The Ripple Effect

Way back in the early 1990s (when choker necklaces and miniature backpacks were all the rage), I was working as a technical writer for a software startup in downtown San Francisco, whose software was based on the productivity methodology of bestselling author and sought-after guru, David Allen.

One of tenets I remember from Allen’s approach is that we want our minds to be like water, rather we want our minds to react to stimuli in the same way that water would: a pebble causes small, undulating ripples, then slowly fades away. A three-hundred-pound boulder might create a large splash, but it, too, fades over time. But what happens to your body when you treat every pebble-sized demand on your time and attention like a three-hundred-pound boulder?

The past four years I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress: PTA leadership role, nonprofit board participation, mothering three active kids, entering and then completing graduate school, then teaching full time in an urban, underfunded school. The cumulative effect of the stress that these roles demanded of me led to some challenging health issues: weight gain, heart palpitations, pitting edema. At the end of last year’s school year, I was so concerned about how the stress of my life was affecting my health, I underwent a series of medical tests to try to find a root cause. The result of all of those tests: a vitamin D deficiency.

While I’m not a medical professional, being deficient in vitamin D alone seemed an unlikely culprit behind the myriad symptoms I’d been experiencing. So I sought out additional council from an acupuncturist. After a lengthy consultation, she recommended I quit my teaching job. Well, I explained that wasn’t going to happen. That I was no quitter. And that what I needed was a way to continue doing my job without it killing me. She advised me to cut out wheat, dairy, corn, soy, alcohol, and caffeine from my diet and put me on a formula of Chinese herbs. Since up to that point I’d been surviving on a combination of all of these things (primarily caffeine, chocolate, and red wine, if I’m being honest), I was doubtful I’d be able to stick to such a strict regimen.

At first, if was very difficult.  Cooking one meal for my family and a separate one for myself was a logistical challenge.  I struggled with finding replacements that were satisfying and easy to prepare. It took a while for me to find the combination of meals that I could put into rotation that were quick, tasty, and devoid of the suspect ingredients.

Now, three months later, I find the changes fairly easy to contend with on a daily basis, and easier still to stick with for one simple reason: eliminating those things from my diet worked. I can’t explain why–and Western medicine offered zero explanation–but kicking these things to the curb had a profound effect on my health. The swelling subsided. I lost weight (averaging 5 pounds a month – I’m down 15 20 pounds so far). I sleep more deeply. I have greater mental clarity. Cravings have subsided. I basically eat my meals but never snack between meals any more.

True, it’s been a lot of work. I have to be proactive about cooking meals to take to work. If we’re going to a restaurant, I need to find out what menu options may work ahead of time. But all of that has been worth it to feel so much better. Not only have my symptoms subsided, but I feel a greater sense of calm about daily disturbances than I used to. I just don’t have that “ball of stress” feeling that I used to have before the dietary changes. I have no idea why, all I know is it’s true.  I may not always respond to a “boulder” with a peaceful David Allen-like ripple, but at least now tiny pebbles won’t cause a tsunami of stress.

If you’re struggling with any of the unexplained health issues I mentioned and typical medical tests offered little explanation, consider seeing an acupuncturist or Chinese Medicine practitioner for another perspective.