• Nancy Cooke

Models of Health & Healing

Updated: May 24

When the doctor tells us to exercise more, and we don’t, we often feel that as a failure of personal willpower, discipline, follow through. We blame ourselves for not trying hard enough. We fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of the obstacles we have. We fail to be realistic with ourselves and in so doing, limit our ability to find effective solutions.

I am here to remind you that there is a reason for your behavior and choices. In order to create lasting change, we have to understand the working parts of those reasons and honor their function.

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Comparing Models of Health & Healing

Coming to eastern medicine with a western mind requires some adjustment. In our medical model in the US, we emphasize a specialist approach because that’s where world-class expertise and advancements in science come from. That’s what we value in the medical field here. These things don’t usually come from the general family doctor, but from people with advanced specializations.

A specialist approach most assuredly has its benefits in terms of advancing the knowledge of humanity, but it is also well known for causing tunnel vision, which can handicap our ability to help individuals, who are intricately nuanced.

Taking a holistic perspective of health in general, and my health specifically, required me to think more systematically.

In the beginning, this can be really overwhelming. When you realize literally every decision you make is either bringing you closer to health or further away from it, you quickly start to tally up all the things you need to change in order to restore your health, and it feels like way too much to do all at once.

It seems so much easier to ask someone else to be the expert on your health, to pinpoint what’s wrong with you, and prescribe a hopefully simple and direct cure.

How do holistic health models empower me in self-help?

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When I decided to start taking action to be more healthy, and to become more involved in my own healing journey (learning about my needs and becoming an advocate for them), the first area I focused on was food because food is the foundation of our health.

The more I learned about natural foods vs. processed foods, the more discouraged I got every time I went grocery shopping. I started to read the ingredient labels on everything and quickly realized, none of this is edible if I’m going to adhere to my new standards...which I thought were super simple: eat foods with natural ingredients. How hard could it be?

I didn’t have any experience cooking from scratch, was a full-time college student with a part-time job, and was now limited to essentially two isles of the grocery store. All of a sudden, the simple task of eating whole foods made me feel like my whole world was crashing down. I felt like I was starving and surrounded by only plastic fruit. The task of eating healthy felt unattainable with these circumstances. I gave up and tried again so many times.

I was approaching it from a specialist model rather than a holistic one. What I wasn’t thinking about when I set my goal of eating whole foods was the role food plays in the system of my health and my life. I understood how eating fresh foods provides better nutrition, and can even boost mood, but I failed to take into account:

  • the social role food plays in my life

  • Can I go out with friends and still eat natural?

  • Will my dietary restrictions make me a bummer to hang out with, to live with, or to date?

  • my level of access to natural foods in various circumstances or lifestyles

  • Can I afford whole foods?

  • Are natural ingredients easily accessible to me?

  • Do I have a sanitary place to cook or store fresh ingredients?

  • Do I have time to prepare and eat fresh food?

  • the pleasure I get from certain food

  • What do I use to replace that source of pleasure?

  • Is that replacement healthy for me?

How much am I willing to sacrifice in order to eat natural foods? Why does it always feel like being healthy = sacrifice + denial? Is there a way to rehabilitate my diet that won’t disrupt balance in other areas of my life?

Something as simple as eating natural food creates so many ripples that touch areas of our lives we may not even associate with food, nutrition, or digestion.

Systemic health models honor the interconnection and holistic nature of the self and of our lived experience. In holistic health, you could say we specialize in the bigger picture of a functional system, not only internally, but externally and relationally as well.

How do holistic health models help me navigate medical decisions?

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Let’s look at a real life example of how medical science and holistic health approach treatment:

When I got thyroid surgery, the doctors told me I would be good to return to every day life, minus turning my head or lifting heavy objects, in less than a week. Sounds simple enough.

The first couple days I slept. They gave me some pretty heavy pain killers and the body naturally sleeps to heal. Ok, all normal.

A week later I was feeling super depressed, was constipated, and my period started early. I told the nurse about my symptoms and she told me to take Senecot and call the OBGYN about my period. No advice about the depression.

Ok, well that helped the constipation. I guess all of a sudden my reproductive system is having problems. It definitely has nothing to do with the fact that my body is in shock from having half of an organ removed, an organ that controls hormone levels by the way...

A month later I was struggling with insomnia, which I’ve never had before surgery, and I was entirely on my own in dealing with it...unless I wanted to start a new medical adventure and go to another doctor for medication and/or sleep tests. None of which address the obvious, which is that my body was responding to the trauma of surgery. I ended up working on regulating my nervous system and my insomnia resolved in a few weeks on it’s own.

A holistic perspective would have taken my whole self into account when deciding how long I would need to get back to normal. It would have known when the body goes through a trauma like surgery, the mind carries that experience even if we don’t remember it and it would have given that symptom proper weight.

It would have recognized that pain killers depress the nervous system and dopamine levels plummet. Compromised mental health directly effects the immune system, which effects our healing rate. Everyone knows the body works as a system. When a major department of the system is under maintenance, we can expect the other departments to have some response.

That’s a lot to anticipate, and that’s not what a specialist is there to do. The specialist, in my case the surgeon, only anticipates what’s relevant to them. His job was to make sure I didn’t have any internal bleeding, that I didn’t get infection, and that my wound was healing well. That’s it. His priority is not my mental health, my digestive health, my menstrual health. His priority is doing his job exceptionally well and leaving the rest to another specialist. That's how the specialist model of medicine is designed, and that's what ensures you're getting a damn good surgeon when you need one...because that's all they do.

This model makes it so that I needed a general doctor to refer me to an endocrinologist to evaluate my thyroid. My endo refers me to a surgeon. My surgeon needed an anesthesiologist to support him during the surgery and nurses to support me everywhere in between. After the surgery, they referred me to other doctors to manage the symptoms I was experiencing because of the surgery.

In this way we get passed around to professionals who specialize in our different parts, all the while, never having one central access point that can treat us as a whole and complete person.

If you’ve ever been down this road, you know what a wild goose chase it can feel like just to find the right doctor to diagnose and treat you, and the stress that can introduce to an already stressful situation.

Systemic health can feel overwhelming when you’re getting started (and even along the way) because our society isn’t built to support it.

When I asked my doctors how I could participate in my own healing, they had no answers. What can I do to stop my health from getting worse? What can I do to reverse the effects? Even if I’m receiving medical treatment, is there anything I can do (or avoid doing) to help support my treatment?

When the doctor doesn’t have the answers, who do you take these questions to? Even when they do have some answers, they’re often general, like eat healthy and exercise, and don’t take the entire system into consideration.

Becoming the specialist of YOU

One of the things I love about natural systems like Ayurveda is the simplicity. Once you begin to understand the essence of your health and of your needs, you’re able to create balance through everyday action, practicing preventative medicine, rather than waiting for illness to manifest and going directly to the extreme in an attempt to cure it. You’re actually able to participate in and support your own healing, rather than putting your wellness entirely in the hands of someone else.

When you understand the complete system of you, you’re better able to identify the source of imbalances and correct them at the earliest indication, whether that be through self-help or through seeking medical treatment.

Holistic health requires you to be the central expert of your health, and everyone else is merely a consultant. When you live in a society where medical doctors have no knowledge of natural remedies or proactive solutions, and few natural practitioners have sound medical knowledge, it becomes your job to be the specialist of YOU and your well-being.

We can either feel weighed down by that responsibility or we can feel the empowerment of being in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

Holistic health is SYSTEMIC

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Health in the physical body alone is not complete health. Understanding health means recognizing that health is a deeply interconnected and complex concept.

We cannot have physical health if we live in a polluted environment. We struggle with making decisions that benefit our physical health if our mental health is compromised. Our mental health is deeply influenced by our social health. Our social health is impacted by things like our beliefs systems and values (spiritual health).

One of the greatest dilemmas to personal health is that you can’t truly separate any one area of health from the others. They are all dependent on each other.

How do you exercise if you live in a smoggy city? Will the benefits of going for a run outweigh the risks of breathing in smog? You could go to the gym, but what about the people who can’t afford the gym? Or who don’t have time to go to the gym because they have to work three jobs to make ends meet? Do they just not exercise? Is their job their exercise? Is their exercise really benefitting them then? Is it providing the endorphin rush and stress relief you get after going to the gym? Are they getting the kind of exercise the doctor meant to prescribe?

Holistic models of health take the whole system into consideration when creating prescriptions. Where a medical doctor might tell you to exercise more, a holistic practitioner will look at why you’re not exercising more already and find solutions that will help you get what you need with the circumstances you’re in. Practicality is necessary when it comes to personal health.

I’m here to help you navigate the specialist model of health with holistic expertise. To help you find the cause of your problem, rather than only treating your symptoms. I’m here to support you through the overwhelm and help you decide what to focus on first and where to go to get your needs met.

Personalized programs are designed to guide you in building a holistic relationship with your self and your life, to teach you to identify the essence of your unique health, and to open your eyes to the bigger picture of the functional system that makes you who you are.

The decision we all have to make when embarking on our own healing journey is how much time are we willing to dedicate to learning different systems of health in order to benefit from them?

We can either seek out education and gain the knowledge and expertise ourselves, or we can consult with an experienced professional. I’ve been studying holistic models of health and applying them to my own healing journey for the last 10 years. The customized programs I create are designed to both educate you about yourself, about holistic models of health, as well as provide guidance in taking a systemic approach to your own healing journey.

Natural & Holistic Systems of Health at FBW

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