It’s taken me 65 years to learn how intricate the body is and how interconnected all the parts are. If you damage one, you may very well be damaging the whole. But I didn’t see that in my youth. I saw disparate parts, each deserving its own focus and attention and, of course, wholly repairable if my latest fad didn’t work to my advantage.
Up until I left for college, I was pleasantly thin and never worried about what went into my mouth. As a kid I remember going through a butter phase where I would cut off a piece and eat it while I watched television with my parents. I recall my mother laughingly telling my aunt that she thought it was strange but how could a little butter hurt me?
Then I got to college, put on some weight and decided to try some very interesting diets. I started drinking Tab (horrid stuff even then), with a metallic aftertaste that was probably my digestive tract turning to lead. I realized I couldn’t live with Tab long-term and somehow a diet drink didn’t cancel out the crushed oreo covered ice cream I’d have for dessert at the dorm. But then I read about a terrific diet that I knew would be easy to follow – the sherbet diet. That’s all you ate. Yep – sherbet. As much as I love sweets, even I couldn’t stick with that one for long. Who knew I could actually crave a green bean or a spinach leave after a few days of nothing but sherbet?
I’m pretty sure at some point I’ve tried every diet known to mankind. And in my dancing days, I was fixated on the latest trend for improving health – a boatload of vitamins and minerals based on iridology. That would be great if the person “prescribing” the plethora of pills had any medical training, but no, he did not, and yes, I bought close to 15 different products that were going to give me the energy I already possessed as a thirty-year-old and extend my life (which we’ve yet to prove but I hope is accurate). It was the nausea from the handful of pills that finally convinced me to stop.
I’ve learned a lot by working in the medical field and listening to how, as the song goes, “the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone…” The more I hear, the more I understand the complexity of the body and how one small change can have enormous effects up and down the line. It’s no wonder that so many people are loathe to take medications because even though many are great short-term, many are dangerous (even lethal) long-term. In my own case, once I reached perimenopause, my gynecologist decided I needed to get on a low-dose hormone pill. My problems started showing up after about 3-4 months and over the next year got worse and worse. I told our hospice pharmacist that my hips hurt and it felt muscular. He’d never heard of that side effect. I noticed that I couldn’t stand up straight when I got out of bed in the morning and it got so bad that I couldn’t pick up my feet. I would shuffle around the bed to turn off my alarm and then into the bathroom. Oddly, after about half an hour, I would be able to stand up straight. I finally found a doctor who had heard of these drastic symptoms and she agreed I should stop taking this medication. Who would’ve thought that a medication seemingly meant to help me was slowly fusing my joints (my description, because that’s what it felt like).
So here I am at 65, no longer turning my health over to someone else. I’m aware that I eat too many sweets but my cure for that will not be to take a medication; it will be to cut out the majority of the empty calories I eat. It’s taken me decades to listen when I hear people discussing the complexities of the body but it’s fascinating. There’s a ripple effect through the body and it no longer surprises me to find that a pain in my foot is connected to a problem in my eye (I’m making that up but you get the picture) or a muscle spasm in my back is associated with my liver. It’s all connected.
I have a relative who is very heavy . . . and a vegetarian. He has said he can’t understand how he can be so overweight when he eats pretty good meals. Okay, sometimes those “pretty good meals” include soups with a bazillion grams of fat or low-fat products with a bazillion grams of sugar. He’ll liberally salt his meals before he’s even tasted them and then say he can’t figure out why his feet swell.
Bottom line? I don’t really care if I have wrinkles and grey hair but I do care about how I feel. I realize it’s far more important than I ever understood to know how everything that goes into the body affects all the parts. I figure if I’d had more sense about how complex the body is, how the smallest thing can make such a huge difference, and that some of the damage we cause in our youth is not reversible, I might’ve paid more attention to what I was swallowing a long, long time ago.
Or maybe not. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have listened because as kids, we know everything, right?