Part 2: Whole Health — 44 Revelations About Healing They DID NOT Teach Me In Medical School

Lissa Rankin, MD
6 min readJan 30, 2024

In this 7 part series, I’m reviewing the Cliff Notes of everything I should have learned in medical school, but didn’t- and everything I’ve learned since I finished my medical training about healing from my own research and self-study. If you haven’t read the first eight revelations about healing that I didn’t learn in medical school, please read Part 1 of this series here. We’ll be going into more detail about this material in a new online course I’m co-teaching with Jeffrey Rediger and Shiloh Sophia & Jonathan McCloud.

Early Bird Special: Register by February 9th and save $100. 9. Nutrient-dense foods are potent medicine. Learn more and register for INSPIRED here.

I didn’t get one single class on nutrition in medical school. Not one. I learned more about nutrition in elementary school, when they taught us about the USDA food pyramid (bread, cereal, rice and pasta at the bottom as what you should fill up on most, then fruits and vegetables next, then milk, yogurt and cheese, with fats, oils, and sweets used sparingly at the top. This pyramid has now been officially discredited, since we now know that a high carb, high glycemic index diet is not good for anyone- and that a low fat diet is not the answer, especially since products branded as “low fat” are usually loaded with refined sugars.

But they didn’t even teach us about the food pyramid in medical school. If anything, we were taught that disease is the result of obesity, of overnutrition from too much eating. There was no distinction between empty calories and dense nutrition. I now know that the opposite is true. The hunger mechanism is repetitively triggered when people are not getting the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, enzymes, and phyto-chemicals the body needs in order to operate physiological processes.

The truth is that people eating a standard Western diet are not over-nourished; they’re malnourished. It’s not just that you’re eating the wrong things that can poison you, like junk food, processed foods, trans fats, and sugar. It’s that if you’re filling up on non-nutritious food, you’re starving yourself of the nutrition the body needs in order to prevent and recover from disease.

The average American over 100 years ago consumed two pounds of sugar per year. No big deal. Now the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar per year. Our bodies were not made to handle that kind of load, because sugar is highly inflammatory. Such a high load of sugar in the bloodstream means that these sharp-edged little sugar crystals go coursing through our blood vessels and cause little cuts in the arteries, which then marshall your immune cells to come in and repair the micro-cuts. When you’re consuming a high load of sugar, year after year, this means you’re repairing cuts on top of scars, and you wind up with scars that we doctors call “atherosclerosis.”

There’s no single healing diet that works for everyone, but in general, high density, mostly plant-based nutrition that includes a broad range of nutritional value and includes low glycemic-index carbohydrates is your best bet. Think Mediterranean diet with loads of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, olive oil, seafood, and chicken, minus red meat, sugar, and filler foods that are nutrient-free.

10. Choose “Whole Health.”

[NOTE: The Public Health Nutrition Department at Harvard and the professor at Harvard who became the head of the FDA were paid by the sugar industry to say that fat is the problem and “low fat” is the solution, but it was the sugar industry funding that to divert attention away from the research showing that sugar was the problem. Learn about that scandal here. ]

Nutrition as medicine, exercise, getting enough sleep, following doctor’s orders, and other traditional wellness behaviors are essential building blocks of Whole Health. But on their own, they’re insufficient for optimal health outcomes. You can eat the world’s most pristine anti-inflammatory diet, work out every day, sleep 9 hours per night, take 100 supplements, and get the best conventional, alternative, or integrative medical treatment in the world. But if there’s untreated trauma impacting your nervous system, or if you’re making lifestyle choices that continuously retraumatize you- like staying close to an abusive narcissist or living under the influence of coercive control, you’re unlikely to be permanently cured from any chronic or life-threatening illness.

11. Your habitat matters.

If you have poor boundaries and stay in toxic relationships, you’re effectively marinating the cells of your body in the stress hormones of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol, rather than the healing hormones of endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. This ultimately causes your cells to misfire, break down, malfunction, and fail to do their jobs of self-repair. Instead, they will begin to attack the body that they are sworn to protect.

Where you reside, where you hang out, whether you’re surrounded by natural wild beauty or the tidy beauty of an organized, well-designed space matters. Whether you’re starved in a concrete jungle or living in a chaotic environment matters. Whether there’s noise pollution, toxic chemicals or mold in your environment, or lack of nature, your environment impacts your health. One of the reasons people tend to experience temporary relief when they go away on a healing retreat is that they’re removed from what might be a toxic living environment and they’re awash in a beauty bath. Sure, you can go away from a poisonous habitat and get temporarily transfused, but as soon as you go back to a habitat that doesn’t help you heal, your nervous system will register the poison.

12. Life force is essential to the healing process.

Not everybody has the choice to live in a beautiful habitat, go away on a healing retreat, or free themselves from the kind of chaos one might experience in inner city public housing. And that’s not fair. Everyone should be entitled to beauty baths in nature and a habitat that fosters healing. But we have a long way to go when it comes to health equity around healing habitats.

13. Pleasure, play, and laughter are good medicine.

Call it life force, call it chi, call it prana, call it energy, call it love or God or Shakti or the Holy Spirit. What you call it doesn’t matter. All of us have times in life when our life force wanes, and we become anemic on life force. Trauma is the most common reason for dwindling life force and reduced will to live. We all need life force to flow freely in our bodies in order to be optimally healthy, and if that flow gets impeded or our overall life force gets dangerously low, we may wind up with physical symptoms- and we might not survive. You might need drugs, surgeries, or other conventional medical interventions to save your life or spare an organ while your dwindling life force or reduced will to live gets addressed. But those interventions won’t solve the underlying problem of what interfered with your life force flow any more than a blood transfusion solves a bleeding problem or a bone marrow dysfunction.

To go deeper, join me, Jeffrey Rediger, Shiloh Sophia, and Jonathan McCloud for INSPIRED: A Trauma-Inspired Approach to Self-Healing so you can Heal At Last. Learn more and register for INSPIRED here.

Healing work can be painful, as we face everything we have compartmentalized into trauma bubbles we typically don’t touch. As we gently and patiently penetrate these bubbles so healing can happen, we need to counterbalance the discomfort with play, pleasure, laughter, and deep nurturing experiences. As your tolerance for pain increases, your tolerance for pleasure needs to increase just as much. Many trauma survivors have unconscious resistance against feeling good and receiving deliciously pleasurable experiences, usually because they don’t feel worthy of experiencing awe, joy, and pleasure. Feeling the pain of being human needs to be counterbalanced with feeling all the pleasures of all the senses that only creatures with human bodies can experience. Otherwise, healing can quickly devolve into masochism- which, of course, is not healing.

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Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.