Positive Change and Medicine is Food / Food is Medicine
Have you ever had a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes? Really, really sit in his or her space and get a sense of how someone else whom you may be familiar with in general terms, but didn’t actually realize how little you know about what that might be like is?
I had just that opportunity yesterday.
I was invited to be a part of a documentary that a colleague is working on about the topic of how food truly is medicine, as the nutrition / healthy eating coach.
When the director first reached out and asked if I wanted to be a part, I agreed in a heartbeat.
After all, this cause is so true to my heart, and one which most of my career has been based upon: educating anyone who’ll listen on how much of an impact we truly have on our health just by what we choose to eat.
My role would involve traveling to the East Coast to spend a day with our subjects.
This family, living in New Jersey, represents what many people are dealing with today: serious health challenges, expensive medications to treat the issues that have to fit into a tight budget, doctors who haven’t offered any guidance as to what they should or should not be eating (if the topic was ever broached at all), and a sea of confusing information about the same topic at their fingertips online and in the media.
This family is so loving, so supportive of one another and all want nothing more than to do anything they can in order for all of them to overcome the illnesses and health concerns, yet there doesn’t seem anywhere to turn.
We’ve all read about this.
We know the statistics and we know that it can be tricky to figure out how to navigate the path to optimal health but in all honestly, I would venture to guess that not until we all have the chance to be right there with it, if even for a day, can we really begin to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
For reference, the extended family with which we got to spend the day includes:
- Chronic headaches
- Spinal stenosis
- High cholesterol
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
In good health
Daughter in law:
- Stomach issues
- Back & neck pain
Granddaughter (5 y/o):
- Autism, non-verbal
- Central sleep apnea
- Gastrointestinal issues
They also have a healthy, 4 y/o daughter
- Stomach issues
Son in Law:
- Celiac disease
I knew their background in advance and was so prepared to begin our work together.
Our plan for the day was to first spend some time just chatting and getting to know one another, becoming familiar with the specific challenges they’ve dealt with, above and beyond just a list of health concerns.
Next, we would do a kitchen clean out and rid the space of anything with refined sugars, gluten, food dyes, preservatives we couldn’t identify as a food… the whole nine yards. This would be an interactive process, in order to make sure we all were on the same page in terms of why we had to avoid certain ‘foods’, learning as the job ensued to make sure the concepts were taken in rather than making it a one-time clean up.
Later, we’d head to the market to do a healthy grocery store trip, focusing on what was available at this time of year, comparing prices and making the savvier choice for budgetary concerns and reviewing topics like how to choose the best wild fish as per the MSC and organic versus conventional produce.
Finally, we’d return to their home to do a team cook off, with everyone involved, even the 4-year-old granddaughter (one of our goals was to find healthy ways for grandma and granddaughter to spend time doing something together, to replace the current routine of going to McDonald’s play land, and eating a meal there afterward).
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
And while it was straight forward in the sense that we accomplished all we set out to yesterday, and they demonstrated the absolute best examples of simple human kindness and gratitude, I don’t know if this family realizes how much they gave me, and the team who is making the documentary.
With all they are faced with, all they have to endure on a daily basis, they’re positive, putting one foot ahead of the other and being completely committed to making lasting changes by empowering themselves through food education, they could easily have taken on an unpleasant demeanor or understandably walk around in anger all the time.
Instead, they show nothing but love for one another and a genuine desire to get healthy as a family.
Imagine how it would feel to have been told by numerous doctors that your young child, diagnosed with both autism and epilepsy must try yet another medication, this new one being in the narcotic family, with a host of side effects that runs a hefty $1,200 per month until the insurance deductible is met. Yet no one mentioned that the gluten she eats and all the high-sugar food products marketed to kids could be playing a role.
Or to have any or all of the list of health issues listed above and never have even been questions about what you’re eating and how or if you’re getting exercise.
As if to say, “You’re on your own: take these meds; there’s no other choice”.
It’s not this family that has failed in any way, shape or form.
It’s the way our system is set up.
How have we gotten to the point where there is such a huge disconnect between what we are eating and how sick we may be making ourselves?
I think the most eye opening thing for me was the realization that I truly am part of a minority that happens to have investigated how much what we eat impacts how we feel, solely due to my own personal desire to heal myself years ago from a lifetime of GI distress.
Just because I happened to be the squeaky wheel that opted not to listen to what my doctors told me, I was able to stumble upon the fact that it could be gluten, which was primarily responsible for most of the problem.
No GI specialists or E/R docs asked me what I was eating either.
I did get numerous (mis) diagnoses, and my favorite, an Rx for Prozac when the last doc I saw assured me there was nothing physically wrong with me. He explained that it was all in my head.
It was only because I happened to have chosen to dig deep and study up on it myself that I ever even heard about gluten related illness, back in 2004 before it was a ‘thing’.
But it shouldn’t be this way.
It shouldn’t be the norm that someone goes to his or her doctor with any health concern and diet isn’t addressed.
It shouldn’t be the norm that one has to feel uncomfortable question their doctor if things don’t seem copacetic and that they have to seek an out-of-network doc they can’t afford who is viewed as ‘unconventional’ or ‘alternative’ and is too expensive to see.
And it shouldn’t be the norm that we’re not given all the information we should have and that we have to dig around grasping for straws, trying to patch together a remedy.
But it is real.
Sadly, there’s so much invested in the USDA’s guidelines coming from their grain-based, sugar-based, dairy-based sponsors.
Bottom dollar talks.
Where does this leave us?
Each and every little thing we can do can help; little changes make big differences.
Share your knowledge on a blog. Ask your functional medicine doctor to volunteer a couple of hours to do an info session at your children’s school. Start a community garden and teach the neighbors to grow their own food. Write to your local government officials asking for programs to allow access to health care practitioners for community members on limited means.
But do something.
And to the family with whom we spent time yesterday, I can only say thank you for what you have taught me and if I can be even a small part of your journey, I am honored.
I am so proud of your courage in what you’re undertaking!