Since I proudly call myself a “Lifestyle Doctor,” let me take a minute to explain what in heck “Lifestyle Medicine” is, and why anyone wanting to achieve better health needs to know about it, or at least about its core principles.
Lifestyle Medicine is a therapeutic approach—based on the best available medical “evidence” (medical research, science, and clinical experience)—to prevent, treat, and even reverse the most common chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, chronic lung disease and asthma, depression, and more (collectively called “lifestyle-related diseases”; see why in a minute). Lifestyle interventions and recommendations include a focus on nutrition, especially plant-based nutrition; increased physical activity; emotional health/stress reduction; sleep health; social support; tobacco use cessation; alcohol use risk reduction; and environmental exposure assessment and reduction.
Why has Lifestyle Medicine become so important right now? (1) Because over the past 40 years since I graduated from medical school (yep, I’m that old!), an incredible wealth of information has become available regarding the root causes of most chronic disease; (2) And those causes turn out to be preventable, like obesity and inflammation, sedentary lifestyles, too much stress, and not enough sleep; and (3) Over the same time period, our diets and lifestyles have moved in the exact opposite direction, promoting chronic disease instead of preventing it!
The availability and widespread cultural acceptance (and advertising!) of cheap, high-fat, high-calorie, non-nutritive processed and fast foods has combined with a greater tendency than ever before toward sedentary lifestyles, to produce an epidemic of obesity and inflammation and the myriad chronic diseases that accompany them.
For decades now, doctors like me have seen patients in their medical practices develop what have now come to be understood as “lifestyle diseases” at younger and younger ages. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that the proportion of obese people in every one of our 50 states has increased dramatically. The disease I was trained in medical school to call “adult-onset” diabetes, because it usually didn’t develop until a person was over 50 or 60, is now occurring regularly in adolescents and even children! In 1970, one in a hundred people had diabetes; by 2050, unless significant changes occur, it’s estimated that one in three will have it.
Yet while our knowledge about lifestyle-related illnesses has grown, the “standard” medical approach remains an over-reliance on prescription drugs, surgeries and/or other procedures, which often cost a lot, carry significant side effects, and treat mostly symptoms rather than the causes of those diseases. When I started my medical career, my adult patients typically were taking one or just a few medications. By 2010, that number had climbed to ten or more!
I had become fairly horrified by these trends by the time I left active ER practice, so I decided to expand my own knowledge and education around prevention and wellness. I enrolled in training courses in “diet and lifestyle medicine” through The Wellness Forum and other organizations. I joined the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, receive their updated news and information, and attended one of their annual conferences.
I wrote my book, How Healthy Is Your Doctor?, published in 2013, because I felt I just had to express what I had come to understand is glaringly “wrong” about the traditional medical approach to the prevention and treatment of those commonest chronic diseases, and help people learn how they can avoid developing them and their often devastating consequences.
I’ve been focused ever since on bringing the message of Lifestyle Medicine to as many people as I can reach.
So let me repeat, because it’s so important to those desiring better health for themselves and their families: Most of the commonest chronic diseases—including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression, chronic lung disease and asthma, even some cancers— can be prevented from occurring, or they can be modified or improved if you have them already, through the proven modalities of Lifestyle Medicine—with far less cost, far fewer side effects, and much better overall health—compared to the traditional medical approach. If you take medications, a targeted program through Lifestyle Medicine could help you reduce or discontinue some or all of those medications.
Where can you find Lifestyle Doctors? The American College of Lifestyle Medicine is one place to start (http://www.lifestylemedicine.org). The ACLM is a specialty medical society, founded in 2004, whose members are mostly physicians, but also nutritionists, fitness and other health professionals who are drawn around “a collective desire to domestically and globally promote Lifestyle Medicine as the first treatment option, as opposed to a first option of treating symptoms and consequences with expensive, ever increasing quantities of pills and procedures. American College of Lifestyle members are united in their desire to identify and eradicate the cause of disease.”
Your own family physician or healthcare professional may already be versed enough in the power and importance of diet and lifestyle change to either be able to advise you about it themselves, or they could refer you to associated practitioners or programs that could help you. For example, in my own community in Wyoming, our small local hospital has an entire “Wellness Department” where referred patients and community members can be educated, counseled, and advised toward healthier behaviors, and better health.
There are several “lifestyle doctor”-type practitioners you can find online, like Dean Ornish and Neal Barnard; there’s a list of their websites, and other recommended resources, in my Resources section (a downloadable pdf) (http://drkathryncollins.com/bookresources). The Wellness Forum, based in Worthington, Ohio also has tons of valuable information and resources ( http://www.wellnessforumhealth.com). Health professionals wanting to know more about Lifestyle Medicine can take continuing education courses and/or get certifications through the ACLM, The Wellness Forum, or other institutions.
So keep listening, learning, and implementing—one step at a time, or by leaps and bounds!—and see how you can use Lifestyle Medicine and its principles to help you live and enjoy a healthier life.