The Wellness Iceberg: More Than Meets The Eye

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the multi-faceted nature of health and wellness. Humans are complex beings, and healthcare providers who only view patient care through one lens do their patients a serious disservice. All the parts of our life – spirit, soul, and body – are interwoven, and we need to take this holistic view of all the components of life (and how they interact) to understand any of them completely.

For instance, psychologists who don’t understand their patients’ food choices are missing a significant trigger to several mental and emotional stressors. Physicians who don’t understand a patients’ psychological barriers to certain types of care will end up beating their heads against a wall. I wonder how many billions of dollars in pharmaceutical sales would be wiped out simply by people learning how to nourish their bodies properly.

That’s why I have built my practice around the 4-part structure of “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right.” We all live somewhere on a continuum from wellness to disease in all four areas, and disease in one area can upset wellness in another. For instance, if you have cancer, it can cause you enormous mental and emotional stress. If you are stuck in bed for days at a time, it can diminish your range of motion. It can throw off all the systems and habits in your daily life. We live in a symbiotic circle within ourselves.

This week, I want to go a little deeper in our understanding of this continuum from wellness to disease.

The Iceberg

iceberg-modelTake a look at this iceberg. The iceberg is a common metaphor for understanding different aspects of our lives. In essence, it represents that what people see on the surface of our persona is only a small part of who we are.

The same can be said of our health: your current experience of wellness or disease is only the outward manifestation of what is going on inside. This is so important to understand when diagnosing and treating disease. So much of modern medicine focuses on treating symptoms instead of digging in and finding root causes.

If you were running a business and found that you were losing money every month, you wouldn’t just borrow a million dollars and pour it down the drain. That would be stupid. First, you would find out where your expenses are outstripping your income. You would look for waste, theft, and fraud. You would want to find out WHY money is disappearing and eliminate the problem.

So let’s look a little deeper at our health iceberg.

The Behavioral Level

Sickness has causes. Sometimes, it can be linked to choices we’ve made or have been made for us. It can be linked to lifestyle, diet, and our environment:

  • If you have headaches and a runny nose every time you go to work, you might want to look at the condition of your workplace. Are you allergic to something in the carpet or walls?
  • If you have gas and bloating every time you eat pizza, it might be time to lay off the pizza.
  • If you’re 100 pounds overweight, and can’t climb a flight of stairs, you might need to reconsider how you spend your time after work.
  • If I spend 20 minutes untying the knots in your neck, you might need a new way to manage stress.

Now, that’s easy for me to say. If I didn’t care about my patients or have any investment in seeing them get better over time, I could stop here. I could look down my nose at them and order them change their lifestyle before their next appointment. Chances are, there wouldn’t be a next appointment, or if they do come back, it probably would include a lot of apologizing for failing to follow my prescription.


The Motivational Level

To get to the root of health issues, it’s important to understand the behaviors that influence our health, but we also have to understand the thought patterns that drive our behaviors.

  • If you grew up in a culture where obesity is valued as an outward demonstration of prosperity, then you are going to have a hard time staying thin. I have mentioned before about the woman who gained and lost 50 pounds in four years because no matter how hard she tried to lose weight, in the back of her mind was a tape on constant repeat of her father telling her she was fat.
  • If you are afraid of how alcohol will affect you (e.g., make you sick), you will consciously avoid alcohol, no matter what other pressures come (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing).
  • On the other hand, if you value being popular over being healthy and you associate popularity with drinking, you will likely drink more.
  • If you value watching TV more than exercise, your health, flexibility, and mobility will reflect that over time.
  • If you value the thrill of reckless behavior, your choices will reflect that, and your health will suffer for it.

This is where things get murky.

Just like we are in deep water in our iceberg model, we are diving into an area where our conscious and subconscious choices blend together. We don’t always know why we do the things we do. Some behaviors are a cry for attention or approval, but it might take some serious counseling to open up the emotional roots that show us whose approval we are trying to get. It might be someone who died years ago. Some people like fatty foods because they associate them with grandma’s house. Some people don’t cry when they need to because their dad told them it was a sign of weakness. Some people sleep all day because they are afraid of rejection. Some people won’t eat vegetables because their parents forced them to eat vegetables when they were young.

The problem is, no matter why you do the things you do, some behaviors are harmful for your health. But to root out harmful behaviors, you have to get down to the motivations behind the behaviors. To change the what, I have to soften the why in which it is rooted.

I know it sounds like I am moving into the psychologist’s office, and I suppose I am on some level, but all of our behaviors have reasons and we need to understand them.

The Existential Level

Now, I’m going to move from the counseling office to the pastoral office. (Well, that escalated quickly.)

At the bottom of the iceberg is an area where it’s really difficult to see. This gets behind the behavioral and motivational to the existential. By existential, I mean the core of who we are as humans. Why are we here on this earth? Do I have a purpose, and if so, can I know it?

This is the domain of philosophers and prophets. Most of us don’t spend much time in this realm, but this is the root of the human existence. If you are anchored in a faith or worldview, you are more likely to be more solid in your values, morals, beliefs and choices. If you don’t know why you are alive, then all of your choices are relative.

This is the lie of secular relativism and it’s why some in positions of cultural power cling so tightly to the theory of evolution, in spite of its scientific shortcomings:

  • If life has no meaning but to live and die, then it really doesn’t matter what you do to your body.
  • If you are just an evolved glob of goo that made it up the food chain by chance, then you are not valuable, you have no purpose in life, and nothing matters.
  • If you want to have sex with anyone and everyone, abuse your body with drugs, and kill anyone you want, it’s fine because life has no meaning.

People with no meaning in their lives are easy to control, and that is why it is a central tenet of Marxism. People who recognize that God created them, loves them, and has a purpose and value for their lives, they will live life to the fullest and give their allegiance entirely to their loving God. You can’t control someone like that. That is why evolution is taught in school and Christian beliefs are mocked in the media.

So, let’s rise back to the surface.

The Whole Iceberg Plays Itself Out

If nothing matters, then it doesn’t matter what you do to your body – you’re going to die anyway. You may as well do what feels good, even if it makes you sick. If you want to lay around and watch TV and eat potato chips all day, do your thing. If you want to take drugs and cut your skin, why not? There is no sense in honoring yourself or anyone else – you’re all just animals with brains. It’s no wonder so many young people live in deep depression, if this is how they are groomed.

From 1897 to 1997, Hong Kong was under British rule. In 1997, ownership of the island reverted back to China. For the ten years leading up to the transition, the leading cause of death among young people was suicide because they were afraid their lives would be reduced to nothing under the Communist government. Obviously, Hong Kong is still a thriving, prosperous city, but existential fear is a powerful psychological force.

Hopelessness kills. It also makes drug companies very rich.

On the other hand, if your iceberg is anchored in faith in a loving God, you will tend to believe you have value, you will honor your body and treat it well, you will engage in behaviors that promote life for yourself and others, and you will be happy, fulfilled and healthy.

Obviously, it’s not enough for healthcare providers to simply treat symptoms. You need to go from the fruit to the root.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you experienced transformation in your health because of changes in your thinking? Share your insights in the comments on Facebook. Let’s discuss. If you’re not currently following us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus, be sure to join us. And if you’re in the Naples area, join us on October 6th for our first Fundamental Foods Night of the new season. It’s going to be a great night.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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