When A Healthy Habit Becomes Toxic

When it comes to good health and material comfort, it is very easy just to assume that “more is better”:  more exercise, more money, more nutritional supplements.  This is not necessarily true, however, and there are many situations in which even healthy habits can become barriers to lasting health when they are prolonged needlessly or applied at inappropriate times.

It sounds a little counterintuitive, I know, but it is not hard to find examples. 


Take my recent experience:  A few months back, I noticed a gradual development of severe pain in my back, neck, and shoulders that tracked with old injuries from a serious biking accident.  The pain affected my sleep, energy, and began to spread into signs of gut inflammation.  I even started to hold excess fat around my belly.

What was going on?  As a Nutritional Therapist, I am very careful about what I eat, when I eat, how much I sleep, getting plenty of daily movement and stillness, ensuring that I only takenutritional supplements when my body demonstrates a clear need, and so on.  

I was stumped until my wife and Zenshin Institute co-founder, Masami, gently pointed out my blind spot on several occasions—that I might need to stop putting butter in my coffee.  What?  Not my sacred Butter-Me-Up coffee!  It was a daily ritual I had practiced for years.  When I first started adding 1-2 tablespoons of butter to my morning coffee, my body desperately needed the rich source of fat energy and nutrients.  It loved it!  I felt amazing as a result for years.  

Then my body’s needs changed.  It had made good use of all that butter over the years to heal and restore my depleted energy, but now, my body’s extreme need for good fat had passed.  Now, too much fat was just too much fat.  

Over-consuming butter was adversely affecting my liver and gallbladder functions.  I was pushing my fat processing beyond capacity by overloading my system, and I wasn’t digesting the excess.  Undigested fat quickly becomes one of the most inflammatory substances to the intestines, and I was inadvertently setting up the conditions for a leaky gut.  As my inflammation increased, my pain levels soared, and my body began to store toxic fat.

All for a delicious cup of buttery coffee that I so dearly loved in the morning.

Of course I had to quit my once-healthy habit (after much resistance and looking for other possibilities that wouldn’t require me to give it up).  And not surprisingly, after only a few days of no butter and focused support and repair of my gut, my pain levels dropped away, my inflammation decreased dramatically, and my digestion began its return to normal.

From Routine to Responsiveness

It’s not easy to give up routines we cherish.  It’s why we ask our new clients if there is anything they are not willing to give up.

When nothing else seems to be the cause of our common health challenges—such as low energy, allergies, anxiety, aches and pains, poor sleep, irritability—we have to look closely at our daily habits.  Even the reputedly healthy ones!

It’s tempting for our minds to think that if something is good for us once, that it will be good for us forever.  Often this logic is stretched even further—if one dose of something is good for us, then 10 doses of it will be ten times as good!

But our bodies don’t work according to the linear logic of “more is better”.  They are dynamic, self-regulating systems whose needs can change rapidly.  Overloading them with too much of a good thing can be deadly!  Taking the wrong supplement over an extended time, like zinc or vitamin D,  just because it was once recommended for a condition, can eventually cause more harm than good if the need is not tested, verified, and retested again periodically.  

Even our primary professional supplement maker, Biotics Research, recently began requiring that practitioners provide its supplements ONLY to clients that have been active within the past six months.  The policy is to prevent abuse and misuse of the products, but also to ensure that clients are receiving the proper support and follow through to receive only what they currently need.  It’s for this reason that maintaining communication with our clients is essential, even if we don’t see them for a while.

What we have to remember is that when our bodies’ needs change, we have to be able to respond appropriately.  Not just continue a robotic routine that was amazing back in 2012!

How can we do this?  As I experienced, we have to be open to changing once-healthy habits that have become merely routine preferences.  We have to be willing to reassess our immediate needs and let go of whatever is no longer serving us.  

This means we first need to practice deep listening.  What is happening in our bodies?  In our relationships?  In our lives?  What wants to happen, and how can we facilitate the natural, dynamic movements that support our lives?

Getting out of our own way is much harder in practice than in theory.  But it is what each of us must do if we are to experience the most of what our lives and bodies have to offer.

Sometimes it begins with something as simple as giving up a little butter in your morning coffee.  

At least until you show real signs of needing it again down the road!

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