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Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world #1 in orthopedics.

Good Nutrition: A Central Pillar of Lifestyle Medicine

If you're like many people, you've been bombarded with ever-changing dietary information. Don't eat carbs. Eat more protein. Take this nutrient in a daily supplement.

Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world #1 in orthopedics.

But there is nutritional advice based in sound science that’s worth taking: Ten to 15 years of medical evidence supports the recommendation that a plant-based diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods — like the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins — is beneficial for preventing, treating and reversing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.

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That approach also forms the nutritional foundation of lifestyle medicine, which integrates six pillars of healthy living to achieve good health. People who follow the guidance of a lifestyle medicine team are finding that, combined with the other pillars, this type of diet is an integrated and sustainable way of living that helps you feel and move better. 

Set Your Goals for Well-Being

Conventional diet plans focus on the number of pounds, inches or clothing sizes lost, rather than overall well-being. Lifestyle medicine frames success in a different way. Do you want to climb stairs without feeling knee pain? Be able to pick up your child more easily, or push your grandchild on a swing? Take a walk comfortably each evening after dinner? Your lifestyle medicine team will work with you to define your goals and then create a plan to help you get there.

Nutrition

What Is a Plant-Predominant Diet?

Lifestyle medicine advocates for a whole-food plant-predominant diet. This means that the majority of your foods should be whole vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, while minimizing or excluding meat, eggs and dairy. You don't need to be "plant perfect"; you'll learn what ratio works best for you as you begin to make changes and see how you feel.

The Importance of Eating Whole Foods 

The "unpackaging" of whole foods that's happened in our society has resulted in higher-than-ever numbers of overweight and obese people and rising rates of prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and lifestyle-related cancers. Examples of this unpackaging include drinking vegetable juice instead of eating the whole vegetable, using protein powder rather than consuming whole beans or taking vitamin C instead of eating an orange. 

Lifestyle medicine promotes a whole-food plant-predominant diet. Whole foods contain lots of nutrients that nature intended to be eaten together — many of which we may not yet know about — so you will always derive more benefit from eating all parts of a food instead of its individual components. 

Promoting Good Gut Health

Your intestines are chock-full of good bacteria as well as harmful bacterial strains, and balancing them is vital for proper absorption of various substances to make you feel healthy. When the gut bacteria become unbalanced, it can lead to chronic inflammation that can affect multiple parts of your body. You may develop pain in your joints and spine, insulin resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes or cognitive dysfunction that makes you feel foggy-headed. 

Scientific evidence supports the benefits of a lifestyle medicine food plan for boosting gut health. One study showed that when people adhered to a whole food plant-predominant diet for even as little as three months, their musculoskeletal pain was better. 

What Makes the Lifestyle Medicine Program at HSS Different

If you feel like the kind of person who has tried every diet out there, you may wonder how the lifestyle medicine approach is different. What sets the lifestyle medicine approach to care apart from other types of medicine is that the patient is an active participant in their care and sets individual goals to improve their overall health. Learning this way of eating is a lifestyle choice to move toward improved health and feeling better.  

Your dietitian and other members of your lifestyle medicine team are coaches and partners who all communicate the same messages to you. They know that everyone is unique and work with you and each other to help you reach your goals. Time and time again, people who have achieved success through lifestyle medicine report that the team support is what made the difference.

What to Expect from a Lifestyle Medicine Nutritional Consultation

  • You'll meet with someone using motivational interviewing techniques to ask about your eating behaviors and habits and your goals. Do you want to lose weight or lower your blood sugar, or have less joint pain and feel more comfortable moving?
  • You may talk about cultural and socioeconomic factors that influence your food choices.
  • You may be asked what you ate the day before the session and to keep a food log for a short time afterward. 
  • Your team will assess your support network — for example, who does the cooking in your house? — and identify potential pitfalls, as well as ways to handle them.
  • You and your team will get a sense of what you're eating and your dietary behaviors and talk about what kinds of changes may work best for you. You may choose to make one food change a week, for example.
  • Partway through your journey, you'll engage in cognitive behavioral therapy to talk about how you are doing. What is going well and what isn't? What are your goals for this week and for the future? This part of the experience is vital for ensuring you remain motivated to continue making positive changes and moving forward. 

Your dietitian may recommend possible changes such as:

  • Identifying more whole foods for you to eat.
  • Substituting white rice with brown rice.
  • Avoiding red meat, dairy or eggs.
  • Educating you about plant-based proteins, such as beans, nuts and spinach.
  • Identifying lean animal proteins, should you prefer to keep these in your diet, such as white-meat poultry and fish.

Nutrition

For more information about starting a plant-predominant diet, visit:

If you are thinking about making changes in your diet and are motivated to take the responsibility for maintaining them, lifestyle medicine may be for you. Lifestyle medicine services at HSS are provided in person and through telehealth. Call 212-774-7653 for more information.

Illustrations courtesy of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

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