Matching Problems and Solutions

Have you taken actions that you thought would lift your mood, or cool your joint pain, or spare you the torture of never feeling satisfied on food? Perhaps your blood sugar numbers didn’t get better –- or maybe got even worse -– when you followed directions? Is your child still struggling with attention issues while you’re just not feeling sharp anymore, in spite of all your good behaviors?

It is highly possible that you are not making good matches between your problems and your solutions.

It’s not your fault. The industries that drive disease and health care improve their bottom lines when we eat, suffer, treat, eat, suffer, treat, availing ourselves of their expensive products and services to compensate for the damage done by their expensive products and services. It is in the best interests of corporations to drive us to eat, suffer, and treat.

The Suppers mission is not to fix people but to provide safe settings where people can manage their own transitions to a healthier life. It is in these safe settings that people hear each other’s stories and observations, create hypotheses, and craft experiments to test their personal theories as to why they feel sick, fat and depressed, etc.

People who choose to work Suppers like a recovery program will come to understand that we prize the personal experiment and self-observation. Here is what our book, Logical Miracles, has to say:

Matching Problems and Solutions

One of the greatest obstacles to change for motivated people is poor matchmaking between problems and solutions. It starts with assumptions about what’s healthy. It’s easy to have faulty assumptions in a culture where illness is lucrative, businesses thrive if you fail, and the cultural orientation is toward treatment not prevention. At Suppers, we are less concerned with specific diagnoses -– that’s up to people and their practitioners -- and more concerned with the biochemical and environmental challenges that created the problem to begin with. If we understand the exposures and behaviors that caused the problem, we can make better matches between health problems and behavior solutions. Each individual will need to experiment to determine their unique nutritional requirements, and we remind people constantly at meetings to devise personal experiments to test their hunches. 

Let me slip into first person and make this personal. I was sick for decades with undiagnosed medical problems and endured an unnecessary, month-long psychiatric hospitalization. Here is an excerpt from my founder’s story:

"… Health care decisions are based on which door you walk through first, and on your insurance. The doors I had walked through brought me to one psychologist, two psychiatrists and a psycho-pharmacologist, an internist, a cardiologist, three holistic MDs, an assortment of talk therapists and social workers, a spiritualist, the rooms of Al Anon, and a few other places I’ve lost track of. Behind each door were people who had the vocabulary to explain my problem in the languages of their disciplines. Behind each door I made some improvements, but hale health and happiness remained out of reach.

I learned that if the salary of the person whose door I walked through depended on my having a certain problem I was likely to get that label. I learned that I was anxious, depressed, suffering from adjustment problems. I had chronic fatigue syndrome, a mitral valve prolapse, low blood sugar, and a hormone imbalance. I was a universal allergy reactor and a host for too much yeast and other organisms. I was showing signs of menopause at age 32 and one doctor told me my adrenal glands were exhausted. People treated the piece of me that related to their discipline and income source. I learned all this because I had good insurance and a generous husband. It was an excellent education, but my health problems and cravings persisted.

I learned that a therapy, no matter how wonderful, will not help if it’s not a good match for the problem (like taking antibiotics for a virus, a great solution to a different problem). None of the therapies I had tried were bad therapies; they just didn’t address my core problem. All of the practitioners did a good job recognizing parts of me that they could competently treat, but still the solutions were little more than piecemeal symptom management."

Because so much of the problem solving at Suppers is in the context of sharing our stories, I’ve included one of the best examples we have seen of what happened when a member finally made a good match between her problem and her solution:

Jenny’s Story: Popcorn

I am used to our medical system, to getting a diagnosis and then receiving whatever prescription or procedure matches the diagnosis. I have had mostly good experiences, and my doctors and therapists of various descriptions would generally say that I am compliant. Well, I’m compliant and I do appreciate our medical system, until I reach the point where nothing works, and that is the point I reached with foot pain.

Plantar fasciitis was the diagnosis, and complications related to it. All I know is that I was in a lot of pain and nothing was working. As someone who loves to walk and to hike, I knew I had to find a solution; the pain had persisted for almost nine months. During that time, I tried exercises, orthotics and a night-time splint. I tried massage. I tried reflexology. I tried acupuncture. I bought little balls to roll around to soften and stretch the soft tissues in my feet. I bought several pairs of new shoes. Pain killers might have been a possibility, but I didn’t just want to pop pills; mightn’t I do more damage if I couldn’t feel the pain?

One day I asked a therapeutic friend at Suppers what she would do if she had received this diagnosis. She said simply: “I’d examine my diet. Pretend food is causing the inflammation in your foot, which food would you suspect?”

“Popcorn,” I said, almost immediately. I recalled the meeting in which we talked about how our inflammatory foods tend to be the ones we adore. I remembered the rationale: it relates mostly to the cascade of endorphins and pleasure chemicals we experience when we eat a food stressor. But of course, it was hard to identify with the concept because, well, it’s just popcorn.

At the time I ate a lot of popcorn. A LOT OF POPCORN. Popcorn had become a universal solution for me. It was an easy snack food, and I found that the crunch and the repetitive action of stuffing my face with it calmed my fear and anxiety.  If I couldn’t find a solution to a problem, at least I could eat popcorn. I could even convince myself that it was a healthy option as long as I didn’t add much oil and salt.

Once asked the right question, however, I could not remain naïve. I had to test popcorn. To my shock and relief, the longstanding foot pain vaporized when I stopped eating all corn products. It took just a few days for the pain to begin to subside, and after about 10 days I was pain free. It’s now nine months later and the pain has not returned.

I don’t want to end this story leaving the impression that popcorn is the villain. I do want to champion experiments and especially the food elimination diets we try out at Suppers to identify the extent to which our favorite foods drive our inflammatory processes individually. Since having my own compelling experience with popcorn, I have engaged in many experiments, including food elimination diets and testing new foods and assessing their potential to energize and satiate me. 

I have three questions for my readers:

  1. Do you experience pain or inflammation anywhere?
  2. Is there any food you habitually eat that does more than satisfy normal hunger, like provide comfort, sedate you or change your mood?
  3. Is it worth it to you to eliminate the comfort food for a few weeks to see if it’s really acting more like a pain killer than a food?

Maybe my popcorn is your bell peppers, pizza or ice cream. All I know is that half a dozen interventions that worked for me for other problems couldn’t touch the pain in my feet. The match between my problem and my solution was giving up popcorn.

There’s no substitution for making good matches between problems and solutions. If you feel like you’ve been throwing yourself at solutions that don’t produce the desired results, we invite you to join us at Suppers.