Friday, January 13, 2012

Why does it take a diagnosis to change eating habits?

If you were to come into my office and look at my client’s food journals, whose eating do you think is the healthiest? Weight loss clients? Or maybe triathletes? Prenatal clients would be a good guess too but none of these answers are correct. Hands down my most proactive clients are clients who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or cancer or experienced a life threatening condition. These clients do anything in their power to improve their future health or simply have a future. In a follow up to the "Fat Trap" article the Huffington Post interviewed Tara Parker Pope about her personal struggle with weight. In the article Tara admits to what I just described, “if I had an immediately life-threatening medical condition, I'd drop everything to take care of myself.” She would, most people, like my clients, would.

Why does it have to come to this? Part of it is denial. We know we’re mortal but cannot live our lives fearing cancer or heart attacks, allergic reactions or amputations. That would be paralyzing. And yet any one of us can find out at any time that our health is very different than we thought it was. Let’s pretend  this happened. I know it’s not nice to think about but what if you showed up in my office after finding out earlier this week you had cancer. I often see clients in this numb period when they’re figuring out their treatment plans and lining up their “team”.  What would I tell you do? It would differ depending on your diagnosis but for starters, cancer loves sugar so we’d look at sugar in your diet. I’m not just talking high fructose corn syrup but agave, honey, evaporated cane juice too. Second, I’d look at the amount of animal protein in your diet and suggest that chicken, beef, pork and turkey be cut way down. And forget that take out salad and grilled chicken, all chicken should be organic and all meat grass fed. All chemical cuisine would be gone- the sweeteners (blue, pink, yellow) and the soda and have you read the ingredients in your gum lately? We’d pack your diet with produce with something green all meals (including breakfast). In the scheme of things, with everything you’d be facing this wouldn’t be that hard. 
We think of squeezing in the time to food shop, cook or exercise but shouldn’t it come first? If not, why?


  1. There is some research being done that suggests massive amounts of VitC can significantly help the fight within the body against cancer.

    As to your main point.. Even when many people are diagnosed with some aliments, they still will not change since the medical industry appears to be all about toxic drugs.. and more toxic drugs to fight the issues caused by the original set of toxic drugs.

    So even though some people have a wake up call and decide to change their lives, I have to wonder about what percentage of people that represents against those who rely on their drugs.. From all I continue to read and learn about people who have changed their lives, they have nearly all had an 'oh shit' moment.

    For me, had I been told 10 years ago that I had devolved medical issues, I would have moved mountains to fix me. Unfortunately for me, I have always had a clean bill of health despite my weight.. of course, I attribute most of that to my healthy eating.. amazingly, you can get fat by eating too much healthy food :)

  2. This is a powerful post. Right before my friend Lauren died from colon cancer she started seeing a nutritionist. Lauren was always extremely healthy - an ironwoman - so I suppose changing what she ate didn't seem like a solution until every other solution failed. Forks over Knives made me really question the role what we eat plays in our disease-free/disease-ridden lives. I often wonder if Lauren's cancer could have been beaten with nutritional changes.

    You are right, why don't we look at what we eat as a first line of defense, before we ever get sick? Doesn't it makes sense that the common denominator is food, and that as more people get sick, it is mostly likely related to what we ingest? I also think conflicting advertising, and not just commercial advertising but FDA supported, or doctor supported, advice makes choosing the "best" or "right" foods incredibly hard. The FDA says meat is good; the China Study says its bad, for example.

    I think you are right about denial - why treat myself as if I'm sick if I'm not sick? But really, we should think of food as preventative medicine - eat clean and you have a better chance of living longer. I guess a lot of it comes down to, "It won't happen to me." Woooo tough stuff.

  3. Love this post... I think of food as medicine. You already know how I feel about chemical additives and food dyes...
    It also frustrates me when drugs are used as the first line of treatment when in many cases the treatment should start with a nutrition focus.

  4. Great post, thank you. As you know, I came to Foodtrainers because my cholesterol levels were so high that they couldn't be measured. Frankly, I didn't think about food as medicine until then. My only issue regarding nutrition was regarding weight, and I'd given up by then. I followed your plan, my numbers are all outstanding and I'm off the meds.

    Now, we think of food as a part of our preventative health care. I've even tried to convince my accountant that we should be able to count our grocery bills as health care costs. No dice.

  5. Thank you, Lauren. My blood run colds each time I am reminded that cancer (and other diseases) love sugar. Time to tame that sweet tooth. Again. I should write this down and post it in my office for a daily dose of reality.

  6. Caron- if we pull ourselves back to the reality then there's never the regret. Marie, I totally think groceries should count hmn.Lisa I'm encouraged as I think people want to use food, even if they wait until sick if nothing else to compliment their meds. Chubby so sorry about your friend. I don't know what the answer is. We can't eat purely kale and legumes just to stave off disease because food is pleasure and so are some treats. However, as clean as I like to think I eat, I would make certain changes (in wine department perhaps) if I was faced with certain news. Byzbee- you are right, some people don't even make changes when faced with a diagnosis. I am biased I see the ones that do. I also see the ones who have watched a parent struggle and still smoke or drink soda and that baffles me.

  7. I never knew until now that "cancer loves sugar." I feel embarrassed with all the research and independent studying I've done over the past 4 years that I don't recall reading that - or that if I did, it wouldn't stick. I recently eliminated all added sugars and even stopped sweetening my morning oatmeal with stevia. I feel amazing - even better than each pound of the 80 I lost over the past few years.

    I was in the "moderation" denial about sugar. I felt like cutting all added sugars out would be "overkill" and "obsessive." I don't feel obsessive anymore. I feel amazing. Thanks again for a great post.

    1. I should add that I have made slow, gradual changes to my diet over the past 4 years in order to live a life of sustainable behaviors around food. It's not as if I went form having a binge-eating sugar habit to cutting everything completely - it was more along the lines of paying attention to macros instead of calories and realizing that added sugars were slipping in a lot more than I thought they were - even without eating processed boxed foods or dousing things in honey and agave.

  8. Great post, I completely agree people think they're immortal- I still have friends who smoke which drives me nuts. I think people also convince themselves these unhealthy behaviors go on far less frequently than they do. Or they just don't know - I only recently looked at the ingredients in gum and was horrified. The power of food is incredible, and agreed with everyone else, re prevention. WE think of food as preventative, but our government/health care/majority of the country does not.

  9. Carolyn, a good point there is the prevailing notion that meds are what helps and that food should be cheap. Amy wow- all added sugars, I am impressed.

  10. You had to know I would LOVE this post. As someone of the front line of medicine who is asked daily "isn't there a pill for that." I really wish we focused more on prevention. We are a country of instant gratification and quick fixes. Currently the only weight loss program medicaid/medicare pays for is gastric bypass. While I am not completely discounting this procedure, I feel it is way over done and the cost of the surgery and complications is astonishing. However, there is no way that insurance would pay for a few sessions at foodtrainers. Healthy food is expensive, but I see so many people who smoke and then claim they can't afford fruits and vegetables.

    Everyday, I see people's lives change on a dime either from their life style or simply bad luck. While I can't control who get's into a car and drives drunk on the same highway as me, I can control my lifestyle. I know that I would not do well ill and I do all I can to avoid it. I think everyone should spend a day or two with a acute care physician to see what it really means to be sick.

    My favorite professor in medical school started off my first day as a medical student by saying, "the perfect way to die is to watershed." Meaning that at a certain time (hopefully after a long good life) every organ should simply fail at the same time.

    I must admit I use health scares all the time to promote healthy habits. As in, "you didn't have a heart attack, but keep living the way you do and you will have one. You do have some control over whether or not you spend a lot of time in the ER."

    WIsh the politicians would stop wasting money and time fighting over things like gay marriage and address the fact that we are looking at the first generation to have a shorter life span then it's elders.

  11. You are completely right!
    It really shouldn't come to that in order for us to really start making changes.
    Prevention is so important and people really should focus on that!

  12. Sad but true! My dad was overweight most of his life until he turned 40 and his doctor said change your diet and exercise now or your going to diet of a heart attack in the next few years. He changed his diet {although the recommendations then were for fat-free everything and margarine which I'd never recommend to my clients now!} and started running marathons. Huge wake up call! I'm very interested in the field of nutrigenomics and am very curious to see as the field progresses, if knowing one's genetic health risks ahead of time will lead people to change their diets earlier on..or will they still wait until they are sick?

  13. Interesting EA but don't most of us know our risks or at least our genetic profile, I'm not sure that spurs the majority into action. Kristin prevention is key but even healthy eaters do they eat certain things to prevent heart disease or because rumored to be healthy?

  14. so true we need to eat right now :-)

  15. This is why there are certain clients who I have to be really mean to, and say, "listen, if you don't change your ways, you WILL get diabetes!". This often works, quite well. I don't sugar-coat anything (no pun intended there). The last client I told this to lost 100 pounds and has kept it off. I was NOT nice, I told him that if he didn't lose weight he WOULD get diabetes, either this year or sooner. He was frightened :) I didn't feel bad for scaring him, it worked!
    People DO think they are immortal.

  16. Gina, so important. A doctor will say it like that (with insulin or meds as threat) so is it "not nice" or is it honest if you know, from experience, this is where a path will lead?

  17. It absolutely should come first, hence why I hit the gym first thing in the morning. That way I can get it out of the way and maybe even get a second walk in the evening if I'm lucky.

    People know what they need to do. I think they just choose to pretend they don't.

  18. So very, very true... I can't believe how many people "know" that what they are eating isn't good for them and even announce it every time they put something that's not healthy into their mouth, yet they don't change what they eat...