When my literary agent Michele read the first draft of my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, she said, “Lissa, before I read your book, I honestly thought my body was none of my business. It was my doctor’s business. I thought my body was like my car. When my car breaks, I hand it over to my auto mechanic and expect my mechanic to fix it and hand it back to me. I expected the same from my doctor. But after reading Mind Over Medicine, I now know that my body is my business, that nobody knows my body better than me and that my health is my responsibility.”
In my decades of experience working with patients as a physician, Michele’s formerly passive approach to her health is not uncommon. Many patients take this auto mechanic approach to health, handing over their bodies to doctors they may not even screen as carefully as they choose their auto mechanics, never questioning what the doctor says, seeking clarity when they’re confused, asking for second opinions when they doubt the diagnosis or treatment plan of the doctor, or taking their bodies elsewhere when something doesn’t feel right.
Essentially these patients, especially the ones who have been labeled with a “chronic,” “incurable,” or “terminal” illness, have been programmed to believe that Western medicine has done all it can do and they are therefore at the mercy of doctors who can’t cure them. They often come to experience what physician and researcher Martin Seligman coins “learned helplessness.”
The medical establishment has been proving that the mind can heal the body for over 50 years. We call it “the placebo effect,” and we know that when patients in clinical trials get nothing but sugar pills, saline injections, or fake surgeries, but believe they might be getting the new wonder drug or miracle surgery, their bodies get better 18-80% of the time.
While many are aware of the seemingly mysterious placebo effect, fewer people know about its evil twin, “the nocebo effect.” When I was researching my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I became convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that a combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of the right healer can activate the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and help the body heal itself.
But was the opposite also true? Do negative beliefs about our health or harsh care from insensitive doctors harm the body?
Turns out they can.
Harmful Beliefs Poison Your Body
As reported in an article in The Lancet, researchers in San Diego examined the death records of almost 30,000 Chinese-Americans and compared them to over 400,000 randomly selected white people. What they found was that Chinese-Americans, but not whites, die significantly earlier than normal (by as much as 5 years) if they have a combination of disease and birth year which Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine consider ill-fated.
The researchers found that the more strongly the Chinese-Americans attached to traditional Chinese superstitions, the earlier they died. When they examined the data, they concluded that the reduction in life expectancy could not be explained by genetic factors, the lifestyle choices or behavior of the patients, the skill of the doctors, or any other variable.
If you’ve ever tried to set a health goal, you know how frustrating it can be. You try to lose weight - and then it doesn’t happen. You do a detox cleanse with the goal of reducing the symptoms of a chronic illness - and you wind up even sicker. You spend a fortune on alternative medicine cures, and your illness doesn’t budge.
It’s enough to make you pull your hair out.
Set Goals, But Release Attachment To Outcomes
I always encourage my clients to set goals, do everything they can to achieve those goals, and then let go…
I believe that while we can make the body ripe for miracles, we must accept that, when it comes right down to it, we simply can’t control the outcome. Yes, we can eat well, exercise, avoid toxic exposures, get enough sleep, and follow doctor’s orders. We can also be healthy in other aspects of our lives by addressing the stress-inducing factors that can predispose the body to illness - factors like alleviating loneliness, reducing work stress, and actively making efforts to be happier.
As I teach about in my TEDx talk, I’m a firm believer in balancing your “Whole Health Cairn”. When you do, the scientific data proves that you make the body ripe for miracles. But even so, some people who do everything “right” to optimize the health of the body wind up still sick.
For four years, since Tricia Barrett first introduced me to the merits of drinking green juice as a dietary supplement, I’ve been drinking 4 or 5 fresh green veggie juices daily. These juices - painstakingly extracted from kale, celery, cucumber, sprouts, parsley, lemon, and ginger - have been my medicine, keeping my weight stable, my blood pressure low, and my immune system strong enough to fight even the viruses that infect my whole family.
But then, about a month ago, my assistant April (who, bless her heart, makes my green juice for me) had to leave town. And my husband was working 12 hour days at his new job, so he couldn’t help out. And I was busy seeing mentoring clients and recording the audio version of my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine. So the green juice never got made, and I didn’t drink green juice for a whole week, something that hasn’t happened for four years.
Lo and behold - I got flattened with a nasty cold.
Green Juice As My Gospel
It got me thinking. Now I firmly believe that my green juice will keep my healthy. My daughter brings home viruses from her school regularly. At one point this winter, over half of her school was out sick - but I stayed healthy. I credit my daily green juice, and praise it often. In fact, every day, when I imbibe my first dose of green medicine, I thank the vegetables for keeping my body fit and healthy and strong.
You might say I worship at the altar of green juice. I have complete, unshakeable faith in its magic and can be found prosthelytizing about it frequently. In fact, I even bring coolers of my green juice to my mentoring sessions with clients so I can introduce them to it, show them how yummy it tastes, hopefully convert them. You might say I’m a true believer.
You’re afraid to start your own business because you might fail.
You’re afraid to go to the doctor because she might find something wrong.
You’re afraid to get married because you might wind up divorced.
You’re afraid to travel to Africa because Africa can be so dangerous.
You’re afraid to do what you love because it might not pay the bills.
You’re afraid to ask out the object of your affection because you might get rejected.
You’re afraid to go for that first kiss.
You’re afraid to take guitar lessons because you might suck.
You’re afraid to quit your soul-sucking job because you might never find another one.
You’re afraid to retire because you might not have enough money.
You’re afraid to buy your dream home because you might not be able to make the mortgage.
You’re afraid to take French lessons because it might mean you’ll actually have to go to France.
You’re afraid to let them see you cry because they might think you’re unprofessional.
You’re afraid to let them see the real you because they might not like you.