When it comes to your health and lifestyle, do you have a leaky boat?

leaky boatAs a naturopath our approach to help improve health and quality of life is to look for things that are causing the problem (and the symptoms), rather than aiming to just remove the symptoms. eg. If you’re in a boat and the boat has holes in it and is filling with water, removing the water from the boat with a bucket is a short term solution. It’ll stop the boat from sinking only as long as you keep bucketing out the water.

So a naturopathic solution would look more like trying to plug the holes in the boat which are letting the water to come in, and if there’s someone making holes in the boat, to get them offboard pronto!

I always think of this as a boat analogy and this is the one I give my clients in clinic and that I visualise myself when I’m looking at my own life, but I’ve seen some other great analogies too, one by Dr. Dean Ornish, where he has doctors mopping up water from an over-flowing sink while the taps are turned on full, and another by Kristin Sweeting-Morelli in a course I did with her, which is a colander. For me though, I’ve always pictured a boat. Ever since my French housemate read me the  children’s book by Bridget Bardot called “Noonoah Le petit phoque blanc” (the little white seal) the expression on the face of the furrier killing the baby seals has stayed with me (seriously, you don’t even need to speak french to appreciate the book), sadly my drawing skills aren’t as powerful as the illustrator is for Bridget Bardot’s book but every time I think of “hole makers” I’ve got that image in my mind.

Anyway, go with the analogy that works for you, but for the purposes of understanding the things which could be contributing to your stress, fatigue and lack of time to make your health a priority, I’ll continue with the boat analogy.

So why would people rather bucket out water continuously than seal the holes or get rid of the hole maker?

In fact, when people realise how exhausting bucketing the water out over the long term will be, they tend to look for bigger buckets, or more complicated solutions like the health equivalent of automated pumps (fancy home exercise equipment, like tummy toning rollers, thigh squeezers, etc. or perhaps it’s a higher powered blender, a smaller blender, etc.). Few people look at plugging the holes and kindly ending the contract with the hole maker. Eg. asking themselves why there is no time to make a salad? Why don’t I feel like eating a salad? etc.

Why is that?

On the surface bucketing out the water seems like the less expensive option. It also has the added bonus of keeping things pretty much the same. No structural changes to the boat. No personnel changes (eg. no awkward conversations with the hole -maker) and no expensive equipment, skills or “down” time required to have the boat out of the water to fix it. There is also the illusion that it’s more efficient and cheaper to bucket out of the water (because you don’t have the down time or the time to find a better crew who aren’t going to make holes in the boat).

But the reality is that after a while, you’re going to get tired of bucketing out the water. Worst case scenario, you might not be able to bucket out enough water fast enough to prevent the boat sinking. Also, over time, the ongoing costs of the automated pump options (eg. supplements, trendy equipment etc.) also start to build up.

So if you’re going to make some changes to your health and lifestyle for real and lasting change, to get results that make a difference, you really need to change the things that are going to make a difference. Take out the hole makers, fix the holes, then put the boat back in the water.

A lot of trendy health, lifestyle and goal setting information has you bringing more buckets in, convincing you you need a bucket with different design (like an ergonomic handle), or buckets in different sizes, etc. But the problem will remain, as long as you’re bringing more things in rather than dealing with the cause your problem is still going to be there (especially if part of the problem is over-scheduling, saying “Yes” when you should be saying “no”, being too “busy” and feeling overwhelmed by clutter).

As I’ve mentioned previously, the problem with adding more things in to an already over-stuffed life means there’s less time and energy to make the changes that would really make a difference,

So in terms of health and lifestyle the kinds of things which are the metaphorical equivalent of a leaky boat include:

  • feeling too tired to live your life
  • feeling “unhappy”
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling stressed
  • feeling overwhelmed

The metaphorical equivalent of “getting a bigger bucket” are things which help you cope with your current situation  but don’t necessarily encourage you to change the things which are causing the stress, like:

  • supplements (or over the counter pharmaceuticals) without any actual lifestyle change
  • things you “add in” – like green smoothies and juices, extra exercise to burn off calories from junk food eaten daily rather than as a special occasion.
  • fancy home exercise equipment (you don’t use after awhile)
  • books or CDs for meditation or relaxation (you stop using after awhile)
  • “superfoods” you think you can add to a poor diet without making long term diet changes (a whole post on this one down the track).

In the analogy, the hole makers are things which “drain” you or cause your situation to keep happening. Or they are the things which keep making it hard to make lifestyle changes for the better eg:

  • friends that “use” you
  • friends that tempt you with smoking, drinking or junk food
  • family members (or friends) that are addicted to drama
  • being surrounded by clutter
  • having a never ending “to do” list (no time to cook healthily if you’re busy zipping around from one commitment to another)
  • having money stress
  • co-workers or bosses which make your life at work hard
  • doing a job you don’t enjoy
  • having an unreliable car, phone, etc.
  • being “busy”
  • over-scheduling
  • leaving things to the last minute
  • not seeing a qualified healthcare practitioner like a doctor to find out why you’re tired (there can be so many causes so if you’re feeling constantly tired make sure you see a qualified healthcare practitioner like a doctor and also a naturopath (to help with making the lifestyle and diet changes depending on what the cause of your fatigue is) instead of ignoring symptoms and hoping they’ll go away.

Sometimes it’s not easy to take out all the hole makers, or to take “the boat out of water” and  take the time out that you need to really “fix your boat”, eg either you work full time and your family needs your income, or you’ve got kids and there is no such thing as a sleep in. But that aside there are still a lot of things you can do to reduce the burden.

So here is your action item for today. If you’re feeling tired, stressed or overwhelmed and you’d like to get your health back on track, before we talk about the typical things like vitamin B, or iron, magnesium or any other individual nutrient, you need to look at your life objectively and suss out two things:

  1. Have you bought a bigger bucket? and
  2. What hole-makers do you have on your boat? If you’ve got some which aren’t on the list above feel free to mention them in the comments below.

It’s funny, but over my time in clinic I’ve witnessed many times the power of seemingly simple changes. The health benefits of plant-based and mostly plant-based diets, the benefits of clearing clutter and the benefits of going to bed earlier and drinking enough water. These things seem so simple they are often ignored for the more impressive looking and sounding supplements, exercise or kitchen equipment or analytical equipment. But those things don’t usually lead to long term change because you become reliant on external things and since the only thing which is consistent throughout your life is you, it makes sense to work on empowering yourself with knowledge and skills to adjust the boat and re-set the course if things go a bit wonky, you hit rough waters or something springs a leak (eg. your lifestyle changes, such as you start a family, change from a “regular” 9-5 job to shift work, you go from working for someone else to starting your own business or you have a family member move in with you, etc). This is why I believe that the most important thing is to teach people how to recognise when things are “off course” and to empower them with the knowledge and skills to “correct the course” themselves, so they’re not way-laid by bigger shinier buckets.

I’m on a mission to try to find ways to make this easier and more doable, so if you’re on that journey too and you’d like some company and fresh insights then enter your name and email address below and I’ll keep you in the loop:-)