate chip cookie.
I learned how to keep myself awake despite my exhaustion. I didn’t have a stop button. I lived on adrenalin—until my adrenalin ran out and I suddenly got very ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. Every system in my body broke down. I didn’t choose to change my life—my body chose for me. That is when I had to learn to rebuild my life and my energy and respect the way my body worked. I learned the hard lesson that my body was a biological organism that needed care and attention, that it wasn’t there to sustain my abuse and serve my needs. I realized that if I wanted to enjoy my life, I would have to learn the care and feeding instructions needed for being a human.
Unfortunately, many suffer the same fate I did. We have all been given a beautiful creation—our physical body. But none of us were born with an operating manual or instruction book. How do we make it feel good, take care of it, make it run like it was designed—balanced and in perfect rhythm? Most of us don’t learn how to manage our energy and bodies well. We use drugs—sugar, caffeine, alcohol, adrenalin or worse to manage our energy and moods. Most of us don’t connect our behaviors and choices with how we feel every day. We don’t connect what we eat, how much we rest and sleep, how much we exercise, how much time we make for connecting with friends and community, or the kinds of media and news we watch with how we feel every day.
Feeling fully energized and vitally health comes down to a very simple principle: take out the bad stuff and put in the good stuff. Health results from what you get too little of (good food, nutrients, light, air, water, rest, sleep, rhythm, exercise, community, love, meaning and purpose) or too much of (poor quality food, stress, toxins, allergens or microbes). This affects how our bodies, minds, and souls function. For each of us the ideal mix is a little different, and what is needed to thrive is unique to each individual. It takes a little experimentation, observation and fine-tuning to achieve, but there is nothing better than being the best you in each moment. It is what makes life sweet.
This is what I have spent the last 20 years studying—how can I thrive and help my patients thrive; what prevents us from being well and what helps us. This approach to health and medicine is called functional medicine or “the medicine of why” —that is, why our bodies work well or don’t!
It’s actually quite simple.
How to Get More Energy
Simply make a list with two columns. In one column list all the things that give you energy. In the second column list all the things that drain your energy. Each day try to let go of one thing that drains your energy and add one thing that gives you energy.
Here’s my list. Take a piece of paper and make your own now.
My Energy Drains
My Energy Gains
As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” We all get kicked off our plan from time to time. Something intrudes, somebody gets sick in your life, you may lose your job, your kids may do something stupid, your spouse may cheat on you, the stock market might crash, it might even rain! These are the inevitable struggles that are part of being human.
Let me share with you how I manage these struggles (yes, they happen in mine too), and how I stay motivated.
Overcoming Obstacles on Your Path to Health
Dealing with challenges in life is like surfing. You get on the wave, and all is great … and then the wave drops out from under you, or it grows into a huge wave and pummels you into the ground. When that happens, you paddle back out, get back up on the board, and keep surfing.
Here are some ideas on how to do that:
Some of these habits might not be second nature. But our lives are about the thousand little choices we make every day. When I am really off track, I do a reboot—a week-long detox that resets my body, brain and rhythms. I use my UltraSimple Diet . It is a simple whole foods, sugar-, drug-, and allergy-free nourishing way of eating and living for one week that can create dramatic and rapid changes in your biology. Try it. Then you may remember what it feels like to be well, some of you for the first time.
Now I’d like to hear from you …
What steps have you taken to change your health? What obstacles do you face and how do you overcome them?
Have you tried taking a drug holiday like the one in The UltraSimple Diet? What were results?
Why do you think we live in a culture where the simple act of being healthy is so difficult? How can we change this unhealthy culture to one that supports optimum energy and vital well being?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD