The following article was also published in the Opinion section of The Jerusalem Post (25th Aug. 2022): https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-715519
They are the modern day killers: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, mild cognitive impairment, early stage prostate cancer—all now proven to be reversible and often, totally curable. All of the above, plus Alzheimer’s disease, most cancers, most autoimmune diseases, arthritis, infectious disease, mental health ailments and more are reducible and even preventable!
The typical protocol to reverse disease is to start with an assessment by a physician. Some, tests are done and then you would be given medication or undergo some procedure or surgery. The problem is there is no medication that truly reverses or cures these diseases. It’s doubtful there ever will be. Modern medicine tries to slow the progress of all of these modern day killers by treating the symptoms. However, unlike a bacterial infection, meds won’t cut it here. What will? It’s actually as simple as a change in diet and lifestyle. Yes, that’s it.
How can something so seemingly complex have such a simple solution?
Simple but highly effective
For those of you familiar with the history and development of psychology over the last 60 years, will know that around the year 1960 a change began to take place. That change is still evolving today. Dr. Aaron Beck advanced the idea of behavioral psychology and then cognitive behavioral therapy. This contradicted traditional, Freudian based psychoanalysis.
One of the main criticisms of Beck and of behavioral therapy in general, was that it was entirely too simple to possibly work. Here we are 60 years later and hundreds of studies have proven that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and its off shoots like DBT and Positive Psychology are effective for almost every psychological malady. These modalities are based on simple principles, but are highly effective.
Disease prevention and reversal is similar. It’s principles are surprisingly simple. What makes it even simpler, is that according to Dr. Dean Ornish, all of the Western illnesses all basically one disease. We don’t need a separate treatment for each chronic disease.
Dr. Ornish, the first researcher to prove that diet can reverse heart disease, subscribes to what he calls the Unifying Theory: even though each disease has its own pathology, they all stem from bad lifestyle, primarily diet. Both the cause and the treatment come down one thing—lifestyle. Dr. Ornish subsequently has run randomized controlled trials showing the reversal of type 2 diabetes, early stage prostate cancer, early stage Alzheimer’s and the ability to up regulate and down regulate genes through lifestyle, by examining the telomeres on DNA strands.
Can what I eat, how much exercise and activity I engage in, and how well I sleep be more powerful than medication or surgery? Is how well I integrate with my fellow humans and how I manage my stress more potent than pills and operations? For chronic disease the answer is usually a resounding “YES!” And yes, it is that simple!
Here’s the part that isn’t simple: The way we do things, like eating and living a sedentary life style, becomes ingrained. Lifetime habits are not easy to change, but it can and must be done. We need to maintain health and a good quality of life.
For some, making changes can actually happen quickly. For others, it will take longer and require a great patience.
We’re all familiar with cognitive dissonance. You want to make a change and are motivated. Whether in the area of health and fitness or any other area of your life. You make up your mind. But then you engage in some behavior that goes contrary to your success. For instance, you want to stop smoking. The dangers of smoking are well known to you, but you continue smoking anyway. Or, you know that your BMI is above 30 and this presents a clear and present danger to your health. You have resolved to lose weight. But as you walk through the supermarket, you notice a container of your favorite ice cream. You buy the ice cream, bring it in the house, and eat it.
We have conflicting thoughts, hence the dissonance. When someone works on his thinking and becomes acutely aware of his choices and their consequences, he can manage to gradually change. The most wonderful thing about adopting healthy lifestyle changes is that it is generally self-motivating. You start feeling better and you start looking better. You see the improvement in your next blood test. Then you want to keep going and keep feeling better and better. I know from many of my own clients how many people can do more and function better at age 60 than they did at age 35. That usually is motivating enough.
Here are some tips for simple changes to improve your health:
Eating and Nutrition
- Don’t eat after 8 PM
- Try to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 3 fruits daily
- Cut your portion sizes by 10-15% (you still won’t be hungry)
- Switch to a mostly whole-foods, plant-based diet
- Drink 8-10 cups of water per day
- Write down what you eat on a food tracker daily
- Eliminate ultra-processed foods (pastries, candy, prepared foods, jarred sauces, etc.)
- Reduce the amount of protein you are eating and keep them as plant-based as possible
- Take your own food to work or school and only eat out occasionally
Exercise and activity
- Start walking from place to place instead of driving or using public transportation
- Schedule a daily, 30-minute, brisk walk or two 15-minute walks
- Get off public transportation a stop or 2 before your destination
- Use stairs instead of elevators. If that is difficult, start with a few flights
- Park your car a few blocks away from where you want to end up
- Add a quick muscle building circuit 2-3 days a week. See what 6-7 minutes can do!
- Go on a family hike once a week
It’s all one disease, and it has pretty much one solution called lifestyle medicine. The number one complaint for not using the principles of lifestyle medicine to improve health is time. “I just don’t have time” or “I wish I had the time” are the common refrains.
Consider the following, with a relatively small investment of time and effort, you can avoid waiting in doctors’ offices and spending time making appointments. You won’t miss so many productive hours because of reactions and side-effects to drugs. You won’t have to spend a great deal of time recovering from procedures and surgeries.
So, keep it simple. As we are now approaching to the holidays, which can be a challenging time for our health and well-being, don’t wait! Get started, feel fantastic, save time in the long run and have a great quality of life heading into the holiday period. Start now to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”