In my practice, I have come to have complete respect for the power of lifestyle to either support medical treatment or to completely offset it. And the one area that is most within our control to change happens to be the most important daily influence on our health—FOOD.
When I first meet with a new patient, and I feel they could use some greater awareness around their food and how it makes them feel, I ask them to do a 7-Day Food-Mood Journal. They write down what they eat, when they eat it, and how it makes them feel. It is astounding how enlightening this act is for people! They begin to equate their physical symptoms with their eating habits—whether it is the actual food choices or perhaps the fact that they skip meals. And when they bring the journal in to me, we look at it together and I help refine it for them. We look for realistic changes within their lives that are achievable—a bar just outside their reach, but within sight. Once on board, they stand a far better chance of feeling better and being successful in their treatment with me and their doctors.
Food is the first to hurt and the first to help. Among my list of General Food Guidelines, there are a few specific foods that I have found to be consistently harmful to all my patients. And yet, at the thought of giving them up, they are the ones that cause the most push back from my patients.
- ZERO Coffee: see The Coffee Blues
- ZERO Dairy: see Twenty Reasons for ZERO Dairy
- Minimal Sugar: sugar is highly inflammatory, upsets the digestive system, feeds all infection, can create insulin resistance and diabetes, and makes most every condition I treat worse. When actively sick or in pain, I advise my patients to keep sugar to a minimum; no more than 2 pieces of fruit per day. And if they need a sweetener, that Stevia and Xylitol are okay.
When making these changes to one’s diet, I have found there are 5 distinct stages a patient goes through:
Denial and Loss: “How could I possibly live without coffee?” “Without dairy, what would I eat?”
Everywhere you look nowadays there is a coffee shop; we are socialized to drink it and conditioned to make it a part of our daily lives. In fact, when I ask my patients why they drink coffee, far down on the list is taste. It is usually more about the ritual, the smell, a break from their day and of course the caffeine high. With dairy, the thought of going without it shakes the very fabricate of their identity. From a small child we are propagandized to believe “Milk, it does a body good!” and that it builds strong bones. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the thought of giving either one up, brings sadness and a sense of loss. As if, their very source of joy in life would be forever gone. Food is designed for one purpose: to deliver nutrition. Joy comes from the clear energy derived from properly digested food. Any other emotional attachment begins to feel much like addiction.
Questioning: “Is coffee really that bad for me?”
Once my patients hear the information I present to them, they now have a new decision to make. I appeal first to their logical intellect with scientific data. And I assure them that based on my experience, when a patient tries on for size my food recommendations for at least 3-4 weeks and I help clean up their system through herbs and acupuncture, they will feel better. In fact, I even invite them to then go and have some frozen yogurt or a double latte and tell me how they feel.
3. Experience: “Is drinking coffee really worth feeling this poorly?”
And it is here that the real moment of enlightenment comes. If you have a glass of dirty water and you add a bit more dirt, you don’t notice extra dirt. But if you have a glass of clean water and you add some dirt, you immediately notice it. After 3-4 weeks of cleaner food choices, they have had time and distance from their coffee or dairy. Time enough to judge for themselves how it actually makes them feel. From that point forward, I never have to say anything again. With the re-introduction of coffee or dairy, they feel awful: belly aches, joint pain, sinus congestion, etc.
4. Acceptance: “It is not worth it!”
Some may not immediately make the change, but most will have experienced such an awakening, such dissonance between what they thought they knew and with what they now irrefutably feel, that it is no longer worth it. For those that still think it is worth it, as long as they are making a conscious choice then that is their choice to make. But I have found that my patients simply get better a whole lot faster and far more easily when better food choices are made. If not, then the road to better health becomes a great deal longer and far steeper.
5. Freedom: “I’m free and I feel great!”
Over time, with your new found better health, you will begin to see food for what it is: joy! Yet, this joy comes not from nostalgia of how you used to eat half a pizza and drink 4 Cokes with your friends as a kid during the summer; nor does it come from the brief euphoria of a sugar high as you “reward” yourself with some ice cream after a long hard day. No, this joy comes from actually feeling well with what you eat; it comes from the very real boost of grounded energy that comes with efficient clean digestion. Flavors now come alive, fruit tastes even better than you remember, and your belly is full with nutritious and soul-nourishing food. You are no longer tired and sluggish after eating, no longer burping and reaching for the Tums. You are now free to enjoy the bounty that Mother Nature has given us!
Here in the west, we are conditioned to go to the doctor when we are sick. And as such, western medicine has developed to be incredibly effective in fighting disease with medication and surgery. Yet, as we begin to better understand the nature of chronic conditions, we see that taking a pill to make it go away is not a viable approach to treatment. Through my eyes, it is all about diet and lifestyle with conservative and precise medical treatment as needed. I recognize that what I am asking from my patients is to change—something they are not accustomed to being asked to do from a doctor. And I realize that for some this is not going to go over well. My goal is to present them with information and the ideal, then see where they are at in their diet. And we work from there. In most cases, if all a patient does is cut out dairy and coffee and minimize their sugar intake, HUGE progress can be made and they start to feel better immediately.
Making better food choices is the first step toward reclaiming a new sense of health and vitality. After all, is it enough to just feel OK. Or do you give yourself the freedom and opportunity to feel well?