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Dr. Andrew Weil's Tips for Achieving Emotional Well-Being

DECEMBER 2013: TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

Be Inkandescent’s Q&A with Dr. Andrew Weil, author of, “Spontaneous Happiness”

Are you seeking happiness? “I observe that many people are,” says Dr. Andrew Weil. “They imagine it will come to them if they get a raise, a new car, a new lover, or something else they want but do not have. My own experience, repeated many times, is that the actual emotional reward of getting and having is usually much less than the one imagined.”

Which is why he penned, “Spontaneous Happiness,” he says. The book offers more than 250 pages of recommendations to help us create an internal state of well-being that is relatively impervious to life’s transient ups and downs, and independent of what you have and don’t have.

What’s amazing to Dr. Weil is that one in 10 Americans—including children—are taking antidepressant drugs. The World Health Organization predicts that by the year 2030, more people worldwide will be affected by depression than by any other health condition.

Dr. Weil, who has struggled with moderate depression himself through midlife, investigates how we got here, what we can do outside of traditional medicine to start feeling more content, and how we can sustain this contentment through life’s inevitable dark patches.

In “Spontaneous Happiness,” he explains how, scientifically, emotionally, and spiritually, humans have the innate ability to achieve positive emotions without external agencies—a process he calls spontaneous because it is a natural one that does not rely on drugs or other medicines.

Scroll down for our Q&A, and click here for Dr. Weil’s 8-Week Plan to a Lifetime of Emotional Well-Being.


Be Inkandescent: What we love most about your book is the practical advice that you offer — including some affordable herbal remedies, that fact that exposure to light is really important, and simple breathing techniques to alleviate anxiety. Can you touch a little bit about each of these?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I think it is very important to get some exposure to bright light during the day as well to sleep in complete darkness. That’s a way of regulating our sleep-wake cycles, which are essential to good well-being. The most familiar herbal remedy is St. John’s Wort, and there’s good scientific evidence that this is quite useful for mild to moderate depression. It takes a while to work, there are some cautions about it, but generally it is safe and effective. I give specifics in the book on how to use that.

By the way, two other supplements are especially useful. One is vitamin D; it’s very important to get your vitamin D levels checked and to supplement to bring them up if they are low. There’s also a remedy called SAM-e. This is not herbal but it’s a dietary supplement that works quickly. It also has a benefit of alleviating pain of osteoarthritis. For people who are stressed and have muscular pain, it’s a good choice.

The breathing technique is a favorite subject of mine. I teach all patients simple breathing exercises. This draws on yoga philosophy. But regulation of breath is a very powerful technique to affect emotions. It’s impossible to be anxious, upset, angry, if you are breathing deeply, slowly, quietly, and regularly. So that gives you a method of controlling your emotional state at the very start of feeling anxious or upset. If you make your breathing deep, slow, quiet, and regular you can shut that off.

Be Inkandescent: Let’s step back a bit. Tell us—what inspired you to write this book?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I’m very alarmed at the completely reckless use of antidepressant medication in our culture today. I think one in 10 adults now are taking antidepressants. One in four of us are on psychiatric medication of some kind, including lots of kids. We have no idea what these drugs do to developing brains.

The pharmaceutical industry has been very successful in convincing people that ordinary states of sadness are matters of unbalanced brain chemistry that need to be treated with drugs. All of that has made me very concerned, and I wanted to give people practical alternatives to taking those medications—and instructions on how to get off them if you are on them.

They have their uses. There are certainly people with severe depression would do well on antidepressant drugs. But even then I would use them for a limited period, say up to a year, and then find ways to maintain improvement in other ways.

And I think there’s an awful lot of discontent in our society, as well as a lot of unreasonable cultural expectations—and this is going to be really strong as the holidays approach—that we are supposed to be happy all the time. That’s just not what human beings are. So I think coming to terms with our moods and learning simple strategies for maintaining that emotional sea level are very important. There’s just a lot of useful information that most people don’t know.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us more about the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. We’re huge fans of your research director, Dr. Esther Sternberg (pictured right), who was our Entrepreneur of the Month in June 2012, talking about “The Business of Healing Yourself.” She inspired us to connect with you for this issue. So tell us more about your Center.

Dr. Andrew Weil: Our major focus has been education. We train physicians, nurse practitioners, medical residents, and medical students in integrative medicine, which is this new system that incorporates alternative medicine, natural therapies, with standard medicine.

We’ve now graduated more than a thousand physicians from very intensive two-year trainings. In addition, we offer an integrated medicine clinic in Phoenix. It’s a primary care clinic that’s delivering this kind of medicine to increasing numbers of patients.

We do active research, which Dr. Sternberg is conducting and directing. And I would say we are the leading center in the world for training people in this new system, which I very firmly believe, is the future of healthcare.

Be Inkandescent: We also want to talk about your newest book, “True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure,” which also marks your foray into the restaurant business. The book features more than 125 recipes for the fresh, flavorful, healthy dishes you serve at your True Food Kitchen locations, of which there are currently seven — in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas. And it’s our featured article in our December 2013 Restaurant column, where we share two of your healthy, delicious recipes.

Dr. Andrew Weil: This is based on my philosophy of an anti-inflammatory diet, which figures prominently in, “Spontaneous Happiness.” There is evidence that uncontrolled inflammation of the body, which is the root of many chronic diseases, is also correlated with depression. And therefore following an anti-inflammatory diet is a very good strategy for both preventing and treating depression.

This is a way of eating based on the Mediterranean diet. I’ve added Asian influences to it. It in no way deprives you of pleasure, and I think the success of these kitchen restaurants shows that people love this kind of food, and the cookbook gives many recipes that are based on this philosophy.

Be Inkandescent: What are some of your favorite recipes?

Dr. Andrew Weil: There’s a kale salad that is one of the most popular and is a traditional Italian dish actually. There’s also a vegan curry cauliflower soup, which I invented and is terrific hot or cold. Click here to view those, and more.

Be Inkandescent: Let’s talk a little bit about the adventure of getting into the restaurant business. You said it began in 2007 when your business partner, Richard Baxter, arranged a meeting with third-generation restaurateur Sam Fox. Tell us about that.

Dr. Andrew Weil: I’m a very good home cook and I’ve developed my skills over the years. I make really good food, I’ve invented a lot of recipes, and many people over the years have said, “You ought to open a restaurant!” I was smart enough to know that I knew nothing about the restaurant business and that it was a very tough business. But eventually I had the chance to meet a very successful restaurateur, Sam Fox.

I told him that I thought nobody had tried to bring together the worlds of good nutrition and fine dining and I proposed this concept to him. But he didn’t get it. He said health food doesn’t sell. And I think he just thought I was talking about tofu and sprouts. So I invited him and his wife to my house and I cooked for them. He liked the food and his wheels began turning.

He said he was willing to give it a try but was very skeptical. He found a chef from one of his restaurants, Michael Fender, who I was able to work with pretty well. We created these menus. The first restaurant opened in Phoenix. It was wildly successful from Day One. We now have six, including locations in Colorado and California. There’s a seventh opening in Dallas next month. pretty soon we’ll have restaurants in many locations around the country.

Be Inkandescent: What else is on the horizon for you? What other books are you working on?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I’m actually doing a second cookbook now because there was a lot of demand from people for really simple, quick recipes. I constantly hear that people don’t have time to cook, that it’s intimidating, and too hard. It’s ironic that the sales of cookbooks are at an all time high and more people are watching cooking shows on TV than ever, but at the same time, fewer people than ever are cooking.

So it seems as if cooking has become an entertainment more than something you actually do. So I want to compile a book that gives recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less and that also conform with the principles of the anti-inflammatory diet. So the new book will be, “True Food: Quick and Easy.”

Be Inkandescent: Before you go, tell us: What is the one big message you want people to take away, not from just these books, but from all of your work in general?

Dr. Andrew Weil: That lifestyle factors under your control are the major determinants of health—how you age, how you move through the world with your mood. And just by learning some of these simple principles—how to eat and how to improve your body with the proper rest and sleep, how to reduce the harmful effects of stress—if you put these things into practice you can save yourself a lot of trouble and money and visits to doctors. And you can go through life in a state of good health, physical and mental.

For more information on Dr. Weil’s book and restaurant, visit www.spontaneoushappiness.com, and www.truefoodkitchen.com.

To listen to our podcast interview with Dr. Andrew Weil, visit the Entrepreneur Radio Show on the Inkandescent Radio Network.

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