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  • Liz Hoobchaak

The Rain Barrel Effect: How Our Lifestyle Choices Can Lead to Chronic Illness

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Most chronic illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, have a genetic component making us predisposed to certain conditions. However, our environment plays a much larger role in determining if that illness is going to manifest itself. Our lifestyle choices have a large influence on our overall health outcome.

The best way to understand how our environment and lifestyle habits can turn on the illness “switch” is to describe The Rain Barrel Effect. Imagine a rain barrel at the end of a gutter system to collect the rainwater that comes off of a house roof. It continues to fill up with every rainstorm. Most people are not checking their rain barrel and don't notice it is full until it is overflowing and their lawn is satura

Think of your body as your own personal rain barrel that gets filled with things that all your body systems come in contact with daily. Over time, our bodies accumulate toxins from our environment through the food we ingest, the air we breathe, and the products we use.

Our bodies can only handle detoxing a certain amount of poisons at any given time. When our system gets overwhelmed, our body will not function optimally and our rain barrel will fill up quicker and eventually overflow. When this happens, signs and symptoms of illness will begin to manifest themselves. They may begin as small annoyances such as headaches, skin issues, pain or inflammation. These are signs of systemic imbalances. Symptoms will progress and disease will begin to infiltrate your body.

Every person is born with a different size rain barrel. Some rain barrels fill up faster than others. This explains why some people will develop an illness and get very sick while others will stay healthy, even when exposed to a similar environment.

To minimize our risk of developing a chronic illness or autoimmune disease, we want to lighten our toxic load by making healthy food choices, cleaning up our environment and work on adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Small changes can go a long way in preventing your rain barrel from filling up and overflowing.

We usually are not thinking about “cleaning out” our rain barrel until it starts to overflow. At that point, it may be too late as illness has already manifested. If you have already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or other chronic illness, taking the following steps can help to minimize progression of these conditions and prevent future relapses.

Tips to Help Your Rain Barrel from Overflowing

Diet and Nutrition

  • Focus on 70% of your diet coming from plant based whole foods like fruits and vegetables.

  • Eat organic when possible to decrease the level of GMO’s and pesticides you consume.

  • Limit what you purchase from the inner aisles of the grocery store where you find more processed foods that are filled with additives and preservatives.

  • Read labels! You should be able to identify what each ingredient is. If it is not something you could purchase in a store or have in your home kitchen, you should probably not be consuming it.

  • Instead of plastic, opt for glass or stainless steel for food and beverage storage.

  • Limit use of non-stick cookware.

  • Filter your water. Consider a home filtration system to limit the use of plastic water bottles.

Proper Bowel Elimination

If you are not having at least 1-2 bowel movements a day, you are recirculating these toxins in your body instead of flushing them out. Exercise, proper hydration and consuming enough plant fiber will all help maintain proper bowel elimination.


Exercising promotes blood circulation and increases sweat production which are factors that promote release of toxins. The increase in blood circulation helps facilitate the liver and lymph nodes in their detoxification process.

Removal of Environmental Toxins

  • Home cleaning products and self care products are where we come in contact with the most toxins that can easily be avoided.

  • Avoid using personal hygiene products that contain chemicals like triclosan, parabens, phthalates and bisphenol.

  • Avoid sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are easily absorbed through the skin.

  • Avoid burning candles or using air fresheners with artificial fragrances.

  • Avoid using pesticides, bug sprays or lawn chemicals in and around your house.


Prescriptions are stressors on the body as they need to be filtered out by the liver. Alcohol, recreational drugs, cigarette smoke and caffeine are the same in terms of putting stress on our detoxifying organs and adding to our toxin load.

This list is not exhaustive as there are many other things you can do to clean up your diet and environment to minimize your overall risk. Hopefully it gives you some easy changes that you can start today. Remember, you are the sum of every action you take. Small changes can go a long way in leading an overall healthier and illness-free lifestyle.

Written by: Liz Hoobchaak, PT, DPT, CNPT, CAHNS

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