A Functional Medicine Doc’s Approach to Daily Self-Care

Do I walk my talk?

You bet I do!

And I have a plan, a life plan… a way to navigate each and every day to support and nourish myself so that I feel my best and can be my best.

You’ll not learn about life “hacks” here. I have to create time every day for those non-negotiable aspects of self-care that support me the most: enough sleep, movement and exercise, preparation and consumption of nourishing food, meditation, invigorating work that is not excessive, connection and community, downtime–laughter, rest, and play.

I’ve learned the hard way, after Universal Smackdowns (how my friends and I laughingly refer to the Big Takedowns that turned our lives around), that there are no short cuts to healing and vigor. Exhaustion, illness, and big injuries forced me to give up my resistance to needed change and lifestyle habits that no longer served me well, and to carve out a daily routine of self-care that nourishes, strengthens, and fortifies me.

My clients and readers often ask me what I do–what does my self-care strategy look like?

It’s been an evolution (and still is) over decades of exploration and discovery about what it takes to feel my best. For me it’s about what sustains my best energy, vitality, and life flow.

It may look like I’m high maintenance. Truth is, I am (and I would submit that we all are). I’ve had to overcome many forces that have worked against me–my hard head, my passion for life (too much all at once), my genetics, and old near-hard-wired-in habits (but even old dogs can learn new tricks–the miracle and science of neuroplasticity.)

My Work In Progress

6 am: Alarm goes off–I’ve very often already woken up just a few minutes before this, as my internal clock knows what I need. I lay there just a moment or two and say my well-practiced affirmation, “It’s a beautiful day,” or “Thank you for this beautiful day.” These statements don’t always reflect what I actually feel when I first awaken, especially on high intensity work days, but this now decades-old practice shifts my first-awake-anxious brain instantly, setting a much needed positive tone for the day.

6:05 am: Up out of bed. Take my first morning supplements with 16 ounces of hot water: adrenal support (licorice, Ashwaganda, Rhodiola), detoxification support (combination of herbs and nutrients), magnesium, turmeric extract.

6:07 am: Head downstairs to make tea: decaffeinated (I’m not opposed to caffeine, but I have to be careful with it) Sencha ground green tea 1 tsp, in 12 ounces hot water, with 1/2 cup coconut cream and squirt of MCT oil.

6:10 am: Head back upstairs to my meditation room. Set my Insight Timer to 1 hour. My meditation ritual starts with a quick three words on my Words With Friends app (instant joy–great way to start a meditation practice). I write my morning pages for 15-20 minutes. This is the “dump” part of my dump and dive approach to meditation: I dump my thoughts, worries, lists, questions, and important affirmations on the page. This settles my mind and makes it ripe for meditation. Then I dive into my internal meditation practice.  This varies from day to day in some respects but always includes grounding (my nuanced version of a body scan from tips of my toes to top of my head), chakra (energy center) awakening and balancing, prayer, affirmations, and mantra.

Meditation has become a non-negotiable part of starting my day. It strengthens and prepares me for my day. If I have to I’ll shorten it to accommodate a hectic day, but I put it above all else.

7:15 am: Shower, dress, and get ready for my day.

8:00 am: I head into work–either my office (just a 3 minute drive from my house–I know, I’m a spoiled princess!) where I see clients or my home office where I do my writing.

I do not eat breakfast. I have been practicing intermittent fasting for the last couple of years. I go 16 to 18 hours from the previous evening meal to my first meal of the day. I have the simple tea, hot water, and energy-supporting fat (coconut cream and MCT oil) first thing–this sustains me through the morning. This practice has resulted in elevated, sustainable energy for me throughout my day.

I have standing desks at both work stations. I stand as much as possible when doing administrative work at the office or writing at home. I wear a Fitbit, which reminds me to move every half hour (I can get very focused on my work and forget to move–even standing can be taxing if I don’t change positions or walk around from time to time).

9:00 am: On Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to yoga class with a yoga community I’ve been a part of for many years. This is a divine way to take a break before I start seeing clients on theses days. Yoga helps me breathe, stretch, strengthen, and ponder important life messages provided by my teacher, which always seem to align with what I need or have been thinking about (we’re all in this life together!).  Combining all of these elements has led to deep learning and greater equanimity.

11:30 am: On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I go to my Crossfit class and work my ass off. This is a great break and a fun, communal environment to learn and support more intense forms of exercise. We work on strength, explosive movement, balance, and functional form. It’s hard, sometimes awkward as I learn new skills, and pushes me out of my comfort zone (great for my brain!). I also go on Saturday at 9 am.

12-2:00 pm: My first meal of the day lands somewhere in here, depending on the day. What I eat varies. Sometimes I make a smoothie that I pack with nutrient-dense foods. Here’s what I had this week: 2 scoops of Opticleanse–creamy chocoloate (meal-replacement “medical food” made by Xymogen, containing hypoallergenic protein and nutrients to support metabolic detoxification), 1 whole avocado, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup coconut cream, 2 cups of kale and/or spinach, squirt of MCT oil, tablespoon of cinnamon, teaspoon of pure cocoa powder, enough water to make it a nice consistency for drinking. I blend this for about 2 minutes in my VitaMix. It finishes smooth as silk and is delicious.

I drink my smoothie and take my daily nutritional supplements: multivitamin/mineral (Designs for Health (DFH)–DFH Complete Multi with copper), multi-mineral (DFH–Complete Mineral Complex), Fish oil (Metagenics EPA-DHA 720), GLA (DFH GLA-240), Digestive enzymes with betaine HCl (DFH Digestzymes), Probiotics (Metagenics’ Ultraflora Spectrum and Researched Nutritionals’ Core Biotics soil-based organisms), Vitamin D3 (DFH K2D3 10K). These have all been carefully worked out based on my unique needs.

If I’m not in the mood for a smoothie I’ll eat leftovers from the night before. This week it was grilled wild-caught Alaskan King salmon, about 5 ounces, and 2 cups mixed greens with olive oil. I would love to have eaten more veg, but this was very filling.

Throughout the day: I drink water in some form or another all day, about 3 quarts, more on days with intense workouts. I drink filtered water, carbonated water (that I make myself with a Soda Stream), and herbal tea. I drink a few ounces of locally made Kombucha at some point. On gym days I drink my own version of a sports recovery drink. It contains: 24 ounces water, branched-chain amino acids (to stimulate muscle protein synthesis: 10-15 grams; DFH), collagen powder (30 grams; Great Lakes Collagen), Paleo Greens (1 Tablespoon; DFH), Liquid Coenzyme Q-10 (Metagenics’ Nanocell Q; 1 tsp).

5:30-6:30 pm: This is the “witching hour” in our house when the dogs are clambering around to be walked and fed and dinner needs to be prepared. Right now my 23-year old son, Sean, my husband, and I share these duties. We try to eat by 6:30. What’s on our plates varies but will include some form of healthy protein, around 5 ounces of wild-caught fish, pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed beef, or organic eggs, with a pile of veggies to fill my plate. I shoot for a combination of dark greens, a crucifer, an occasional sweet potato, miscellaneous peppers, avocado, cilantro, radishes, mushrooms. We try to vary it up, keep it fun, and experiment with  new recipes, though we do get into ruts when everyone is super busy. Tonight I’m making salmon cakes from left-over grilled wild-caught salmon and will have a nice spinach-bacon salad with it.

My food rules: All healthy, organic, cruelty-free, sustainable food. No grains, sugars, beans or legumes, or animal milk products. Healthy fat at every meal (from avocado, olives, coconut, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry and eggs). Adequate protein for my needs. Two meals daily and occasional small snacks. I keep my carb count low and am in ketosis most of the time, though I’m no longer actively counting (look for future post on the ketogenic intensive nutrition food plan!).

What do I drink with dinner? I enjoy sparkling water in small amounts. By 6 pm I’m backing off on what I drink so I don’t have to get up in the night because of a full bladder–I’m having none of that! On many nights I will enjoy a glass of wine as well. I usually have this after dinner, either red or white, which ever I’m in the mood for. Sipping fermented beverages is a great way to close the day–when not excessive they can support a healthy diet.

8:00 pm: I sure hope to be on my way upstairs to start my bedtime ritual by this time, especially on work nights. I’ve learned that sleep is absolutely non-negotiable for me. By the time my teeth are brushed, my bedtime supplements have been taken (magnesium, turmeric extract, melatonin, detox support), it’s 8:30. I put soft earplugs in keep the house noise down (dogs wandering around and such) and turn out the lights. I always read for awhile with a heating pad on under my neck and shoulders–a ritual I started a few years ago after shoulder surgery that I still love. As soon as I start nodding off, I put my book down and head off to sleep. A few affirmations escort me into deep slumber: “Thank you for the deep, restorative sleep,” “Good things are happening.”

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Resources:

Insight Timer App: www.insighttimer.com

Karyn Shanks, MD. Thought Shifting: Using the Power of Positive Affirmations to Change Our Minds. 2016.

Karyn Shanks, MD. Healing 101: My Ten Rules for Starting a Meditation Practice. 2016.

Karyn Shanks, MD. Fatigue and Overwhelm: Rescue Your Adrenals. 2017.

Karyn Shanks, MD. Detox is About Letting Go: Part One of a Series. 2016.

Karyn Shanks, MD. Detox is About Letting Go: Part Two of a Series. 2016.

Karyn Shanks, MD. Protein: How Much Do We Need to Support Optimal Health? 2016.

KARYN SHANKS MD

Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-five-year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • lori says:

    Thank you for sharing the idea that the journal is a place to “dump thoughts, lists, feelings, emotions etc before one starts to meditate.
    I enjoy reading your thoughtful, informative, clear blogs.

  • Jill says:

    Karyn,
    As I sit quietly in the early morning and read this writing , tears of gratitude and a heart felt pleasure enfold me as my horizons expand with the sharing of your Daily Self Care program. Thank you. To give oneself such attention in such detail is a discipline indeed and something I endeavour to do however miss bits out. I get stuck on allowing myself time for the meditation.You are an inspiration and YES we must walk our talk . I will use this structure to improve my self care. Namaste.

    • Hi Jill,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I would say that self-care is an iterative process… it’s hard and we learn what we need with time. It’s taken me decades to get to where I am now and I’m still very much a work in progress! Wishing you the very best and many blessings…

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