Dealing With RA Emotionally And Mentally With Dr Doug Lisle
You’re about to learn:
– What the emotional states of frustration and anger really are
– How better health creates greater happiness
– How small improvements can create a sense of opportunity
– Clint’s definition of hope
– True North Health Centre addresses the most problematic cases
– Communicating about our RA can lead to clinically improved outcomes
– The delicacy of treating RA
– Dr Lisle’s #1 parting tip for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Disclaimer -the information on this site is not medical advice. Before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, exercise, drug or supplement routines you must first discuss the changes with a licensed professional.
Clint: Fantastic episode today. Really excited to have our VIP guest, Dr. Doug Lisle. He’s the Director of Research at TrueNorth Health Center, the home of Dr. Klaper as well who we know and love, and the psychologist for the McDougall Wellness Program. He’s co-author of the book “The Pleasure Trap” which he also presented as a entertaining and fabulous TED Talk. So as I said, VIP guest today. Good day, Dr. Doug Lisle.
Dr. Lisle: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Clint: Well, yeah. I mean, we’re really excited, and we’ve never had a psychologist on the episode…sorry, on the show before. You know, we often talk nitty-gritty about what’s happening at a physical level and how we can address things with our food, but the emotional side of having a chronic disease is a huge component of the existence of this stuff, right? And so I wanted to dig into that today and to offer some insights and help for people who really are suffering emotionally.
So before we get into that heavy stuff, let me ask you a really social question. As a psychologist, how often do you go to a party, and when you introduce yourself as a psychologist, and someone says, “Oh, don’t talk to me. You’re gonna know that I’m a crazy immediately?”
Dr. Lisle: Yeah. Not much because I don’t go to a lot of parties. So there you go. I’m safe from that.
Clint: Right, right, right.
Dr. Lisle: And sometimes, people certainly overestimate the x-ray psychological vision of psychologists. And so, trust me, you’re perfectly safe.
Clint: That’s so funny. You know, it’s exactly the same when…you know, if I respond with “I’m a comedian,” which I’ve been doing for 16 years, like in parallel, the suffering of being entertaining. And so, when I’m at a party, like you, rarely these days, and someone says, “What do you do?” I say, “I do standup comedy,” and they think that you’re going to be funny, like endlessly from that very moment.
Dr. Lisle: Right.
Clint: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Lisle: Right. Sure.
Clint: Okay. Well, thanks for clearing that up for me. So let me tell you, in case you don’t know too much about my background, in 20 seconds, I had absolutely severe, crippling rheumatoid. Could barely walk. My wife was helping me to the bathroom. I was on maximum tablet dose of methotrexate. I had a complete synovectomy in my left elbow within two years of diagnosis, and I was looking at all of the big, you know, heaviest drug options and just took it upon myself to dedicate my life to trying to get well. But, boy, the frustration and the anger, the emotional states that I went through. You know, I have more than a dozen occasions thought during those difficult times, “Is it all even worth it?” Like I got to some really dark places. And in preparation for our discussion, I wrote down frustration and anger as the two things that emotionally dominated my mind. And I’m wondering if you could comment on, you know, how detrimental these are and ways that we might be able to alleviate some of that when we’re in that kind of emotional state.
Dr. Lisle: Yeah. It probably helps to understand what those emotions are and why they work the way they work. So they’re both very similar to each other. They’re not quite the same. They are very close cousins. So let me tell you first about anger, and what anger is is the following. Anger is an emotion that is… Well, first of all, all emotions are designed as signals. They’re actually biological signaling devices, and they are there to signal potentially other organisms, and they also signal the system itself. So they actually have more than one signaling target. So there’s reasons for that that are complicated, but a major part of this is to actually signal other people. You also might signal your cat. If your cat is in the way and you’re coming down the hallway with a big box, you signal with your voice tone that you are angry, and that will scare the cat and get the cat out of the way.
So this is how these signaling mechanisms work. We signal to each other. Either we like each other or dislike each other. We also signal when our feelings are hurt. So this is what emotions are, is they are signaling devices. And anger is a signal that tells other people that “You are treating me unfairly, and you need to stop it. And if you don’t stop it, I’m going to threaten you with an outcome. Yeah. I’m gonna impose costs on you.” Okay? So the anger will come along with some imagination of retaliation that you’re going to do, and it comes along with the feeling that you want to threaten somebody to essentially make them give you a concession.
And so people, when they’re very angry and there’s nobody to target it at, it’s a diffused anger sort of at the world, at maybe their creator, or whatever it is that they’re thinking, and even essentially at their own life itself. Like they just feel like, “You know what? I’m so angry I just might kill us. I’m so mad.” And so this is sort of how this works. So when you see two people, if one person is angry with another person, the reason why we have anger is actually to activate guilt on the other side because it is from guilt that we get concessions.
So if we’re angry at the clerk at the store, the anger signal tells the clerk, “Hey, I’ve been treated unfairly, and I’m going to retaliate. I may go on the internet and tell about your store. I may go to your boss and tell your boss that I haven’t been treated fairly. I may go to an attorney and sue you people.” In other words, there’s a latent threat that sits under anger. And the most ancient threat that sits under anger is violence.
And so this is why, for example, referees are known to give the home teams a break at the end of close games. It’s because the referees intuitively know that if this was in the Stone Age, they’d be killed. And so out of literally a Stone Age sense of survival, they lean to the home team about 64% of the time when the calls are close. So it goes about 64/36. This is really good science on this across all different sports, but we’re trying to get rid of this now with instant replay. And what’s happening with the instant replay is, essentially, we are telling the crowd, “No. We are now looking at it in slow motion very carefully, and what we’re gonna tell you is going to be fair.” See? And as a result of this, this essentially gets the referee out of the middle of this mess and diffuses the anger of the crowd, and therefore, we can actually have the games more fair. But before this, before we had this, very strong home team advantage in close games because of this issue.
So anger is a threat. And the other side of that threat is it’s meant to engender guilt. So it’s meant to have the other person feel guilty. And when you are…feel guilty, you basically feel like, “Ooh, I’ve treated you unfairly. I need to do something extra for you.” So if you’re a patient and you are really hurting and the doctor hasn’t helped you, you are angry in order to cause guilt in the doctor, in order to get concessions, i.e., pull the other magic out of your hat, stuff that’s really expensive that you only get from Eastern China, from the shaman, like whatever it is. “You give me whatever it is you have that’s gonna work because, by God, you owe it to me because the other thing didn’t work.”
So that’s actually what the anger mechanism is doing. And unfortunately, in this case, it’s not gonna help us much, okay? But in a subtle way, it did help you because another part of the anger threat is “Well, then I’m going to quit this transaction with you. I’m gonna quit this relationship and I’m gonna go elsewhere.” See?
Dr. Lisle: That’s kind of what you did. Okay? You used all the anger you could and leveraged it at the people that were in front of you and signaled to them your…you would call it your frustration, but really that’s a miniature version of anger is what that is. And so you leveraged this anger, and it turned out it got you nowhere. That’s because medicine didn’t have an answer that was gonna work. And so then you actually did take your ball and you went home and you said, “I’ll find somebody else, then.” You know what I’m saying? And that’s what happened, and good thing. Good thing because it turned out, miraculously, there was a solution sitting outside of the conventional modern medicine which is usually not true. You know what I’m saying?
Dr. Lisle: Usually, there’s no better way to heal a bone. There’s no better way to survive a car crash with multiple lacerations than go to your emergency room. Those people are smart and they’re competent, okay? If you’ve got a cataract on your eye, don’t go to the shaman, you know. Go to the eye surgeon. So most of the time, the right thing to do is to go to a physician who’s trained in that problem, but not here. This is one of those times when there was information out there that they’re not privy to. And so, fortunately, your anger and frustration drove you away from those relationships, and you were fortunate that it turned out there was more information.
Clint: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, that’s very informative. It sort of ties in in a way that I didn’t quite…like a few connections there, but my keynote presentation that I give to companies and to health professional organizations is pain is a great motivator. And it wasn’t just the physical pain. It was that anger and that frustration because searching for a solution, boy, you’re motivated when each day you wake up and you can’t actually…like I couldn’t write jokes because my hand hurt. I couldn’t sit still. You can’t do anything but try and solve the problem that’s so great that it affects every part of your life.
Dr. Lisle: Absolutely. You bet.
Clint: Okay. Now, I know you’re a plant-based person yourself. You endorse all of the same principles as Dr. McDougall and Dr. Klaper and all of our other esteemed friends who have been guests also on our show. Do you think that there are different emotional states between people who follow a plant-based diet than those who consume a lot of animal products?
Dr. Lisle: I don’t think so. In other words, I don’t think that the food itself is directly causing this, but here’s where there can be a big change. When Dr. McDougall, many years ago, about 15 years ago, maybe 20, was asked to go up and do a program for some patients, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, I believe it was in Minnesota, he had our standard one-week program or 10-day program, and I think it might have been a little longer that time. At any rate, they had I think 20 or so very sick people that they had handpicked to come to this week, and they also had a psychologist there. This was before my time. This was before I joined up with Dr. McDougall.
So there was a psychologist that was there basically to kind of do research on the week and to talk to people and then to give them some psychological tests, etc. One of the things that came out of this was very interesting, and that is, at the end of the week, people were massively less depressed than they were going in. They were way happier. And it isn’t like you can recover that much health in a week. You know, if you’ve got a health problem, you may see some benefit in a week, and you probably will, but you might not see…it’s only the first step.
So if you’re 150 pounds overweight, you might lose two or three pounds, but your digestion may be better. You may be sleeping slightly better because there’s less flem from the dairy products. In other words, the changes may be relatively subtle, but the important thing was, along with the message from Dr. McDougall, who is a great communicator about the power of this, what happens is that people’s self-confidence that there’s a solution went way higher.
So they came in basically feeling defeated. Like they were a long-term type two diabetic. There’s no feeling in their feet. They’re gonna be in a wheelchair. They’re gonna lose their eyesight. In other words, basically, they feel like they’re in a cul-de-sac and there’s no way out. Whereas after this, McDougall essentially shows you, “Here’s the stepping stones, and I have a great deal of confidence that you’re gonna get a lot better.” And when they could see that they were getting better and 20 other people around them were also having similar moves in the right direction, suddenly the self-confidence that there is a solution goes way up. Okay. So if you can think of yourself in prison, that if it turns out that you’re in some camp and there’s a big 10-foot electrified fence around it and guards and everything, but then, you know, you see that there’s a way to dig out. It turns out that there’s…it’s like “Shawshank,” all right?
Clint: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite films. Yeah.
Dr. Lisle: You bet. So you can imagine what it feels like when he starts to chisel at the wall and the wall is not solid, and suddenly he realizes, “Wait a minute. There’s a way out.” And as soon as you start to feel like there’s a way out, this changes everything in your mind. Your mind is a web or a network of cost-benefit analysis about life and about what choices to make, and whether life’s worth it, and how worth it it is, and what you’re gonna do, and what all the decisions that you’re gonna do, etc. And if a major inference that sits in your mind is that, “You know what? I think that this pain is only gonna get worse, and my disability is only gonna get worse, and I’ve seen my best days on earth, and it’s agony.” Well, then, you know, it is a rational inference to say, “How do I start thinking about how I’m gonna check out?” You know, “What’s gonna be the effect on my family? How would I pull this off? You know, could I do it and still cash an insurance policy so my wife and kids…?” You know, this is the place the mind is gonna go.
As soon as you find that somebody says, “Guess what? All the intelligents and A plus students that wound up in modern medicine and wound up being the doctor that treated you for RA, turned out they missed a huge chapter in the book of life. There’s something they didn’t know, and it’s big. And it turns out that if you do what I tell you to do, you will start feeling better. And I’m not sure how soon, but it could be very soon.”
Well, it’s not uncommon at the McDougall program for people to come in in acute pain with their hands clenched up and in trouble, and within three or four days, their pain is down 50%, 80%, etc. All it takes is for it to go down noticeably. It might be 20%. And suddenly, our understanding about life’s entire matrix changes, and now all the tentacles go out to your whole mind about your whole future and what it all means and what potential hope there is in your life for the future. And suddenly, you are in a whole new ball game. That is the tremendous value of having, you know, an answer of any kind.
And so I have to tell you as a psychologist, chronic pain is the most difficult thing that I ever deal with, and if I have a person that’s in chronic pain and we cannot solve it by superior diet and fasting, I’m in trouble. I’ve only had a few. You know what I’m saying? And that is a very tough position to be in as an individual and as their psychologist because there’s only so much you can do. But I’ll tell you what, for rheumatoid arthritis and a lot of these other autoimmune conditions, ulcerative colitis, a lot of these things are highly related, it turns out there’s a great deal you can do.
And sometimes, I will say this, and Dr. Klaper probably would say this in his own way, and he might not say it quite the way I would say it, and it’s sometimes the difference for substantial success in some of these really touchy autoimmune conditions… Sometimes, the difference of success is the difference between 97% compliance and 100% compliance.
Clint: So true. So true.
Dr. Lisle: So nature essentially may tell us, “Look, if you do this and you do it brilliantly, we’re gonna give you a reprieve, and that reprieve may be complete or it may be 75%, but we’re gonna give you a very substantial, different life to look at. But if you fiddle around with it, sorry. And you know, there’s no bargaining with this.” And it’s totally not fair, okay? But if you can win the game despite the fact that it’s unfair, that’s all we care about.
Clint: Absolutely. Boy, that was some sensational stuff there. I’ve written two things down that I want to sort of comment back on. First of all, you mentioned the word hope in those paragraphs, and you’re 100% right because one thing that the feedback that I get several times each day from new clients who are following my program which is a variation of what Dr. McDougall does. We have a different elimination phase, and it’s all tailored specifically for RA.
And also, like Dr. McDougall, it’s all referenced through scientific literature and so forth, but you know, to a gross outsider, they look very similar. And what happens is, as you say, when even only the smallest improvement occurs, an astronomical change to the potential life ahead opens up because they’ve never experienced an improvement before, even at 5%, 10%. But when it’s 50%, as you say, within days, I mean, you know, tears run down faces and things. I mean, this is a whole new world. And so, again, like when I give my presentation, I’ve defined hope for live presentations, and when I consult with clients, as having a game plan to move from Point A to Point B. That’s practically what hope is because a lack of hope, as I’ve come to understand, is not having that game plan. That is a lack of hope.
Dr. Lisle: Yes. Absolutely. That’s what it is.
Clint: Yeah. And that’s what I found in practical terms. And then, also with regards to the compliance, it’s so true. If someone eats like 95% correctly, but the 5% that they’re eating includes a little bit of olive oil, for instance, which is inflammatory for leaky gas, it just sabotages that entire effort because that little bit of gasoline on that little bit of fire is going to blow it right up. So, just loved what you’re saying.
Dr. Lisle: Absolutely. I could tell you many cases because we at TrueNorth Health Center, of course, we’ve been there 30 years and we’ve had all kinds of…we call ourselves the last resort. It is truly the last place anybody goes.
Dr. Lisle: Nothing else has worked, they’ve tried everything, and now, well, this is the last thing left. And so when they come, we are able to then…obviously, very often, we’re very successful at reversing some of these really nasty conditions, but then what we will find is that the condition is really, you know, ravagingly unfair to the point where if they sometimes get just one inch out of line, the entire mess will come back with a vengeance, and it shows us how little margin for error we have. This is essentially never true with heart disease. So with heart disease, you know, this is very…this is like a slow-moving train that behaves itself very well, and if you do the wrong thing for 50 or 60 years in a row and then you’re in trouble, well, then you just have to start doing this quite a good job. You have to do it like a 95% job, and you’ll start to right the ship without any problem.
But I don’t mean diseases don’t tend to be this way. They tend to be unbelievably touchy. And I can remember a woman that came in about 20 years ago with ulcerative colitis, and had been miserable for 15 or 20 years. Just a horrendous situation. And she did a water fast which is often a very useful thing to sort of begin, and then we very carefully re-fed her, and she was out of pain, with normal bowel function for the first time since she was a child. And she was obviously unbelievably relieved.
About a month later, she ate something that she thought was fine, and then it turned out it had a little bit of dairy products in it, and it instantly flared her up, not all the way but significantly. And when she then went back and investigated it and found out there was a little bit of dairy products in it, she felt relieved because it was like, “Okay, there’s a cause and effect relationship here.” So she waited about a week, and then incredibly, she tried it again just to make sure, okay? And sure enough, same thing flared up. And so then she called us and told us. So she said, “Okay, now I’m 100% convinced” because she has now done the scientific experiment on herself and then wound up with no problem since then.
You know, for most things, I tell people, “Do a good job and don’t worry about the details.” For autoimmune diseases, that’s not what I say. I say, “You gotta do a great job.” You’ve got to remember what it feels like when you’re in such serious trouble that effectively you would do anything to get out of the mess. And now what we’re asking is, “Well, you know what? I think there’s a key to the door on the wall,” and it means accepting the limitations and the hassle of the whole natural foods outstanding diet. And that is not that big of a sacrifice. It’s nothing compared to the benefit. But what will happen is sometimes when you start to feel better, you get a little loose around the edges. That’s human nature, but that’s okay. People can find their way home.
Clint: That’s right. A quick return to the most anti-inflammatory simple foods again, and with a day or two, everyone’s back on track again with their autoimmunes.
Dr. Lisle: Yes. You got it.
Clint: I found some scientific literature about a year ago, maybe a little longer, that led me to start a support group where I not just interact with people as part of that community daily, but also coach them and offer support to them and so on. And the scientific literature explained that people with rheumatoid arthritis had clinically improved outcomes if they simply talked about their condition on a regular basis to other people. And I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Why is it that when we simply share our problems that we seem to feel better and, evidently, actually do better?
Dr. Lisle: Yes. The doing better surprises me a little bit.
Clint: All right.
Dr. Lisle: And I think it’s interesting. And of course, I’ve seen some things alluded it out of literature in other things before, and then careful re-analysis showed that it wasn’t true.
Clint: I’ll flick you the studies, and you tell me whether or not you think they’re legitimate.
Dr. Lisle: You know what? It could be true, and it wouldn’t surprise me particularly with such a touchy condition like this. Yeah, because how adrenalized the person is, the nerves are so much involved in these conditions that if we have some adrenalization and we’re sort of amped up and frustrated, then I could see that that could be an exacerbating feature that I wouldn’t see, for example, in heart disease particularly, or cancer, by the way. So the first place that this was reported was 25 years ago in cancer studies done at Stanford, and they had to print an embarrassing retraction a few years later when it turned out that it was not so.
Dr. Lisle: Yeah. It was sort of a big deal. But the point is is that certainly talking with other people, is what’s happening here is that you know that if you’ve got a serious problem, you are not sure what to do about it. There is uncertainty, and so you’re designed by nature to essentially do research and to figure out how on earth you’re going to fix this thing. And so, as a result, it’s very useful to talk to people that are maybe in the same boat at different places along the way.
This is why it is useful to talk to particularly knowledgeable others, and a knowledgeable other may be somebody that doesn’t know that much more than you technically, but they have a similar life experience, and so you can sort of check your own life experiences and see where they’re mirroring it and therefore reasonable as opposed to where their departure from someone else, etc. So in this way, you inform yourself about a lot of nuances that you are going through, and so you’re becoming better informed. And more knowledge inherently is useful because the more knowledge you have about anything, you are reducing your likelihood of mistakes in the future. That’s what we call smart. That’s what we call smartphone. That’s what we call smart refrigerator. You know, essentially, what are we doing with smarts is information is the reduction of error or future behavior, and that’s what is going on there. And so you inherently feel like you’re becoming better informed, and therefore, you’ll make better decisions. And so, of course, then, a person definitely would feel better because that process is gonna feel productive.
Clint: Yeah, definitely. I spent so much of my disposable income on amazon.com, doing all of the research I possibly could. We used to have boxes of books arrive to our house. And you know, you’re gonna laugh at this. The day that I pulled out…what was his original book? Dr. John McDougall’s…I think it was called “The McDougall Plan.”
Dr. Lisle: Plan. “The McDougall Plan.”
Clint: Yeah. Now, I pulled it out and I saw his big grin on the front of it. And McDougall, when you first hear the name, isn’t your typical doctor’s name, right?
Dr. Lisle: Yes.
Clint: So there he is with his big grin and his big apple and his big smile, and I thought, “Is this guy gonna be my answer?” You know what I mean? And, you know, I bought that book in addition to about, you know, 10 or 12 others in the box at that time. That was just one load because, in the search inside this book feature on Amazon, I could see that he had a section on rheumatoid arthritis.
And, you know, we talked earlier about that sense of hope and that sense of what’s possible, and you’re always searching for that when you’re in chronic pain, and I read that he, with conviction across about…it was only about half a page in that book or maybe a page that he had successfully reversed rheumatoid arthritis patients, and he was the only doctor who just laid it on the line and said, “You can do this. You can do this.” And I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna buy all of his work. I’m gonna go on his website.” And that’s when I McDougall-ized into [inaudible [00:30:01]. And yeah, it was massive, but the educational process for us was profound. I’ve said before, I believe I’ve done far more research in rheumatoid arthritis than what I ever did in my four-year honors degree in laser physics.
Dr. Lisle: Sure.
Clint: So I’m more of a…I’ve spent more educational hours in this than my paid education. And that’s why, you know, I feel that a lot of my results came is just through education.
Dr. Lisle: Absolutely.
Clint: You’ve been generous with your time. I just want to ask you for some final thoughts or takeaways. Let’s say you’re sitting next to someone on a plane right now, and you’re about to step off the plane, never see them again, and they turn to you and they say, “Dr. Lisle, I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis.” Is there anything you could tell me as some parting words? Any sort of little takeaways or things that you would really want them to know?
Dr. Lisle: Yes. I would tell ’em, “Look up Dr. John McDougall,” and I would tell them, “I’m not kidding. This will work, okay? This will work.” Now that I hear about you, actually, I would let them know about you for the following reason, and that is that Dr. McDougall cannot be a fine-tuned expert on 150 conditions. So it sounds like you have drilled down through a bunch of subtle details here, and your map of what the roadmap is is probably more refined than his, it sounds like. That is fantastic. But I would certainly let them know that there is a solution, as hopeless as it seems and as fantastical as it sounds. The truth of the matter is there’s a way out of this mess which is fantastic.
Clint: Yeah. Thank you for those words here. Have a chat to Dr. Klaper. Him and I did an event together over here in Sydney when he was out and developed a special bond. He’s an extraordinarily lovely, generous, and, you know, just such a lovely person. And you know, we have deep respect for each other. And have a chat with him and get his thoughts on what I’m doing. I do believe at the moment, he’s sending everyone with this condition over towards our direction here. I certainly get a lot of people who say they’ve come to me via Dr. Klaper. And you know, similarly, we use him as our medical practitioner for people in our support community. So a lot of regard there in both directions.
So thank you for those comments and thanks for coming on our podcast. You’ve got a website and it’s called “Esteem Dynamics.” I’m gonna read out the URL here, so grab a pen, or you know, if you’re watching this, I’ll put it in the description underneath the video. It’s esteemdynamics.org. That’s esteemdynamics.org, esteemdynamics.org. And Dr. Lisle, you do Skype consultations, don’t you?
Dr. Lisle: I sure do. Mm-hmm.
Clint: And people can book them from the website?
Dr. Lisle: Absolutely.
Dr. Lisle: All over the world, Skype, phone calls, whatever makes sense for people.
Clint: Well, I tell you that, yeah, I would have been in touch with you had I known about yourself. Now that I’ve brought this to the attention of listeners, I think if you’re in a place that we can get to at times, which is very dark, and you’re in a lot of pain and no one understands, then it’s only a matter of reaching out and speaking to Dr. Lisle and helping to put things in perspective because if I had given up and walked in front of a bus, then, you know, things would be very different, so.
Dr. Lisle: Okay. You got it.
Clint: Thank you very much. I’m so grateful, and I’ll let you get back to enjoying your sunny afternoon.
Dr. Lisle: Very good. Great to meet you.
Clint: You, too. Thanks again.
Dr. Lisle: Bye.