by Madeleine Hawks
Some of you have asked us how we got interested in health and personal care or why we started this blog. For the next two weeks, we’re going to try to answer those questions!
Mom and me, circa 1988
My Mom, bless her heart, has a deep-rooted distrust of traditional doctors. I suppose part of that must be genetic, because I find that when I am sitting in a doctor’s office, my instinct is to say “why?” or “is that really necessary?” about 1,000 times. Yeah, I’m that patient. But I like to understand the big picture and I expect a full explanation. If I don’t feel like my questions are answered thoroughly and respectfully, I tell the doctor I feel that way and then I find another doctor.
At one point in college, I had a sudden onslaught of acne and I went to a dermatologist.** After a 3-minute consultation, I was prescribed an antibiotic and told to go on my merry way. But within a week, I was incredibly sick from the medicine and opted to go to the student health center. I met with the doctor there, who happened to be a doctor I really trusted and had seen frequently since school started. She ended up referring me to a naturopathic physician – I had never even heard of such a thing! No one had ever told me about alternative medicine before!
A week later, after doing an overnight fast that included nightmares about chocolate cake, I found myself doing a spit test at the naturopath office and waiting to be told what was ailing me. The appointment was literally 10 times longer than nearly any doctor’s appointment I had ever had before. My naturopathic physician did some blood tests and gave me an overview of the levels of minerals in my body–which ones I was lacking and what else might help get me back to ship-shape, or better than before. She put me on a back-to-basics diet that started with a month of oatmeal and fruit and veggies. I slowly added more whole foods. She taught me to think not of what I was cutting out (junk), but instead focus on what I really should be seeking instead (veggies, protein, whole grains).
The idea behind naturopathy is that the body can often heal itself, if given the right nutrients and time. According to this philosophy, when I begin with the good, whole foods, there’s less room in my diet for the bad stuff, like preservatives and additives. I think that’s a great way to think of nearly anything: fill up on the good; don’t leave room for the bad.
In addition to dietary changes, my doctor also set me up with some herbal and mineral supplements. It was definitely a lifestyle change! I learned to “shop the outside” of the grocery store, meaning focus on the fresh, whole foods that are on the perimeter, and only go down the aisles for basics, like grains. I became a more conscious eater, trying to cut out unnecessary processed ingredients as well as the hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides that may come with consumption of traditionally farmed meats, cheeses, and vegetables.
The whole process got me thinking: if I start doing my own research and asking informed questions, could I get the answers I need? Not just when I’m sick? The answer, so far, has been “YES”. I started talking to my mom more about our family health history and I began paying more attention to what I eat. It eventually became another layer of consciousness.
But with knowledge came responsibility. I now wanted to make informed decisions about the things I was putting in or on my body. As a product junkie, I had a hard time realizing that it wasn’t as easy as picking up a new shampoo and trying it out. I distinctly remember walking into the natural food store in my home town and, overwhelmed with the potential, asking the salesperson: “Do you have any body washes that are made of only sunshine and flowers!?!?!!?” (Turns out they did, and my love affair with Dr. Bronner’s began.) At the same time as I was carefully trying to cut back on antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in my food, I had to try to figure out what was really inside all the pretty personal care bottles in my bathroom. I was getting healthier and happier in the process.
I’m not an expert and I sometimes cheat my own rules. But the difference is that now I have more control and I make informed decisions about my health. Of course, I still visit a traditional doctor on occasion, but I’ve also seen an acupuncturist and a handful of alternative skin specialists. They’ve all taught me a lot about myself and helped me learn more on my own. Now, when I go to the doctor, whichever type of doctor it is, I know the questions I want to ask. And, most importantly, I’m not afraid to experiment and read as much as possible about health and nutrition. I’m also a huge fan of polling my friends and family – it can be a treasure trove of substantive and anecdotal information! Warning: this method occasionally leads to TMI, but mostly it just gets people talking about what keeps them healthy and happy!
Happy, healthy people, circa 1995
**More about my adventures in dermatology and skin care to come in a future post.