Whether or not you are aware of it, choosing a healthcare provider is a big deal. It becomes an even bigger deal if you have a complicated medical history or any health conditions — which many of us do.
We are in the midst of a chronic disease epidemic in the United States. 60% of Americans have one or more chronic illness, usually some variation of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, etc.) while 40% have two or more. And 70% of those same Americans take at least one prescription medication to manage their symptoms, and more than half take two.
We know now that it’s possible not just to prevent but also arrest or reverse most of the conditions mentioned above with lifestyle changes which often requires medical supervision, particularly for people on medication.
And the data shows that most Americans trust that their healthcare providers are a reputable source of information when it comes to nutrition, exercise and anything else they would need to know to stay healthy.
What they may not know, however, is that physicians receive less than 20 hours, on average, of nutrition and lifestyle education during all their years of medical training and when polled, feel unqualified to advise on these topics.
To complicate things further, we know that the personal health habits of the provider you end up seeing may greatly influence whether he or she will be willing and able to counsel you towards better health.
In a 2012 survey of 500 primary care physicians, more than half (53%) were obese. How does this affect you? Physicians are more likely to record a diagnosis of obesity and counsel on weight loss if they perceive the patient’s weight to be more than their own.
A 2009 survey of nearly 800 California physicians found that 53% experienced moderate to severe stress, 35% did not exercise at all, 34% lived on six or fewer hours of sleep per night, 13% used sedatives and tranquilizers to get through their day, 7% were clinically depressed and the average provider worked more than 65 hours a week.
If you pick a provider that does not exercise themselves, they will be much less likely to talk to you about it.
If a physician eats less fat in their diet, they will be more likely to counsel you on cholesterol management.
Providers that eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day are more likely to counsel on nutrition, and if they happen to be vegetarian, they are more likely to help their patients with weight loss and nutrition.
You Might Be Seeing the Wrong Doctor If…
So how does one know if they are currently seeing the wrong provider? A couple of red flags you may want to watch out for would include:
- The practitioner gives no mention of lifestyle modifications for managing weight, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. in their plan to address those issues with you.
- You ask the practitioner what you could be doing from a nutrition and exercise perspective to help manage your conditions and they quickly discount the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions in favor of medication or procedures.
How to Find a Lifestyle Medicine Provider
If you are on the market for a provider, how can you locate one who is both knowledgeable in the tenets of Lifestyle Medicine and practices what they preach? There are several ways.
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine, which trains thousands of healthcare professionals each year in the evidence-based application of things like nutrition science, exercise, stress management, sleep science, tobacco, and alcohol cessation, and behavior change, has a membership directory you can search here.
Additionally, local clinics will often list provider bio’s on their website. Be sure to read those if you are shopping around as they usually include the practitioner’s credentials, personal interests, and expertise.
The importance of finding the right provider is worth a considerable investment in your time and energy to do it properly. No less than your life may be at stake.