Self Care in Four Easy Steps
The Table of Health
After finishing the formal traditional western medical training, I was convinced the health care system was broken. It was a heartbreaking experience to witness tremendous financial, intellectual and emotional resources allocated towards patients that had drifted too far down the chronic disease river of death- human suffering is impossible to measure but our system is encouraging it.
The world is crying out for a better way. After graduating from residency training, I knew my career focus would be on prevention and reversing chronic diseases with lifestyle change. I also knew that patients were confused and had many questions about what was actually a healthy lifestyle. Past experiences from cross-country cycling had shown me that if one has a strong and clear mental vision, the odds of reaching one’s goal increases many fold.
In 1998 while discussing with a patient the importance of having a balanced lifestyle, I started using the metaphor of a table with four legs. Each leg corresponding to exercise, a plant based diet, mindfulness and sleep. The patient’s eyes lit up and he said, “Doc, I can see it and I want to eat at that table!” He had a clear vision of health.
That was an exciting start, but the next question was, “How can folks measure the strength of their table?” In other words, how can someone quickly perform a mental “stress test” for the most important component of their health – lifestyle?
Taking a scientific- evidence based approach, each leg of the table was assigned a simple grading system:
Nutrition: A = Consume a 100% whole food plant based diet. Eliminate sugars & processed carbs (breads, chips, crackers, etc).
Aerobic Exercise: A = 5 days/week, B = 4 days/wk, C= 3 days/wk, D = 2 days/wk, F = 0-1 days/wk.
Mindfulness: “How am I feeling on a scale of 1-10.” 1 = “suicide.” 10 = life is perfect. A= 9+, B=8, C =7, etc
Rest: A = 8 hrs of sleep/night, B = 7. hrs of sleep/night,C = 6.5 hrs of sleep/night,D = 6 hrs of sleep/night, F < 6 hrs of sleep/night
This grading system took out the guesswork. The results that followed were substantial. On follow-up appointments patients would share how they were doing with each leg. This allowed us to quickly hone in on the weakest leg, develop a strategy and take action to help them feel better and experience a better life.
When starting with a badly damaged table, I would ask, “Which leg do you want to make better right now?” Almost always, the patient knew where they wanted to start. If they had a poor sleep leg for example they would say something like, “I desperately need more sleep, but don’t want to take pills. I know if I exercise I’ll sleep better.”
We intuitively know what we need and how the legs of the table are connected.
The relationships among the legs are synergistic- they work together. Something that harms or improves one leg affects all the others. They are connected by the surface of the table. The surface is where we live our lives. Our lives become unstable when any of the legs are neglected.
During annual examinations we compared past years to the present and charted progress. The link between a strong Table of Health and quality as well as quantity of life was undeniable. Patients were not only healthier in that they took less medications, saw fewer doctors and had fewer hospitalizations, but were also more fulfilled and aged more successfully.
After 20+ years of tracking thousands of patients, the connections are profound. People who take care of their Table of Health thrive physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. While those that don’t suffer, never approximate reaching their potential and perish prematurely. This phenomenon is now backed by reams of scientific research from a multitude of the best research institutions globally – (Harvard study and EPIC study).
It’s powerful to chart the state of your Table of Health weekly. Use an Excel spreadsheet and enter your numbers. Each week graph out how you’re doing- it takes < 60 seconds/week once you’re set up. This does three very important things:
- Measurement & Guidance– it shows you where you are now and how to respond.
- Personal Awareness – it raises how well your values and behaviors align.
- Predicts the future – it acts as a barometer to forecast your health weather. Strong legs predict fair weather- you are prepared to take advantage of opportunity when it comes your way. Weak legs predict your health is unlikely to withstand a storm (stressor) or steady gradual decline in vitality. The legs will start to wobble before the table collapses. You will see this in your measurements and be able to self-adjust before illness sets in. You will become more attuned to your mind-body connection and consistently experience optimum health. You will have set the table for serendipity, opportunity and connection to visit your life on a frequent basis.
- You will get the following from a strong Table of Health:
- Handle Chronic and acute stressors better – life always sends us elephants to test our table (think Big Bad Wolf and 3 Little Pigs).
- Live a longer and better life
- Possess more energy and vitality
- Greater overall success in all areas of life
- Experience increased productivity
- Improved relationships
- Increased financial security
- Less doctors and medications
- Greater sense of peace a well-being
- Experience deeper purpose and meaning.
The Table of Health is a simple yet powerful way to visualize and measure lifestyle. It also helps you to know yourself faster and better- it raises awareness and mindfulness. It can serve to start and sustain healthy lifestyle changes. It gives wholeness and integrity if you will check in with it from time to time.
Most people neglect their Table of Health due to feeling overwhelmed or having a lack of life purpose. Making a clean sweep of all areas of your life creates the time, space and energy for you to start investing in the most important asset you have- your health. Sustaining and growing that investment comes from knowing your life purpose.
Ultimately, the Table of Health is where we sit down with ourselves for self-care and then invite family, friends and the rest of the world to partake of our harvest. In doing so, we strengthen the bonds of health, connection and hope while giving meaning to one another’s lives.
Warm and compassionate regards,
Reed Miloy MD