Resilience & Health: Insights on Acceptance and Commitment

This week on the Unstress, we welcome back Prof Grant Schofield. I always like to touch base with professors of public health and Grant is usually really generous with his time, and I am always quite interested to hear what he has to say.

Join me as I explore the very interesting and significant subjects Grant and I discussed such as the pandemic and how it’s being handled, intermittent fasting, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - of which I pondered on and related my personal experience of going through the same therapy years ago - and more.

Acceptance, Commitment & Resilience

In this week’s episode, we visited one of my favourite guests. I always enjoyed talking to Professor Grant Schofield from Auckland, New Zealand. I always like to touch base with Professors of public health.

I don’t have access to that many, to be honest, but Grant is always very generous with his time, and I am always very interested to hear his thoughts. In this week’s episode, we reflected on the current pandemic and how it was all handled.

What was an opportunity to remind us about? Grant’s also very keen on a low-carb diet, and that is important because, as you will realise if you’re a regular listener, whether we’re talking about cardiovascular disease, still the biggest killer, cancers, second biggest killer, autoimmune conditions, there are over 100, diabetes, of course, mental health as well.

Almost any disease is made worse by an elevated insulin level, and elevated insulin is not just about overeating sugar. One only has to look at the food pyramid, which has morphed in Australia into the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines, to get an idea of what I would consider the most significant nutritional stress on public health globally.

That is the advice that has been given to the world population to make carbohydrates the foundation and specific grains of the foundation of a “healthy eating plan.” I put the healthy eating plan in inverted commas for those not watching the video. I forgot to do that. But there it is.

Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines

The Food Pyramid introduced in 1992 morphed into MyPlate in the 2000s and in Australia was adopted as the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines is nutritional stress on us all, if ever there was one. I think all of those statistics, particularly the increase since the introduction of the food pyramid in the incidence of obesity and diabetes, are a testament to a flawed, failed, I believe, corrupt public health message.

If you want to look at the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines, A background to that, I would recommend that you view it on YouTube. Maryanne Demasi, who has a PhD in research and nutrition and a PhD in medical research, does an excellent 18-minute appraisal of how the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines came to be.

It is a sad and sorry tale and one that I believe the NHMRC and the Australian Dieticians Association should be thoroughly ashamed of. But then I digress for a moment. Back on to the episode that we had with Grant Schofield, the low carb, of course, is very important. Grant also is very big on intermittent fasting, which I think is a valuable tool. 

I mean, when in human history with three meals and two snacks a day, part of our experience, again, like the food pyramid, a wonderful economic model for selling lots of food and creating lots of diseases, which creates a very big industry for managing that disease, just not a very good health model.

A great way of helping you control blood sugar levels

Intermittent fasting is an excellent way of reproducing really what our human experience was and whether that is some 18:6., I think that will give you 24 hours. Or 16:8, meaning for 18 or 16 hours, you are not eating, but for 6 or 8 hours, you might have a late brunch, lunch or an early dinner.

It is a great way of helping you control blood sugar levels. Of course, it’s incredibly cheap. I mean, does it get any cheaper than not eating and is it any more accessible? You have nothing to buy, nothing to prepare. You can meditate and go out and walk instead. It’s a win-win all around.

Of course, the reminder about healthy fats and that to any regular listener, we all know that seed oils, which again are recommended by the Australian Dietitians Association, The Heart Foundation, the demonisation of animal-based saturated fats, has been a public health message, which, together with the food pyramid, goes a long way to explaining the poor health we are suffering from in our Western society. 

Seed oils, again, are a wonderful thing for keeping things on the shelf for longer, but they’re just not a very good health thing. Promoting chronic inflammation. So healthy fats is another one.

A.C.T. (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)

I thought one of the most interesting things about the discussion this week with Grant Schofield was he’s also focused on A.C.T. (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which is such an interesting concept in terms of us using psychological tools to help us navigate through the health problems that we may have.

One of the things in this podcast, in my book, in the Unstress Health Platform, is we talk about life being a balancing act. On the one hand, identifying and minimising as many stressors as possible. I define a stressor as anything that reduces immune function and promotes chronic inflammation. To that effect, we identified and minimised as many of those things as possible. That is about emotional, environmental, postural, nutritional, and dental stress. 

Focussing on emotional stress, one of the things that we’ve often said on this programme is that while the world we live in, we are bombarded by events and people that we have very little control over, what we do have control over is how we think about those things.

Of course, that is easier said than done, but Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a formalised way of focussing on that. Of course, it’s, as I said, easier said than done. I will just get over it. Think about the tragedies of the world and think about them differently.

I think that is a powerful tool, and I think of times when somebody close to me has died, and I feel tremendous grief and quite obviously upset. This is an example, I think, of acceptance and commitment.

Rather than focus on the loss that has been that you’ve suffered because of that death, why not focus on all the benefits and the joys you receive from having known that person for the length of time that you did? And that is an incredible gift.

I know in my own life when we had, for example, between our two children, I have been extremely fortunate and grateful to have two wonderful daughters who are now 36, and coming up for, I think coming up for 32… 33 this year, actually. But between our two daughters, we have a stillborn, and that was an experience that we just simply weren’t expecting. 

When you’re pregnant, you expect to be giving birth to a life and healthy baby. In our case, we reached full term, and we had a stillborn. It was an incredible shock to us. It made us look at our two, at the time, two-year-old daughters as an incredibly precious thing we always knew she was. 

When life is as tenuous as that and things don’t work out as you’d hoped they will, then focussing on what you have is incredible. We went to see a grief counsellor. It was an incredible experience because the grief counsellor had us focus on the fact that we managed to get pregnant, which a lot of people don’t have, you know, they haven’t experienced. 

That was an incredibly enriching experience to actually have been pregnant and to actually have watched this child, this, as it turned out, girl have grown intrauterine. And yes, it was tragic, but it happened for a reason. 

We didn’t actually ever find out what that reason was, but it happened for a reason. And we should rather just focus on the fact that we could get pregnant. I looked forward, hopefully, to the next pregnancy to focus on how precious our existing daughter at the time was. And when our second daughter arrived, we would just, you know, it made it so special.

I guess that was an example of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy because we accepted what had happened and committed to it. It was a change in the way we approach this. Accepting and changing your attitude about things and committing to that change is a very powerful tool. Often easier said than done, which is why this whole holistic approach of identifying and minimising as many of those other stressors and building resilience by focussing on the two foundational pillars of sleep and breathe, which allowed us then to go on and think more constructively about the nourish move and think pillars. 

It was a great episode this week. It is always a great episode, a great opportunity to talk to a professor of public health, particularly one as knowledgeable as Grant Schofield, and I hope you find that episode as enjoyable and informative as I did, but it was an opportunity to reflect on that in this Healthy Bite. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.

This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.