Transitioning to Self-Care

a road that runs between two small hills

Ten years ago today I started a private practice as a nutrition therapist in Austin, TX. I remember the excitement I felt just thinking about the lives I would help shape, the confidence I would help my clients build as they made better choices about nourishing their bodies.

But before I could even focus on my real work, I had to first traverse the reality that all health care providers face: navigating the system. Applying to be a Medicare provider, signing contracts with insurance companies, obtaining malpractice insurance, and complying with the ambiguous laws and regulations that relate to protecting personal health information–that’s what consumed most of my time.

To say the process was easy would be laughable; to say the process was simple, even more hilarious.

At one point, after many unsuccessful attempts at finding an answer to a question about the provider enrollment application with one of the major insurers, and after being unable to connect with anyone by phone, I drove to the regional office and waited at the entrance for an employee to arrive at work. Little did I know, the office wasn’t open to the general public, and although she was a bit surprised by my presence, one kind employee did answer my question.

And then there was the time I had a claim denied because I had forgotten to include the “plus 4” zip code on the form, something that wasted another 30 minutes of my work day.

And another time, I remember receiving a phone call from a man who sounded very concerned about his family’s health. He explained he’d been gaining weight, and that his wife and son had too. He was ready to make a change. He didn’t want to continue down the path he was on, and he didn’t want that for his loved ones either. But after completing the hour-long process of contacting his insurance company to determine his coverage details, and after discovering that his visits would only be covered for a diagnosis of diabetes (which he did not yet have), his response was that he would have to wait to schedule an appointment until he or one of his family members had a qualifying diagnosis.

Sure, you could make the case that each of us should value our health enough to find the means to care for ourselves properly. But the reality is, we pay a lot for health care already. And unless we get really, really sick, we rarely see a return on investment. The high cost of insurance and non-covered medical expenses make paying out-of-pocket for preventive services nearly impossible for most Americans.

And being a Medicare provider meant that I was legally bound to charge all of my clients the same fee, which also meant I couldn’t offer a discounted rate to cash paying clients. For obvious reasons, this didn’t sit right with me, and I eventually found other ways to reach those who weren’t able to access my services via the conventional health care system.

But I quickly began to see that a single provider practice, especially as an allied health care professional, in a system that doesn’t recognize the value of preventive care, was anything but viable as a business model–at least, not for the kind of provider I wanted to be.

And after realizing that many of the people who needed my help the most weren’t able to access my services, I began to consider new possibilities.

At the time, there was a new buzz word swirling around: coaching. A local organization that focused on helping individuals manage diabetes had begun using this approach successfully, and I started seeing more peer-reviewed studies reference things like “motivational interviewing” and “health behavior change.”

I began reading more about Martin Seligman’s work in the field of positive psychology, and the next thing I knew I was working for WebMD as a corporate health coach at Dell, working with employees at the company’s onsite clinic and fitness center.

I’m so thankful that I listened to my inner wisdom and transitioned to a path that is more aligned with my heart. It’s my mission to remove the stigma that’s often associated with self-care, and help more people see and feel the power that comes from taking ownership of our health and well-being.

When we remain open, we provide the space for amazing things to happen.

I’m currently in the process of developing a training program that’s designed to guide clients through the process of creating a personalized self-care plan, and my heart is absolutely overflowing with joy.

Are you transitioning to a lifestyle that includes more self-care?

Would you like to?

To learn more about this upcoming program that will be launching in early May, and to stay connected to Living Upp’s news and events, sign up to receive our periodic Warm Upp.

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Mushrooms, Health and Self-Care

paul stamets with a giant mushroom

Before I dive too far into this post, I want to point out that plucking up random mushrooms from your backyard and eating them is a really dumb idea. There are a growing number of known health benefits associated with our fungal friends, but there are plenty of reasons to exercise caution, the most obvious of which being death.

This evening I attended a talk given by Paul Stamets, a world renowned mushroom expert (and famed astromycologist in the upcoming Star Trek movie), at the Moore Theater in Seattle. The program was entitled “Mushrooms and the Mycology of Consciousness,” and it did indeed blow my mind.

I’ve been fascinated recently by research pointing to mushrooms being a significant source of vitamin D. Like humans, mushrooms use sunlight to manufacture the fat-soluble vitamin, and since there are few natural food sources for this essential nutrient, it’s quite intriguing.

But while this particular talk didn’t cover that aspect of mushrooms, the fact that it didn’t simply points to the enormous impact fungi has on human health, and we’re only just beginning to understand its synergistic roles.

Before Paul took the stage wearing a hat made of Amadou mushroom fiber, it was hard not to notice the small table next to the podium, on top of which was a bulging mass hidden beneath a dark cloth.

We all knew what it was, though.

It was a giant Agarikon mushroom, a variety that has fascinated Stamets for decades, and one that he often poses with in photos.

“How can you not spend your entire life studying this?” he said of it as he held it high above his head.

But it isn’t the largest by a long shot.

To date, the biggest known mushroom spans roughly 2,200 acres atop the Blue Mountains in Oregon. The Honey mushroom’s expansive mycelial network lives mostly below ground (there’s approximately one mile of mycelium per cubic inch…say what?), and Paul hypothesizes that its role is one of a “meadow maker,” since the ground above the network contains almost no trees. To get an aerial photograph, Stamets chartered a plane, which had to climb to 14,000 feet (roughly the elevation of Mt. Rainier) in order to capture the entire site.

It’s jaw-dropping when you consider the fact that this is a single organism.

The amount of information that was covered in just a couple of hours could have easily consumed two full days, and I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for Stamets, who has devoted his entire life to this subject so that we may have a deeper understanding of the world around us.

So, what does a mushroom expert’s personal collection look like? His culture library includes no less than 700 strains. (I had no idea until today so many even existed.)

From eyebrow-raising topics such as LSD microdosing to stimulate creativity, to mushrooms playing a role in treating cancer, it was hard not to look at fungi in a new way. (And I certainly had no idea that mycelium could break down rocks!)

The real focus of the evenings’s discussion, though, was around the relationship between fungi and bees. And if you’re not concerned about the disturbing reality that we’re losing significant populations of bees (and, incidentally, the cause is pointing directly to our irresponsible use of pesticides), then you should be:

No bees = no food.

As it turns out, the powerful immune boosting properties of mushrooms play a significant role in bee health, and it’s clear we’ll be hearing a lot more about this as time goes on.

But I left the talk feeling a mixture of hope and concern–not just for the plight of the bees, but also for what will likely follow these new research findings: an upturn in the manufacture of single-substance products.

This ongoing obsession with the distillation of nature into single ingredients and compounds is alarming to me. It’s clear that our relationship with the natural world isn’t linear. There aren’t single cause-and-effect outcomes that can be fully understood, yet we continue to extract and distill and reduce our food into substances that later get itemized in food journals. We dissect food and then reassemble it into a nutrient slurry that we deem more suitable.

And we’ve been seeing more and more of this kind of thinking within the supplement industry, which, in my opinion, has become as problematic as big pharma…but that’s a topic for another time.

Our interconnectedness with nature is complex, to say the least. But what if we were meant to nourish our bodies with foods as they exist in the natural world? In all of its complexity? With its thousands of phytochemicals and nutrients (some known, some still unknown)? And with all of its synergistic properties?

Nature is our greatest teacher when it comes to self-care.

But as the clock ticks toward midnight, I’ll have to contemplate all of this later. For now, I think it’s time for a slightly different state of consciousness…sleep.

Self-Care is Multidimensional

Stacy Fisher-Gunn's article on self-care in The Costco Connection

On the final day of 2016, my heart was filled with joy when an article that I wrote several months ago stared back at me from page 63 of the January edition of The Costco Connection!

What an honor!

I am incredibly humbled and eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to share this message of self-care with millions of readers across the country. Self-care is a powerful, yet often underutilized, tool. It’s a preventive health strategy that involves actions and behaviors that improve, restore, and maintain good health.

The truth is, we must love and care for ourselves first before we can fully love and care for others. When we’re healthy, we have more to give. It’s that simple.

Self-care is multidimensional…and personal. What refills your cup may not refill mine, which means that each of us must explore a variety of activities to build a restorative self-care practice that is right for us.

The 8 Dimensions of Self-Care:8 Dimensions of Self-Care

Systemic – How we eat, move and rest
Emotive – How we express ourselves
Luminescent – How we illuminate our inner truth
Financial – How we allocate our resources
Cognitive – How we think
Aptitudinal – How we contribute to the world
Relational – How we connect with others
Environmental – How we harmonize with nature

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The Tent City Next Door

It’s impossible not to notice Seattle’s vibrant homeless communities, sometimes called “tent cities.” I visited one recently and it was a powerfully positive experience.

The reason for my visit was primarily to gain a better understanding of the needs, challenges, and living conditions of tent city residents; but, perhaps more importantly, to learn how I can help.

Because tent cities are mandated to move every four months, they are constantly seeking new sites. Churches often become temporary residences since they have large parking areas where structures can easily be configured into an ordered community. They also have electricity, water, and kitchen facilities. The frequent moves prohibit residents from acquiring many possessions. Each resident is encouraged to keep personal belongings to a 6-bag minimum. Anything more than this is not covered by the moving crew, and additional fees must be paid by the resident.

Codes of conduct vary by camp, but most require background checks before entry. Alcohol and other drugs are prohibited, and residents must play an active role in the community. In fact, they aren’t just encouraged, but are required to participate in camp maintenance, whether it be sanitation, security, food preparation, or donation management. Some residents have jobs and some receive an income from disability or other benefits. One resident that I met shared that she receives about $1,000 in disability benefits each month, but she hasn’t been able to find affordable housing. These cities are not simply campsites where people “hang out.” They are real communities of people who are trying to find a place in a much larger society. And it’s not easy by a long stretch. This became evident as I passed by one tent, noticing a paper plate hanging near the entrance with the words “Life is Pain” scrawled across it. The ultimate aim of these encampments is to support people who are in transition, helping them to secure employment and permanent housing.

I’m not sure what I expected find, other than a large group of people camping, but I left with a mix of feelings ranging from gratitude, to sadness, to humility.

The first thing I noticed was that I was cold. Really, really cold, actually. Even with my coat and gloves, all I could think about was my warm car, and that I was standing, shivering, several feet away from it. (Ironically, the camp residents later commented on how warm it was compared to the past week, when temperatures dipped into the 20’s.)

My friend and I were soon greeted by two smiling women who were bundled up in multiple layers of warmth too. They welcomed us, and offered to carry the box I was struggling to balance over to the donations tent, where we found mounds and mounds and mounds of donated items. There were bins of toiletries; clothes, some piled to eye-level and some hanging; as well as shoes and purses. We learned that many unneeded items are donated to other groups or organizations, as they cannot manage large inventories. When asked if there were items that were still needed, the donation coordinator said that large sizes–3x and 4x–are hard to come by, and at least one resident was still trying to find a coat. Propane was another resource that was difficult to maintain, especially with the recent cold snaps.

Then I noticed the odor. The sour smell of garbage wafted through the air as we approached the food tent. Many areas of the camp were impressive, but the kitchen area concerned me. Having conducted countless sanitation audits of restaurants and other foods service operations over the course of my career, I am able to recognize questionable food handling and storage conditions quickly. Several garbage cans were overflowing and some of the contents had spilled onto the ground; perishable foods, such as milk and sliced fruit, were stored on the floor of the tent unrefrigerated; and some of the cooking equipment and surfaces were covered with food particles. The problem didn’t appear to be related to a lack of resources or facilities, though. A nearby mobile unit was equipped with several sinks for handwashing and cleaning.

After talking with some of the residents, it became apparent that their biggest issue wasn’t related to a food shortage. In fact, Church members, neighbors, and non-profit organizations provide hot meals most nights of the week, which means few meals are prepared on-site. Instead, the main problem is that they receive an excessive amount of donated food, and they simply cannot keep up with the turnover. Even with two refrigerators and a large pantry, there isn’t enough space to store it all. And the biggest problem? Pastries. Apparently several well-intentioned local bakeries and coffee shops donate unsold items to them daily, but residents admit that it has created some serious challenges, including the odor that I smelled earlier.

This brings up another issue. While many of us feel compelled to anonymously donate food and supplies to communities like these (myself included), random donations don’t always solve problems. Sometimes they create more. The act of giving, when it’s done without also connecting with its recipients, isn’t as beneficial as it could be. What do most homeless people need the most? A friend.

As I returned to my car, thoroughly frozen to the core after being outside for almost two hours, I felt a twinge of guilt as I cranked up the heat to 85 degrees and started my drive home with a grateful heart.