Walk the walk, they say. As a primary care physician, we’re supposed to be able to give sound nutrition advice to many different types of patients. But we should also be able to model what we preach. While doctors do not get great nutrition education in medical school or residency (yes, this is a huge issue), since starting at Direct Doctors I’m getting a crash course. From my knowledgable patients, lots of reading, and amazing resources like Kathleen DiChiara (kathleendichiara.com) and Stephanie O’Donnell (www.nurturing-nutrition.com), I’m starting to get a real sense of the kind of advice I should be giving patients. Now, shouldn’t I do it myself?
With this in mind, one Monday a month ago, I decided to see how a complete overhaul of my diet could change how I feel. I’ve never had any major issues with specific foods so I wasn’t sure what kind of difference I’d see (we’ll get back to how wrong I was in a moment). For the next 10 days, I completely cut out corn, soy, eggs, dairy and gluten… it was really hard! I literally couldn’t think of one thing to eat for breakfast which Kathleen notes is a great sign that one’s diet is awful. The first couple of days were rough, especially for my wife. She’ll gladly tell you that I’m not the most pleasant person when I’m hungry… and that’s on a typical diet! I was constantly hungry and had intense cravings (mostly for bread), probably because I was still learning what to eat, how much, which specific things would be filling for me, how to balance my new diet, etc.
By Friday of that week though, everything changed. I started getting into a grove with meals, planning ahead and packing options for those times when I did get hungry. I was trying different foods, even some that I had never tried previously. My daily intake consisted of much more vegetables, fruits, lean protein, nuts and homemade options than it ever had before. And then something amazing happened: I noticed a real difference in how I felt! The fairly frequent heartburn disappeared. The morning coffee I needed just to start my day was no longer necessary (I’ve had 4 coffees in the past 5 weeks, and those instances had more to do with the sleep habits of my children than anything else). The late afternoon energy drain when I always felt like I needed a nap stopped happening. I slept better, had less random abdominal complaints and felt like I was operating with a clearer head.
After 10 days, I started to reintroduce the above food groups one at a time in three day trials. While I did not notice a major reaction from any specific food, I definitely feel some of those symptoms returning when my dairy and/or gluten intake is too great. Although I’m back to eating “everything,” my diet looks much different. I might consume gluten and dairy once a day at most instead of with every meal and as the main ingredients, and still go many days without having either at all. I now buy ingredients instead of packaged food and pre-made options and definitely pay more attention to where my food is coming from. I’ve learned to be much more prepared with my food choices so I can have home-made breakfast and lunch options instead of stopping for a quick bite to eat.
I still have much to learn and would love to get more into exclusive local farm purchasing, fermenting, expanding our own garden, etc. However, I think I have a much better sense of the powerful impact nutritional changes can have on how we feel and function every day, not to mention on overall health. For patients with chronic conditions of all kinds, the changes can be even more drastic. I feel much more prepared to give practical advice to patients with a variety of issues, though I know that there is still much to learn from the real experts (like Kathleen and Stephanie).
Please do not hesitate to talk to either of us at Direct Doctors about any lifestyle changes you are contemplating, as this should be the cornerstone of any treatment plan!
Lauren Hedde, DO and Mark Turshen, MD are Family Physicians and Founders of Direct Doctors, Inc. a Direct Primary Care Practice.