Your body hurts.
Your muscles and joints ache and there’s pain in your chest and stomach. Your mind is foggy; you have trouble concentrating. You get headaches and you just don’t have energy the way you used to. It’s affecting your mood, too. You feel down a lot of the time—and that’s making it hard to sleep.
Eventually you think to yourself, “I’ve got to go see somebody.”
You know all these health problems might get in the way of your job if they keep getting worse. So you go see your doctor.
She identifies a few issues. There are some problems with your posture and some muscle weakness. She has concerns about your nutrition. She says you need to make changes to your diet and lose some weight.
It sounds daunting. “How am I going to do that?” you ask.
She says that, ideally, you’d work with a physical therapist on core strength and muscle lengthening, and maybe also a “medical manual therapist”—someone like a masseuse. She says you’d also benefit from seeing an expert nutritionist and possibly a counselor to help with your mood. In fact, she’d really like to get you in to see an engaging counseling specialist who could help you develop some habits around positive thinking to address your chronic melancholy. Counseling would not only improve your mood, but it would help you concentrate during the day and then sleep soundly at night.
It all sounds—expensive. “Is my insurance going to cover that?” you ask.
No. Most services aren’t covered, and those that are carry $75 co-pays because they’re considered specialties. You would need to go twice a week. There’s no way you can afford that. It’s off the table.
But your doctor wants to help you as best she can. She orders a few tests to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on that she missed in her examination. Then she prescribes a muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory to ease your physical discomfort. She also gets you on an anti-depressant.
You feel better—for a while.
But soon, you realize you feel exactly the same as before, only now you’re on a slew of medications. Meanwhile, the anti-inflammatory could give you a stomach ulcer, and the muscle relaxer could get you into a car accident because it’s a sedative. And you’re going to need to keep switching from one anti-depressant to another, since the effect of each one just seems to kind of … peter out.
All of this is expensive, too. It’s not as pricey as seeing specialists, but the prescription co-pays add up. All the doctor visits and medications will probably drive up the cost of your insurance coverage next year, though you might not personally see that cost if your insurance is covered by your employer. Far worse, you may be headed for much bigger medical bills around the corner, because your health is still declining.
You’re stuck in this rut. With each thing you try, you end up coming back to the same poor health. You’re physically and emotionally exhausted.
But there’s another way.
Authentic Health is about finding your health in the only place it can truly be found: within you. This book is the story of adaptive, individualized, affordable healthcare that will allow you to experience true health—which is your birthright.
Many people are chronically sick in ways that are complicated and are related to their habits and behaviors—and yet they don’t realize it.
We all have our individual habits, of course. Those habits determine how we start the day, how much coffee we drink, which foods we choose, how we sit at our desks or hold our bodies all day long, how we breathe, what we drink, how we manage stress, how we play, how we distract ourselves to escape from the things that feel burdensome, how we manage our relationships with others, and how we prepare ourselves to sleep at night and do it all again tomorrow.
Though many of us never give much thought to these sorts of habits, together they add up to how much mental, physical, and emotional energy each of us has to put toward our life’s purpose. What’s more, our behaviors tend to be heavily influenced by savvy companies that have something to sell us. They sell us cheap and tasty food. They sell us digital entertainment that keeps us parked in our chairs or absorbed in our phones. They also sell us the pharmaceuticals that are supposed to make us feel better when all the cheap food and digital entertainment have taken a toll on our bodies.
What’s more, these companies are intimately involved in the nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies that are supposed to set health standards and look out for our best interests. A recent study by two health researchers found that two major soda companies make donations—often in the millions of dollars—to the most influential
health foundations and government health institutes, and they often succeed at buying influence over our national “health” agenda.
The upshot of all these factors is an astonishing incidence of chronic illness across the country. Arthritis, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, obesity, and insomnia—to name just a few— are sapping our energy and our potential. We are plagued by the metabolic diseases that accompany obesity such as diabetes, high blood
pressure, and arterial disease. There are autoimmune conditions. There are cancers. There is also brain fog and short-term memory loss. Patients who are only 45 years old come to see me and ask, “Could I already have dementia?” They’re losing their ability to concentrate.
But there’s no law that says you have to be sick. And in Authentic Health, you’ll find a powerful alternative. This alternative is not new, and it isn’t a fad that will be released in much-hyped installments over a period of several weeks. On the contrary, it’s the age-old, time-tested formula for human beings to be well.
In truth, we shouldn’t have to search for the ‘secrets’ to health or read about them in a book. But in the 21st century, we do have to search—because our ability to see what drives our own health has been so obscured by the deceptive marketing of vast corporations whose sole purpose is to make more money. What should be self-evident has become hidden behind cheap products that are purposely designed to be habit-forming and that keep us overweight, exhausted, unfulfilled, and potentially very sick.
We must not put up with this unfortunate state of affairs for even one more second.
Meanwhile, at your local doctor’s office, you would ideally have access to the resources you need to get healthy again. But however skilled and dedicated your doctor is, he or she is constrained by a tangle of rules that are largely set by insurance companies. In other words, in addition to facing a mass of corporations that profit from making you sick—and even as you or your employer or the government pay a hefty amount of money for your health insurance—we also have a “health” system that is designed to keep you from being well.
A HEALTHCARE SYSTEM THAT’S FAILING TO CARE FOR OUR HEALTH
As I explain in detail in my book, your health is the sum of your habits. Companies selling you unhealthy products have likely influenced your habits and thereby caused or contributed to your painful, chronic conditions. On top of that, we have a healthcare “system” that is really just a sprawling and disjointed assembly of health companies and programs—and it’s doing nothing to reverse this trend.
Maybe you’re struggling with headaches and fatigue and bloating and reflux. Maybe you find that your joints ache after you eat. So you go on the Internet and enter your symptoms. A host of medical diagnoses pop up, including things like “tension headaches.” The website says a few things about the cause of your symptoms, but it can’t give you all you need to know about your problem.
We have a health system that treats symptoms instead of conditions.
Your search might have turned up a few resources about lack of sleep, or about diet, or about stress management, or lack of exercise, but there’s too much conflicting information. Patients come into my office all the time and tell me that their bodies hurt after they eat. Sometimes they come in because they’ve seen a commercial advertising a medicine to deal with precisely this problem. As a doctor, I’ve got to do some due diligence; I ask about their habits and about what they’re eating. “What did you eat before you experienced these symptoms?” I ask. Often, the answer is a chili dog and a soda, or something similar.
The pain and reflux and heartburn and general discomfort that follow after we eat our favorite foods are symptoms. And in our existing health system, we tend to ask, “What can I do about these symptoms?
But we don’t ask the underlying question: “What condition is causing these symptoms?”
There are pills to treat your symptoms, of course. But those pills are little more than a Band-Aid. They’re a temporary solution. And even as they’re providing temporary relief, they create new problems that will also, in turn, need solutions.
When your body hurts—whether it’s a headache, or heartburn, or fatigue, or aches in your joints—your body is telling you something. In fact, your body is sending you an important message that something you’re doing isn’t working. Some of your habits are causing harm. The pain is a symptom; the underlying habit is what’s driving the problem.
You’re not alone. Statistics overwhelmingly show that we’ve become a less healthy population. Meanwhile the health infrastructure that’s supposed to make us healthy is, instead, stuck on treating our symptoms instead of their causes.
In our current system, you see a medical professional either because you’re experiencing symptoms or because you’re having a routine checkup. In the first case, the appointment tends to revolve explicitly around treating those symptoms, and you’ll walk out the door with a new prescription.
In the second case, the practitioner examines you based on guidelines and algorithms passed down from the Department of Health and Human Services. If you’re twenty-five, that means the doctor is going to counsel you about not texting and driving, plus the dangers of syphilis. In other words, when you go into a healthcare office, generally the agenda isn’t about your specific situation—it’s about the priorities of the larger system. But obviously, that’s not going to move the needle on your individual health. When you come in for your checkup, the public-health priorities (“don’t text and drive” or “don’t have unprotected intercourse”) are quickly completed. It’s straightforward. And that’s the entire agenda.
An assessment of your real health, and your underlying habits, isn’t part of the deal. What’s more, physicians’ offices have to spend so much time on coding and billing the insurance companies that there’s not enough time left over to probe the more complicated stuff. You might be cognitively depressed and physically exhausted. You might be sleeping poorly and losing energy. It’s unlikely that a routine check-up will result in real solutions to address these significant underlying problems.
It’s not the fault of the medical practitioners at that office—far from it. Let’s say you mention that you’re struggling with depression and that you’re having trouble sleeping. Maybe the doctor is well aware that you’d benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. But helping you get that therapy is not that simple.
Until very recently, your insurance likely wouldn’t have covered any sort of mental-health care at all. Recent changes in health care have increased the likelihood that mental-health services are covered equally with other types of care; that’s a good thing, because we should make sure that the brain isn’t treated as some separate thing from the body.
But even so, those behavioral health services are going to cost you. You’ll probably face a high deductible. Not to mention that you’ve got to drive someplace every week and spend an hour of your time with a therapist. In other words, getting this treatment is not straightforward.
The same goes for nutrition. Maybe your diet is contributing to chronic diseases and potentially causing serious long-term damage to your health. In that case, it’s important for you really to begin to understand what different types of food do to your body. Maybe you want to change your habits. A nutritionist would be a great resource. But it turns out that the nutritionist is expensive and that you’re going to run into the same problem with the high deductible.
So even in the best-case scenario, with a physician who really wants to help you change your habits, none of the necessary interventions seem accessible. And thus, in all likelihood, you’re going to continue with the same habits you’ve always had.
Authentic Health is about giving you options. It’s about giving you control over your health. It’s about not settling for poor health because of an inadequate healthcare system. You do not have to remain stuck in chronic illness. With intentionality, you can create the right habits and behaviors. You can choose health.
GUARDING A CORE PURPOSE—YOURS, AND MINE
My philosophy is grounded in the belief that every individual has a dignified purpose. If all of us can find a way to manifest that purpose, then we will flourish. Everyone has that potential.
I also believe that it’s our job as a society to create systems that help every person flourish. Right now, we’re falling pretty short of that goal because we have economic and health systems that make it difficult for us to access the good health within us.
That’s why Authentic Health is written to you as an individual. Our larger system isn’t working. You’re the only one who can make this change for you.
I’ve come to this conclusion after more than a decade practicing as a primary-care physician. My passion is to help people truly become healthy. Early on in my practice, I realized that the factors that influenced my patients’ health were complex, and that many of the prevailing treatment strategies were superficial. The more I dug into the root causes of diseases that manifested as symptoms, the more I began to recognize the significance of habits and behaviors.
Over the years, I pored through the biomedical literature as well as research in the fields of nutrition, cognitive behavioral therapy, and physical activity. At the same time, I was also spending five days a week seeing my patients, which is a continual source of learning for me. Every encounter in the exam room teaches me something: What actually works? Which interventions make the most sense for which circumstances?
The philosophy in Authentic Health is the distillation of all those years of studying and probing—and in these pages you’ll find a formula for good health.
You will not find recommendations for specific fads. I won’t be telling you, for instance, that the latest and greatest fitness or nutrition fad is the answer for you. Instead, you’ll find a more fundamental, evidence-based, time-tested guide for claiming and improving your own health. If that’s what you’re seeking, then this book is for you.
I believe every individual has a dignified purpose—and this is mine. I chose primary care because I wanted to work one-on-one with my patients and care for their whole health. My passion for this work is what sent me to seek better solutions to my patients’ ailments. It’s what sent me into the annals of medical literature to grapple with the best science out there in order to get to the root causes of poor health. And that led me to the philosophy that’s in this book.
I’m also the father of three children whom I love very much. As a parent, I wanted to know how to raise children who will be able to intentionally choose their habits—rather than having those habits chosen for them—so that they can show up to life with the greatest possible energy and potential. That, too, is part of my core purpose, and it has motivated the development of the philosophy that you’ll find in these pages.
I have colleagues who think I’m crazy for going into primary care in such a challenging time. That doesn’t bother me; I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. I know because my patients tell me how much I’ve helped them. There are people who’ve been with me for many years who tell me that their lives are better because of the work that I did with them. That affirms my core purpose more than any paycheck or collegial respect ever could.
It’s not an easy time to be a doctor, of course. The insurance companies try to pay me less for the same work. They may try to coerce me into providing care according to their specific rules. But nobody can take from me my core purpose, which is to help every patient find the best health they can. Once a patient enters into a confidential consult in our examining room, we focus on their needs. Of course, I have to fulfill my obligations to the insurance companies and bureaucrats, but once I’ve done that, we can focus on how to care for this individual.
And Authentic Health is the same; it’s about helping you to actualize your purpose, and to do so by giving you back your health.
IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK
If you choose to pick up my book, you’re going to read some inspiring stories
about how individuals like you began to modify their behaviors and habits and eventually created a new story about their health—and, in turn, about their lives.
Before we get to that, though, it’s important to acknowledge that such change can be intimidating. You might not be sure that you’re up for it, and I can understand that. Our habits are our habits for a reason. We eat the foods we eat because they taste good. We engage in the behaviors we do because they’re how we’ve always done things.
There are only so many hours in the day—and so much energy in your bones—to try new things.
But consider this. It’s possible that never, for a single day in your life, have you felt the depth of energy that you actually possess inside of you. It’s possible that you have never once felt as good as you’re capable of feeling.
If you’re willing to take a chance on a few low-risk strategies that you agree would be good for your health, then you may be taking the first step toward a level of physical vitality and mental clarity that will astonish you. And it may well impress you so much that you’ll never want to return to your old habits again.
If you’re willing to consider that you may be missing out on something incredible, take and read.
About the Author
Dr. Gus Vickery is a board-certified family doctor with extensive experience in helping individuals manage their health. He participates in teaching both family medicine residents and medical students from UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University. Dr. Vickery has served as president of the Western Carolina Medical Society and as chairperson for Moving Healthcare Upstream, an initiative of The Development Council. Dr. Vickery is the medical director for The Clinic at Biltmore, a nationally recognized innovative direct to employer health care model and personally produced a nutritional curriculum to help his patients lose weight and reverse obesity related chronic diseases, which was used for The Biltmore Company’s Healthstyles program successfully. He resides and practices in Asheville, North Carolina. Find him online at Dr. GusVickery.com.