For most of our lives, we were taught to listen to the doctor or the health professional because he/ she knew a whole lot more than we did. This practice got a lot of us in all kinds of health trouble. We took medications that made us feel weird or caused more problems because “the doctor said so.” So the new trend became “listen to your body” and we started taking our cues from ourselves, and while I think that’s a step in the right direction, listening to our bodies can sometimes get in our way. Ideally, the better way is somewhere in between.
I am very lucky in that I have a doctor I can trust and who listens to me. That last part is very important. While most of us trust our doctors (at least until they give us a reason not to trust them), if your doctor isn’t listening to your feedback, I really think you need to find a new doctor. It really is a back and forth situation: you tell the doctor what your symptoms are, and she makes a diagnosis and prescribes a treatment. If the treatment isn’t working or causes additional problems, you need to let her know that. Sometimes the response might be “give it a little time” and sometimes the response is to try another treatment. I’ve had a variety of these responses from my doctor. She prescribed a medication and the side effects are bothersome but not terrible: “give it some time.” It’s still bothersome: “let’s try something else.” Recently, I stopped taking my blood pressure medication because I was getting light-headed when I stood up. My doctor had told me that because of my weight loss, my blood pressure was dropping closer to normal and I might not need it much longer. I was a little skeptical since hypertension runs in my family (along with myopia and astigmatism), but sure enough, once I stopped taking the medication, the light-headedness went away. I emailed her and when I went in recently for my regular check up, my BP was normal after being off the drug for about a month. “Don’t take it anymore.”
This is an good example of me listening to my body and my doctor listening to me. It means we all have to communicate and listen, and sometimes it’s hard to do and sometimes it’s a pain in the butt. It means I have to pay attention to what’s going on with me. Sometimes it’s something easy like standing up after adjusting the strap on my sandals and the room starts spinning- “okay, that’s not normal!” Other times, it’s less obvious, like feeling bloated after drinking coffee. Because there’s usually some time between drinking the coffee and the after-effect of feeling bloated, we might not make the connection. This is where it can be a pain in the butt: when we notice we’re repeatedly not feeling right but the cause isn’t immediately identifiable, we have to do a little investigating. This is where a food journal comes in handy. I don’t use it for counting calories, but I do keep track of what I eat, when I eat and how I feel throughout the day. That way if I’m always starving or always feeling full or just feeling ugh, I can look at what I’ve eaten and see if there’s a correlation. I know I can eat a handful of nuts and still be hungry an hour later while eating an avocado is more satisfying.
The other half of this equation is to talking to the doctor. Emailing her and letting her know that I’ve been light-headed and stopped the medication is also important. If I hadn’t listened to my body and kept taking the pill, low BP is just as bad as high BP. Aside from passing out and possibly injuring myself, it causes damage to the organs and brain (blood and oxygen are kind of important!) If I hadn’t told her I was feeling light-headed, she might not know I have a problem and tell me to stop the medication until I showed up in her office and she took my pressure. Even then, it might not have been immediately apparent. Doctors are people and sometimes things get missed even by the best. This is where you need to ask questions and be your own advocate. Not too long ago, there used to Public Service Announcements (PSAs) showing people asking a jillion questions about the special at the restaurant, the mileage on a new car, the minutes on a phone plan and then showing up at their doctor: “any questions?” “Nope!” The point was we interrogate people about everything except what’s really important. One of my friends lost someone really close to her because her family member would not ask the doctor questions regarding her diagnosis or treatment. Even though her condition continued to deteriorate and her family pushed for answers, she never questioned the doctor or the treatment, until it was too late. By the time she started demanding answers, the cancer was too advanced.
I actually lean the other way: I can be a real pain in the butt to the doctor, asking about diagnosis, medications and treatment options. When I broke my arm and leg several years ago, I was sitting in the ER listening to the doctor explain everything to my mother the former nurse in medical jargon (I was 30-something at the time!) and I interrupted him with an emphatic “NO.” He looked at me like I had two heads and despite my mom’s trying to shoo him out the door, since I was the patient, he had to listen to ME. All I wanted was for him to explain the procedure to me since I was the one who was going to have surgery! Once he did, I had no problems with his treatment, but too many people sit there and let things be done to them that they don’t understand. I think that PSA makes a good point: we need to be savvy health consumers too and if your doctor isn’t listening to you, find one who will!
Aside from not asking health care professionals enough questions, we also have a problem with not listening to our bodies. Sometimes this is because we aren’t paying attention and sometimes it’s because our body is giving us an answer we don’t want to hear, as in fitness and weight loss. We plug our numbers into an online calorie calculator and we get a number, which may be too high or too low for us. Usually the problem with being too low is that we have to limit ourselves to 1500 or 1200 calories a day when we’ve been eating around 2500 or so. Sometimes the number is too high because we’ve overestimated our physical activity. Incidentally, just because XYZ is a ‘great exercise,’ it may not work for you. Everyone says walking is a great simple exercise that ‘really works!’ Maybe it is, but walking on a treadmill is agony for my knees after about 20 minutes! This was obviously not the answer I wanted and when our body fails to give us the answer we want (usually losing weight), we usually choose the answer we want instead. When we feel hungry and low energy with a low calorie limit, we think it’s because the number is too low, so we move it up to a number we like better, even if it’s too high for us to lose weight. (You don’t need to starve but you do need a calorie deficit.) Sometimes if we’ve been told to avoid certain foods rather than pay so much attention to calories, we do the same thing: I feel so hungry/ low energy and these foods make me feel better! I remember hearing one of the patients on My 600 lb Life actually say: “I can’t function without won tons!” Like so many of us, she had fooled herself into believing that she knew better because ‘I know my body!’ (Incidentally, she only lost approximately 30 lbs, leaving her weight about 500 lbs the last time I saw her.) While I don’t doubt that most of us know our bodies better than most doctors when it comes to some things, there are times to defer to the doctor! The broken arm and leg incident is a good example: the hospital staff kept trying to stuff pain medication down me, but my pain was manageable. I could do without the meds as long as no one was touching my wrist. Once they started to set it, they strongly advised to me to allow the medication, and I deferred to them. I may know my own body, but as for setting a shattered wrist? I don’t think so! When you try something your way and you keep not getting the answer you want, it’s time to listen to the doctor. For years I followed the FDA’s guidelines and made sure I stayed low fat and high carb, which kept me fat no matter how little or how much I ate of them. So even though I felt fine in that I wasn’t ‘starving or low energy,’ the rest of my body was dying under my weight! But doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time is the definition of insanity! Time to listen to a doctor! I chose to listen to Dr. Nowzaradan, who puts his patients on a low carb high protein diet. After a few weeks of that, I was losing more weight faster than ever before, I wasn’t hungry all the time and the rest of my body was beginning to recover. I have never met the man, but his specialty is bariatrics and it was clear my way wasn’t working! It may be ‘my body,’ but ‘my way’ wasn’t getting me anywhere! Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies, even if we don’t like what they are saying.