Good Health And Good Luck

I have a question for you. How much of your health is really just luck?

I found myself asking myself this question recently when my skin broke out all of a sudden and all over my face. I figured it was an allergic reaction to something, but I couldn’t figure out what it might be. Then I started to think it might be the beginnings of acne rosacea, which runs in my family.

Even though I do positive body image work for a living, I wasn’t exactly excited to have the worst acne I had ever had in my life.

1926 Ad For "Lucky Jewelry" (image courtesy of wikipedia)

I was attending a conference that weekend, which meant that I was pretty much eating whatever the other conference attendees were eating, so I couldn’t make any major food changes without an effort that I wasn’t really willing to make. I took some milk thistle (a gentle, liver supporting herb) in case my body was trying to deal with a toxin and in case this was the start of rosacea. I upped other vitamin supplements, including a B complex, C, grape seed extract, and whatever other ones may have come to my attention at that point. I used a more intense face wash than I usually use, which seemed to only make it worse. I dabbed my skin with witch hazel to keep it clean, which didn’t seem to do anything. And I wore more makeup than usual. That’s about it.

A few days later, the new acne and redness was pretty much gone. Hooray for milk thistle!

Or was it the extra anti-oxidants? Or was it sleep? Or was I stressed out about something and the stress was now gone? Or was it genes? Or was it a particular type of pollen whose levels had gone down? Or was it…

In other words, I have no idea why this skin issue went away. I don’t know if it was one of the gazillion things that I did, or a bunch of them, or none of them at all.

I think in our culture, when someone is sick, we often look for something to blame. Fat people know this all too well. Everything from achy joints, to colds, to cancer gets blamed on fat. We hear things like, “Of course she got diabetes, she was fat!” Or, “Of course he had a heart attack. He eats badly!” But the reality is, thin people also get diabetes. The reality is, fat people who get diabetes may be fat because of the diabetes, rather than the other way around. The reality is, plenty of people who eat healthfully have heart problems and plenty of people who eat poorly never have a heart attack.

The Vitruvian Man doesn't really seem to have anything to do with health, but we think he does (Image courtesy of wikipedia)

We live in a culture of cause and effect. We live in a culture of logic, of if-then statements. If you’re this, then this happens.

But in reality, cause and effect are rarely clear in any circumstance. A thousand causes, in a chain or simultaneously, could lead to a single effect.

Here’s what I think. I think we should do what we can to support our healing, but that we shouldn’t blame ourselves when luck (i.e., money, genetics, and a gazillion other things we might not be able to account for) isn’t on our side. Blame is really counterproductive. It makes you feel bad and guilty, which just creates more stress. I think we should love our bodies, and do our best to feed ourselves nourishing foods and move joyously. I think we should all have access to good, non-judgmental health care, alternative and not, when we want it (this part is also hard to control, for many of us).

So what are you still blaming yourself for? Let me know in the comments section below.

Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. is a certified holistic health counselor who specializes in transforming your relationship with food and your body. Go to to get her free download – Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining!

8 replies on “Good Health And Good Luck”

Along these lines, I’m currently struggling with the fact that I have stress and sleep-deprivation related migraines and chronic headaches.  Which basically means that I either have to suffer chronic pain or work a certain amount of “laziness” into my life.  It’s hard though, because I’ve been raised with a strong work ethic, and in the past was able to burn the candle at both ends and come out with good grades, good reviews at a job, and time for friends, family, and leisure.  And lately I’m really having to cut back – which means less money and fewer hours at jobs, and a slower path through school.  I’m doing it, and I haven’t had a migraine or more than two days in a row of headaches in almost three months.  But it’s really hard, because I feel like a failure at not being able to do everything I want to do or think I should be able to do, and I know I appear lazy to people who do more with less time than I do.

I am so in your boat. After months of nightly headaches and very frequent migraines, my doctor finally told me, “SLOW DOWN, SLEEP MORE, WORRY LESS.” She also wrote me a big fat prescription for a massage therapist (which worked wonders, by the way, on all scores).

It’s such a pain in the ass to want to achieve great things but have a body that holds you back.

Oh man, I wish my insurance covered massages.  It doesn’t, so they’re still in the “special treat” area (but a special treat I can justify to myself, at least.)  Good to know it’s working for someone though – gives me that much more reason to make massages one of my spending priorities.

I think part of why I’ve taken to running so much is exactly what you’re talking about in terms of being frustrated with my body holding me back.  Running is at least one area where I can push my body to be awesome, without really suffering for it (aside from the occasional sore muscles.)  In fact, that’s really how I’m adjusting – I’m focusing on things that don’t stress/tire me out too much, but still make me feel accomplished – like running and playing piano, and (maybe?) writing.  I still need some straight-up “chill” time in my days, but at least when I focus on these kinds of activities, I’m de-stressing but I still feel like I’m doing something.

For a while I’ve been noticing the conflation of healthy habits and healthy bodies; just because you make good choices doesn’t mean that your body isn’t veering off in a weird direction anyway.  It leads to a lot of dodgy self-diagnosis and a tendency to declare doctors morons for, say, suggesting that someone lose weight for health reasons.

My family health history runs the gamut from diabetes to paranoid schizophrenia, and yet so far, my only major health concern has been recurring migraines–which are also hereditary on my mom’s side of the family. I guess in that way, so far I’ve been lucky to not have come down with all the other fun things that run in my gene pool.

However, I have been trying to deal with my migraines for years, and it seems that just when I have an idea of what I could be doing to minimize their occurrence, I forget to do one of the things that helps prevent them and WHAM! I get an excruciating reminder that I screwed up again. I guess that’s where my blaming comes in because I kick myself for not remembering to drink enough water or get enough sleep–two very common triggers for my migraines. This reminds me of the “gentleness” article because I really should be kinder to myself for forgetting, and the pain of a migraine ought to be enough punishment as it is.

This is a super helpful article! And super relevant to what I am experiencing right now. I haven’t thought about this a lot, but for me, I think, self blame and frustration with being sick are really tied up in eachother. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I have pretty severe IBS and that really really dictates what I eat: no beef, no pork, no cow’s milk products, no wheat bran, a limited amount of sweets, a very limited amount of goat-based dairy, coffee only super occasionally.But predicting how my tummy is going to be on a particular day is almost impossible even despite these dietary restrictions (they help a lot but they by no means erase my symptoms- I am just no longer sick all the time, now I am sick about 30% of the time). If I am sick, my first thought is often, “how did I fuck up my diet? damnit, I need to be more careful,” but the fact is, it can be other external things like stress, sleeping etc.and berating myself gets me approximately nowhere. I think I get into this cycle of blaming myself for being sick because I hate being sick, I hate how I feel and it makes me angry that I am hindered by my digestive tract acting all crazy.  I need to stop doing that I think.

I think luck and circumstance are ENORMOUSLY important to health, both in general and in “fitness” in particular.

Think about what it takes to become an athlete, or even just “athletic”: you need time, you need to live in a place where you have access to the equipment/facility, and, most luck-based of all, you need body systems that help you be successful. Look at all the enormously talented pro athletes who are “injury prone” and thus do less well over the course of their careers.

In distance running, if you have a sensitive digestive system, you basically can’t do ultra runs; one key component to training that much is being able to run 20 miles after a meal, and while eating during runs, etc. So you could be fabulous at running in terms of your legs, your cardiovascular system, your form, your dedication, etc., and then max out at whatever distance/amount/level because you can’t eat within three hours of a workout.

If you had bad health luck (or “bad” genes, or a “bad” environment or whatever for being active/fit/athletic) in your youth, you probably fell continually further behind your peers in athletic endeavors as you had to sit out or rest more or not join that team, and eventually you don’t even think of yourself as active, so that it’s harder in adult/teenhood to pick up an activity. I think this is related to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, wherein he explains that lucky coincidences of when you’re born can have enormous effects on your athletic prospects, among other things.

Luck is also a factor in getting diagnosed with things, knowing what questions to ask, having a doc who just read about X obscure thing that happens to help you, etc. etc. etc. I had a doctor refuse me an IUD and when I moved my new (randomly chosen) doc was thrilled to give me one; just luck, basically–I wasn’t actively searching for someone who’d have that medical opinion.

So moral of my post, I think you are correct, in my anecdotal experience.

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