Before we get to today’s post, I just wanted to let you know about a great opportunity to “remix” your body image with my friend and amazing health coach, Summer Innanen. Make sure you reserve your spot for her free webinar on November 6 at 8 pm EST! SIGN UP HERE!
I’m not a religious person, per se, but I’m totally okay with the idea of a higher power, whether it’s one that really exists or one that we’ve made up in order to make living in the chaos of the human brain bearable (see: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle…)
The point of the saying, from what I understand, is not that you need to give up your agency or free will to a supernatural being and his/her preordained plan for humanity, but that you have to stop trying to control everything in your life.
Disordered eating is all about control. Not just anorexia—that’s just the extreme form. When it goes from something recreational to the center of your life, something that you can manage to something that manages you…that’s disorder. Maybe not something diagnosable or medicate-able, but certainly something that disrupts your life and makes you feel miserable and trapped. That’s why I strongly believe that bodybuilding can be a form of disordered eating. And Weight Watchers. And calorie counting. And IIFYM and carb backloading, etc. It’s all about controlling and controlling and controlling everything that goes into your body in order to create some kind of response in your body composition.
As if you really have or NEED control over something like that.
I’m not saying we should eat with abandon and not care at all about our health, but when you spend 20 minutes in front of the refrigerator, panicking and negotiating with yourself over whether or or not you’re allowed to eat a sweet potato with your dinner, I think there’s a control problem. (Or, on the flip side, you never, ever question your food because you only eat the same six things over and over in a certain order because those same six things are safe.)
One of the hardest parts of being a health coach is reading and hearing the stories of women who have so controlled their lives that they don’t know how to let go and let god, as it were. Where the sweet potato negotiation becomes a life or death bargain with the gods of Crossfit. Where nutritional deficiency can be induced by looking cross-eyed at a Paleo treat. Where lack of control in the kitchen equates to a lack of control in emotion.
And I’ve noticed, lately, that this really extends beyond food—into things like exercise, hormones, and, because of SEO, methylation.
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you found me because you were doing a search for MTHFR. Or candida. Or acne. Some of my most popular posts are about how much B12 I’m taking and contain pictures of my acne-scarred face, destroyed by an “overdose” of methylfolate.
I’ve written about the trouble with consulting Dr. Google before, but I’m starting to worry that I’m contributing to the problem in some way. I still believe that, as laypeople living in a world where medicine is controlled by drug companies and corporate interests and misinformation, we need to be able to find sources we can trust to give us the truth about things like living with MTHFR…but I also believe that, as laypeople who get obsessed with control and optimization and perfection, we don’t always know how to use that information in a constructive, productive way.
For example: you find out that you have MTHFR by doing a home test like 23andMe. You google, read a few posts, and become an MTHFR “expert.” You buy a supplement or two and…suddenly you’re overmethylating and dealing with all of the downstream effects.
So you join a Facebook group or an online forum and start asking questions. Someone in the group wants to know about your COMT SNP. Someone else thinks that your CBS SNP is causing problems because you eat too many brussels sprouts. At leas six other people suggest you also have Lyme.
Now you’re desperately googling POTS and doing a low-sulfur diet. You have green smoothies every morning (but isn’t that what started the whole problem three years ago?). You’ve bought everything from n-acetyl cysteine to something that’s supposed to chelate metals, whatever that means. You do it all, haphazardly, and the only thing that seems to be happening is that you’re getting more and more anxious and depressed. (Is that a serotonin deficiency? Bring on the 5-HTP! Wait—how much are you supposed to take, again?)
Now, I believe 100% in the power of biology and neuroscience. In the psychology classes that I take at night, I snort under my breath whenever we discuss humanist psychology and talk everyone’s ear off when we’re discussing SSRIs (by trying to explain that nutrient therapy is a thing, and why isn’t it in the book, and here’s how it works…). BUT I do think that there’s a reason why clinicians pay a lot of money to educators and spend a lot of time focused on peer reviewed research: for the same reason we hire a personal trainer to watch our form at the gym or a therapist to reflect back to us the things we already kind of knew we needed to be doing, sometimes, working with a doctor helps you see and understand things you wouldn’t be able to objectively observe in your own body.
Working with a doctor—functional, allopathic, whatever you please—can sometimes be just as important as understanding this stuff on your own. The point of my writing about MTHFR and such is not so that you can go out and try to become your own neuro-bio-therapist, but rather so that you can become a partner in your own medical treatment. A doctor should be an ally, not a dictator—and knowing how methylation works means you can ask questions or raise objections in partnership with your medical professional.
I don’t think we’re supposed to be doing this alone.
For the same reason that addicts need a higher power, I think that we may need to let go and let…doctor in the case of our hormone therapy and methylation treatments.
I’m so tired of watching my readers/listeners dig themselves into an anxiety hole, trying to divine meaning from their SNP reports, staring into the strange patterns of red/green/yellow as if they’ll suddenly understand how to heal if only they look long enough.
I’m so tired of watching you hurt by trying to control yourself.
And I want to offer you a helping hand.
After you google the meaning of “monoamine oxidase,” can you promise me that you’ll also google the name of a functional medicine practitioner in your area who has an understanding of methylation? Can you promise me that, if I share some information with you about nutrient therapy, you’ll also seek a practitioner who can check your histamine levels and make recommendations based upon the research they’ve done? Can you promise me that, after you’ve asked your forum for help, you’ll also let go and let a doctor help too?
I know that there’s a huge belief in n=1 experimentation and skepticism of medical professionals in the ancestral health community, but I think that a truly effective n=1 experiment happens only with guidance from something more than another blogger’s summary of something they heard on a podcast once. Especially with something like methylation, which is still so new in terms of medical acceptance and research and so potent and nuanced in terms of individual treatment.
You need to know enough to be able to ask questions, push back when your medical professional suggests something potentially contraindicated, and fire your doctor when they put their own interests or biases first. But it breaks my heart that I get emails every week from women who feel powerless to “fix” themselves because they’re so busy obsessing and obsessing and obsessing over how they’re going to fix themselves. That’s not a way to live.
So. The point is:
If you are willing to invest the time to research it, join the forums, and become an expert yourself, why not get some help and speed up the process? You can still be an expert on you without losing your life to fearful, controlling navel-gazing.
I read PubMed, but I also see a doctor. When I’m overmethylating, I know enough to take Niacin, but I also know enough to drop my doctor a line and ask for next steps. I can explain the effect of neurotransmitters on depression, but I also get a medical opinion on when it’s okay to stop the 5-HTP. It feels good to give up that control to someone I know has my best interests at heart, to be able to shut my internet browser and get on with living my life as healthily as I can in the moment.
Letting go…that’s a prescription I don’t mind filling.