Trends in healthy living have thankfully moved far from the prescriptive diet books and calorie counting most of us remember from years past; instead, doctors are encouraging us to embrace caring for our bodies as a holistic process that involves taking steps to improve not just our diets and exercise regimens, but the way we think, sleep, and even interact with our friends.
This is the goal of functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman’s “How to Be Well,” an aptly named book that positions itself as a guide for total wellness and succeeds immensely.
The book is laid out according to Lipman’s theory of the “Good Medicine Mandala,” which he defines as “a circular system in which you, not a doctor or any other authority figure, stand at the center.”
What is the 'Good Medicine Mandala'?
Lipman's "Good Medicine Mandala" is formed by six rings, each of which represents one of the six “spheres of life” that Lipman says are “the pillars of long-lasting health”: Eat, Sleep, Move, Protect, Connect, Unwind. The goal of each section of the book is to “restore or optimize” one of these spheres, goals that, Lipman notes, are at the reader’s discretion to tackle in the order and with the fervor that he or she chooses.
“You can decide which actions in ‘How to Be Well’ to try depending on how you work best and how much time, energy, or bandwidth for newness you have available,” Lipman explains, noting that the book can either be approached in order, progressing from ‘Eat’ onwards, or at random, jumping from chapter to chapter or section to section. He even provides a few suggested orders at the end of the book, depending on the problems or issues that the individual reader feels are most important to address straight away.
The Goal Isn't Perfection, but Action
Within each of the six sections, Lipman delves into his ideal situations, while also giving the user the space to approach improvement at his or her leisure. The section on food, for instance, explores foods that might be inflammatory to some, like dairy or gluten, without insisting that readers cut those foods out entirely.
Similarly, in the section called “Move,” Lipman immediately does away with overly prescriptive conceptions of exercise, noting that "this ring of the mandala is not called ‘Work Out.' It’s Move."
"Before there were gyms, treadmills, and sneakers, there was simple human movement," he continues. "For most of human history, your forebears did a lot of it. All day, most days, in fact (six miles of walking for food and water per day, it is said).”
He offers excellent suggestions for how to embrace this ideal, asking readers to think outside the box and incorporate movement into other parts of their lives: planning walks with their kids, taking work phone calls while walking, playing sports as a social activity, or even embracing “micro sessions” of movement throughout the day.
“We are a culture of extremes," he writes. "We either do not move and exercise enough, or we hit the gym intensely, to the point where injury can often occur. It's the modern polarity – we're either underactive or overactive – but what would serve us best is to find the fusion of the two extremes and balance effort with rest."
Informed, Yet Approachable
Lipman uses his medical background to offer explanations for his suggestions in ways that are approachable and understandable for the average reader.
For example, in the section on sleep, he writes:
“Excessive exposure to artificial light at night, particularly blue light, has been linked to increased risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, and breast cancer. Biologists know that artificial light at night has terrible effects on nocturnal animals and migrating animals, birds, and insects. Why wouldn’t it be similarly disruptive for us?
"I predict that following healthy night-lighting behavior will someday be considered as important as eating your vegetables.”
Similarly, he pulls from science when discussing screen time, noting that while the average American child is in front of a screen for seven hours a day, the average adult checks his or her phone a staggering every 13 minutes.
"Checking Instagram for likes, Facebook for updates, and inboxes for the next email or text activates the same pleasure receptors in the brain as drugs and alcohol," he explains. "You get a rush of the happy hormone dopamine, but the search for the next high takes a toll."
Once the reader is made aware of these issues, Lipman delves into actionable solutions. Some of these solutions come in the form of helpful breakout sections pertaining to very specific ways in which people can increase their wellness, like a guide to making homemade almond milk or a helpful “map” for organizing the pantry and fridge. Lipman also adds infographic recaps to the end of each section, pulling out the most salient details, so that readers can return to them later.
A Truly Holistic Approach to Healthy Living
What makes this book truly stand out from other guides is the way in which it affords equal weight to the wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Eating well is just as important as cultivating relationships or getting enough sleep and, Lipman explains, when these elements are in balance, so too is our health and wellness.
“While Western medicine tends to brush off these considerations as minor, I see them as crucial to good health," he writes. "Invisible things like bonded relationships, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of belonging are as influential as anything you can measure or test in a lab. They instill security, confidence, and a healthy sense of self—qualities that are cornerstones of resilient well- being and give greater immunity to disease and the many expressions of stress.”
All in all, the book renders holistic wellness approachable, thanks to its engaging layout and its tacit forgiveness of slip-ups. In acknowledging from the get-go that perfection is not only unattainable, but not even the end goal of this philosophy, Lipman's book allows users to embrace the healthy living techniques laid out in the text with ambition, motivation, and optimism.
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