teacup analogy

Teacup analogy of inflammation

Feb 21, 2019

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We typically hear about inflammation as being bad; chronic inflammatory diseases include diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Baseline inflammation is a good thing; it’s how your body heals from things that irritate it. However, inflammation can be of concern when it’s in excess of what your body can handle.

Picture your body as a teacup

The normal, healthy amount of baseline inflammation that is your body’s way of healing is easily contained within this cup. When the level of irritation and, therefore, inflammation gets too much, your teacup overflows, creating symptoms in your body. As an individual, you create different symptoms of excess inflammation, depending on your weak system: diarrhea, constipation, migraine headaches, joint pain, etc. If you choose to decrease your sources of inflammation (eat mostly organic foods that make you feel good, refresh with adequate sleep, breathe through stressful times, etc.), you minimize the chances that your cup will overflow. The aspects that I discuss in lifestyle medicine can potentially improve your ability to minimize your sources of inflammation and effectively respond to what does irritate you.

Patients often ask why diet or sleep has such a significant effect on their headaches or their joint pain. The teacup analogy makes the connection – what fills our cup up doesn’t always have a direct link with how each of us, as an individual, overflows. Here’s a personal example: when I’m in balance, not stressed, and it’s not spring or fall allergy season (i.e. what’s filling my cup is quite low), I can be at my mom’s house with her allergy-promoting cats and only have mild sinus congestion. If, however, I am stressed and tired and reacting to my pollen allergies in fall or spring, if I were to go to Mom’s house when with my full teacup, my asthma symptoms would most likely flare in response to her fur babies. Make sense?


We all have a weak system that we can use as our gauge as to how authentically we are aligning with what we need. Live as your body needs and you’re less likely to create and experience symptoms of imbalance.