I was driving to a friend’s house two years ago a few days before Christmas and my wife had fallen asleep next to me. It was only 8pm in the evening when I realized I had nearly driven into a lamppost – which I had not seen till the last second! My wife woke up suddenly and realized there was something terribly wrong with my vision.
A month later I had surgery for a bilateral cataract which had developed very rapidly. I also found out I was prediabetic. I had already experienced some of its well-known complications – frozen shoulder, cataracts and being classified as obese in terms of my body mass index (BMI). It was then I knew I had to make some radical changes to my lifestyle. When I started looking into published literature and guidance on this topic, I was as confused as my patients often are! I found myself asking questions I was struggling to answer as a medical professional. Is a calorie restricted diet with low carbs good for you (variations of the Keto diet, Atkins, etc)? How much exercise do you need? How do you improve sleep quality?
Luckily, I was blessed that my wife of 32 years (she is a practicing Gynaecologist), was as motivated as I was in seeking a way forward. We both decided to purse a qualification in Lifestyle Medicine – specifically a Diploma from the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, aimed at those who already have a medical degree. After a period of intense study together, while still holding our regular jobs, we then had answers that we could put to good use immediately.
Since making several lifestyle changes, I have lost 25kg (close to 4 stone in weight) and returned to a normal BMI. The pre-diabetes has reversed. I feel energetic all day and have a zest for life that I had lost before.
Lifestyle medicine is a relatively new approach to the management of chronic diseases. As a result of widespread recognition that conditions such as Coronary Heart Disease, Hypertension, Diabetes, etc. are preventable. They can even be reversed or ‘cured’ by lifestyle changes, because they are in fact caused largely by lifestyle choices – especially dietary excesses.
The concept that lifestyle affects health is not new. Hippocrates said many centuries ago – ‘let food be thy medicine.’ Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, said that 1903 will bring great advances in surgery, in the study of bacteria, in the knowledge of the cause and prevention of disease. But the doctor of the future will give no medicine, and will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
Unfortunately, Doctors learn very little about nutrition as part of their syllabus in medical school. They are exposed to the controversies and pressures of the food and farming industries as much as the lay public is, and are often as confused about matters pertaining to nutrition and diet. A lot of the published literature is not free of bias and are often in fact sponsored by vested interests and profits.
Yet there is little doubt that conditions such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Cardiac problems, Eczema, Asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and indeed even a lot of Cancers are related to lifestyle choices of the patient. Until now, these were often blamed on ‘bad genes’ or considered unavoidable. While the ill effects of smoking, overuse of alcohol, stress and lack of sleep are more clearly accepted by patients, they are often sensitive about their diet and most believe they make healthy choices based on what they have read.
All this has been scientifically studied, and the knowledge – free from bias – is out there for the discerning few. The truth is that most of us want to feel good about our bad habits. Therefore, studies about the good effects of red wine are lapped up by those who enjoy a drink, but are less accepting of studies that say alcohol – even in moderation – can have serious health consequences. While bacon may excite the taste buds, the carcinogenic effects of processed meat are now well known.
Chronic health conditions cannot be managed purely by medication. That is a very naïve way of looking at it. Real change has to come from the patient. A lifestyle medicine practitioner is trained to give guidance, motivate, monitor change and assist the patient in a quest for better health.
I think if we as Doctors patronize patients by not telling them the true science, we are not doing justice to those suffering ill health. Ultimately the right to choose good health via a better lifestyle is a choice that should rest with the patient and not with us as health care providers.
If you feel you are ready to make real change to your own health and are willing to take control of it, Lifestyle Medicine offers you the opportunities to do just that. If you are feeling the side effects of your medication and are fed up of taking a lot of drugs, this may be your way to effect real change. Remember, you have to make the effort. Your Lifestyle Medicine practitioner will be only too happy to help.