There are literally thousands of self-help books out there, inviting you to take sovereignty over your own health. Some are barely worth the paper they’re written on, while others are excellent. But even the good ones are often incomplete, leaving out important tracts of potentially life changing information that is supported by our latest understanding of physiology, psychology, metabolism, toxicology, bioelectromagnetism – and the many other areas we now know to be important to human function.
Then, every now and then, you stumble upon a book that’s bang on-point scientifically, and yet distils complex processes into a simple language and format that could really have mass appeal. That’s how we felt when we reviewed a book just out by British biochemist-turned therapist and health coach, Ian Tennant PhD. The book’s called ‘Restoring Balance’, and as suggested by the subtitle, ‘How to return to a natural state of easy health’, it really is a roadmap — a guide — that helps people to get not just one, but multiple, systems in the body into balance. It’s the kind of book that anyone interested in optimising their health should have on their bookshelf and if it was recommended by health and fitness professionals, it could do a lot of good for a lot of people.
The notion of creating balance across multiple systems is of course the central focus of our own blueprint project. We see this kind of increased focus on health creation, as opposed to disease treatment and management, as the key to sustainable, proactive (not just reactive) health systems. This means we need to work with nature, not against it and understand how we each can modify our behaviours and environments to transform the way our bodies’ function.
Over to Ian…
Q: Hi Ian, it’s great to speak to you. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Hi Melissa, great speaking to you too. I’ve been so impressed by the Blueprint for Health that ANH International is proposing.
So far, I’ve had a fun and varied career that’s involved working with businesses and not-for-profit organisations. As a teenager I was unhappy with my own health – I felt as though I struggled more than many of my peers. My digestion was sluggish, my nose permanently blocked and I often felt heavy and bloated. A drive to improve my own health has fuelled 20 years’ experience working in the field of human and environmental health.
My early career included working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, studying how our immune system recognises dying cells. For a few years I even had the pleasure of renting part of a local farm to set up a salad growing business to supply local restaurants with fresh produce. Every opportunity has taught me something new.
These days, I work on a one-to-one basis with people, helping them make simple choices that can dramatically improve their health.
Q: What inspired you to write Restoring Balance?
I wanted to write a book about health that would feel to the reader as if they were having a conversation with a friend or client. Over the years, I have noticed that many people struggle with their energy levels and also don’t feel that they have enough time to enjoy doing the things they love, so my book is written to harness people’s built-in curiosity about how best to stay energised, and remain in this state of wellbeing without relying on drugs or stimulants.
Q: Who is the book aimed at?
It’s for anyone who wants up-to-date insights on how to live a balanced healthy life. It’s suitable for the general public as well as health professionals. Health advice can feel confusing and overwhelming, but I wrote this book to make it easier to understand. The book demystifies some of the common misconceptions about stress, diet, fasting, exercise and our relationship with technology. It includes a series of 19 ‘Lifestyle Recipes for Wellness’ that gently help you to take the first steps towards restoring balance.
Q: It’s great to see the book relying on so many scientific references. We’re all aware that so-called evidence-based medicine is very reliant on randomised controlled trials (RCTs). What’s your view on what evidence is most important to ensure the best outcomes for individuals, especially bearing in mind differences between individuals?
Great question! Like many good questions, this has a complex answer. I would give two slightly different answers depending on whether I am working face-to-face with an individual suffering from a complex condition, or if I was sharing broad recommendations for health to the general population via a book or in an interview.
In the first case, the best evidence is whether the individual’s life improves as a result of the health intervention being considered. Let’s look at what I mean by that in more detail. As you mentioned, medicine has become very reliant on RCTs and I think these types of studies have their place. Taking the complex and hard-to-define condition, fibromyalgia as an example, many people believe that fibromyalgia can be triggered by intense periods of physical or emotional stress. An RCT may be useful to establish which of two simple treatment methods – such as a TENS machine or a drug – is superior for managing day-to-day pain for the sufferer. However, if we want to get close to the root cause of the condition for an individual and help them into remission, an RCT is inappropriate. It would be too costly and almost impossible to design a trial looking, for example, at the effect of rapport between a patient and therapist when trying to soothe the underlying trauma – because the trauma and the exact approach taken by the therapist will vary from case to case. I know from working one-to-one with fibromyalgia sufferers over months and years that it can take a fair amount of trial and error before finding a solution or a set of lifestyle adaptations that works for them.
However – and this is where my second answer relates to broad recommendations for health to the general population – I do think it is important and useful to draw upon a range of scientific understanding (RCTs being one of these) to back fundamental principles of health, such as getting a good night’s sleep or fasting. Interventions, when supported by a really good collection of scientific data that has the support of many researchers across the globe, can give us a positive nudge for taking action towards a particular health goal.
Q: What’s your ‘ikigai’ – your life purpose that gets you out of bed each day?
My ikigai has evolved during the past two decades, but the common thread throughout involves respecting and taking care of the earth, particularly the soil beneath our feet. I advocate practices such as Regenerative Agriculture that restores balance to the way we farm – because this in turn helps restore balance to the way we eat, and to the interconnected ecosystems that we all depend upon. The same applies to the way we build towns, cities and run our economy.
For me it is important to feel as though the small actions I take day-to-day – such as choosing organically grown foods – are aligned with the long-term vision for my own life and the positive contribution I want to continue to make to humanity and our planet home.
To some people, my sense of purpose may seem a long way from the work I do helping people deal with their personal health issues, however, it is my belief that we can only be as healthy as the environment we are bathed in. To be truly healthy we must make choices that support our environment.
Q: If you could choose the single, most important take away for the book – what is it?
A clear statement emerged when writing the book: “Health is a matter of how you and the world interact”. It may sound like a simplistic statement but it remains valid whether we are talking about, food, water quality or levels of daylight versus artificial light. This also applies to how we interact with our mental or emotional inner world through our beliefs, thoughts and perceptions. The statement holds true when we think about moving through the physical terrain around us (physical exercise) and how we interact with modern technology. For example, ‘how we interact’ and respond to the demands of emails or other messages on our mobile phones and laptops presents a challenge to many people these days, not only in terms of time pressure and stress but also because of the potentially harmful manmade electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that the devices we use emit.
I hope that readers feel empowered from reading my book, and realise that there are many choices to be made about how we interact with the world that will determine how healthy we are. Without even trying, our bodies are always doing their very best to weigh-up whether the thing we’ve just ‘encountered’ is going to be good or bad for us, and the corrective processes of homeostasis kick-in to return us to equilibrium. When we understand this, we can avoid anything that causes too much stress to the homeostatic process.
Q: Take a teenager today – how different do you think healthcare will be for that same individual when they’re in their 40s, thirty years from now?
Healthcare is already undergoing a transformation, both within the NHS and for home-led healthcare or complementary medicine. The choice of affordable home test kits for monitoring health, that use simple blood or saliva samples, is increasing rapidly. It seems that every day, apps and devices are being launched to monitor and track our health and performance, so people are able to gather more information about their own wellbeing and therefore make healthful choices. In thirty years from now, Machine Learning (a form of Artificial Intelligence) will allow us to better predict what an individual needs to be healthy.
I’m not saying that I think we should rely on technology to fix our problems, but I hope things will come full circle and people will realise after all the testing, that if we simplify our lives, get outdoors more and get good rest, then our health will improve.
A GP who lives near me in Peterborough explained that the NHS is trialling a programme that involves the recruitment of ‘Lifestyle Navigators’ to help patients take a more preventative approach to their health. This has come about because the NHS is massively overstretched and under-resourced to deal with the rise in chronic health conditions. It has started to recognise that helping people manage things like stress, finances and changes to food shopping habits could save the NHS money and time in the long term.
Q: Empowerment and engagement are two transformative processes in how an individual can manage their own health. How can we empower and engage people more effectively?
We can empower people by giving them useful and compelling information and resources about health. We can engage them through inspirational stories of people who have turned their lives around. For many years I’ve been intrigued by what drives highly healthy people to keep on improving their lives year on year as the world around them changes. After studying many keen people I came up with the ‘Three Cs’ approach – which stands for Curiosity, Capacity and Confidence. To a certain extent, curiosity is built-in and if people don’t have enough, it’s like taking the proverbial horse to water and not being able to make it drink. Although for people who are curious enough, we can empower them through providing more Capacity and Confidence – capacity comes in the form of useful new information about health, and confidence refers to providing tried and tested actions that help them move towards their health goals.
The three basic things I think people should focus on are: getting a good night’s sleep; managing their stress levels; and paying attention to the foods they eat. It sounds simple but many people are ignoring these issues because of the demands of 21st century living. Once they really start to focus on these things with the depth of understanding offered in my book, Restoring Balance, their behaviour will change for the better, their energy levels will balance out naturally and they can regain control of their lives.
Q: What do you think are the most common factors that cause people’s health to go out of balance?
It’s very easy for us all to get drawn in to the excessive demands of modern life. This includes overwhelming workloads, online media that relentlessly tries to grab our attention, and foods that overwhelm our body’s homeostatic or detox processes. The result is that people find it hard to hear the quiet words of wisdom – the ‘inner voice’ – that their body speaks with, when the world around is full of noise. If ignored, this small, quiet voice will grow louder and louder until their body ends up screaming at them – through ill health.
Q: What in your view makes Restoring Balance stand out from the crowd of health-related works?
The feedback I’ve had from readers is that my book clarifies how our bodies work in a way that is not only easy to understand, but enables the right health choices to be made. It keeps complex issues simple, and guides the reader through the maelstrom of sometimes contradictory health advice with the goal of restoring balance by listening to your own bodily wisdom.’
Dr Tennant speaks to Clint Grove on The Lifeshot Podcast