When the "magic pill" solution doesn't work

On and off through college, I took birth control. Whenever I was on it, I noticed my cystic acne that I’d had for years would clear up. And that felt great. But then I’d forget to refill my prescription or just didn’t want to bother and my acne would come back worse than before. The more this happened, the more I felt tied to the pill. But if it was fixing the problem, then what did it matter?

Then I started getting ocular migraines. My vision started blurring out of nowhere and I couldn’t see anything. Imagine sitting at your desk reading emails when all of a sudden all of the letters look totally jumbled. It scared the crap out of me! When I visited the doctor, I found out that the magic pill that cleared up my acne also increased my chance of stroke so significantly I had to stop them immediately (and my UCSF doctor -- a neurologist -- also told me that anyone who gets motion sick easily is at high risk of stroke from taking the pill and that he has seen many 20s- and 30s women come in with strokes because of this, but no previous doctors had ever told me this).

After going off the pill, my acne came back worse than ever. It felt hopeless because the one thing that seemed to fix the problem had been banned.

The thing is, we’ve been trained to think that there are tons of health problems out there that can be fixed if we just find our “magic pill”. But those magic pills usually only address one issue, without taking into account that our bodies are faced with a number of stressors everyday: processed food, lack of sleep, work stress, chemicals found in our beauty products, lack of movement, and more. The more stress we face, the more our bodies have to deal with. Usually by the time poor health hits us, it’s because our bodies have been dealing with so many issues from all sides that it can’t keep up, and so fixing one problem will only slightly lighten the load.

In the case of my acne, it turned out to be a combinations of the skin products I used, wearing too much makeup, eating dairy and drinking coffee (both of which my body was sensitive to), not switching out my pillowcases on a regular basis, picking at my face, and the inflammation in my body as a whole. That’s a LOT of things. But correcting all of them ended up working: 


I see this with a lot of our clients, too. Someone says they’ve cut out gluten but they still feel terrible, not realizing that many of the gluten-free products they’re eating are highly processed, contain tons of lectins (toxins that plants create to get you to stop eating them), and/or are filled with sugar. Another client who has diabetes might be frustrated because they’ve stopped eating pretty much all carbs and still have insulin resistance, but they don’t realize that working 12+ hours a day has raised their stress levels so high that it’s keeping them in an insulin resistant state.

It’s frustrating (and honestly, overwhelming) when we fix the thing we’re told to fix and the problem still exists or is only temporarily fixed.

With all the healing journeys I’ve taken to get my body to where it is today, the most important thing for me to remember has always been that finding my best health takes time, a holistic approach that considers every aspect of my lifestyle, and a good amount of experimenting. And that’s okay. Every step leads me one step closer to feeling my best.

These are some of the concrete steps I personally use to continuously improve my health (because it’s a never-ending journey!):

1. Try one thing at a time

There are a few reasons for this. First, it helps you to see whether what you’re doing is actually helping, hurting, or just adding a useless task to your plate.

But even more importantly, it helps ensure that you’ll stick with the task long-term. Taking on too many tasks at once is like juggling six plates when you haven’t really learned to juggle in the first place. You might keep a few of them in the air, but one by one they hit the ground and you end up with a lot of broken plates.

This happens a lot with diets. People who don’t eat very well suddenly try to cut out all sugar and processed food, and sometimes other items as well, and they don’t have any system to deal with the cravings and detoxing that naturally occurs as a result of that. They would be much more successful to first cut back on the soda they drink, then get a healthier breakfast in place, then add more vegetables in at lunch, etc until they finally reach the place they’d like to be.

If you start with one change, you can take the time to master it and establish it into your routine before trying the next habit.

2. Don’t go for extremes (unless you have to)

In the same spirit as the last step, your goal is to establish a long-lasting habit, and if you start with something too hard (like trying to run a marathon or even a 5k the day after deciding you’ll break your five-year couch potato habit) then you’re very quickly going to end up in the same place you started.

Smaller habits (like walking a couple of blocks a day) are much more likely to stick and then can be built up over time to where you’d like them to be.

Of course, there are a few instances where extremes are very important. Someone who is diagnosed with celiac disease, for instance, has to go to the extreme of cutting out all gluten if they’d like to get better. And for me, even one bite of cheese or yogurt gives me pimples on my forehead, so I never ever have any dairy. But for if you’re not in a situation where you need to make an immediate drastic change, then take advantage and build up from a small change to a larger change over time.

3. Don’t just focus on one area

Remember that the body is affected by many areas of life, and not just one. Someone who spends all their time and energy focusing on eating the perfect diet might still have plenty health issues that they just can’t seem to get rid of. And when we believe that the solution to finding amazing health comes from a single area of our life, it gets frustrating when we don’t reach our goals and makes us want to give up on getting healthy altogether.

According to one of our medical advisors, Dr. Frank Lipman, there are 6 areas of health you can focus on for overall health:

  • Diet
  • Sleep
  • Exercise/movement
  • Protection against toxins
  • Stress relief
  • Relationships with loved ones and yourself

The truth is, all of these areas require some attention if we want to live our best life. And there are a few ways you can tackle this so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

You can either try establishing a couple of improvements in one area until your feel good about is and then move on to the next one, or improve/add one habit in each area before circling back to the first area to start another habit. Neither way is wrong as long as you remember to spread the love around to every area of your life.