NaBloPoMo 2016, Letters to Patients, Day 4
To My Patients Who Wonder, “How Healthy Is Your Diet, Doc?”
I cannot tell a lie, it kinda sucks sometimes! I’m not a foodie, really. In fact, I have maybe the least discriminating palate of anyone I know—everything tastes good! I particularly love sugar, starch, salt, and oil—especially in combination.
So when I talk to you about the picnic plate method of eating—half stems/stalks/leaves/fruit, a quarter high quality lean protein, and a quarter whole grain—believe me, I understand the challenge! In fact, every time I counsel you, I review my own food log in my head, and I resolve to visit the raw salad bar more often. When I give advice or make suggestions, it’s not that I necessarily know better than you, or that I think I’m better than you. We’re all here doing our best every day. It’s my job to look out for your health, which research tells us is only 20% related to what I do in the clinic or hospital, and 30% related to your own habits (incidentally, it’s 40% related to your environment). So if I can help you make even the smallest change for the better, then I feel useful.
When I ask you about exercise, sleep, stress management, and relationships, I am also taking stock of my own habits in those realms. To me, these are the central domains of health. And nobody has a perfect balance all the time. Maybe you’re great at exercise, but your diet is the pits. Maybe you eat really well, but you stay up too late at night. Everybody’s patterns are different, and they shift over time. Sometimes I might share my own fluctuating experiences with you, if it feels relevant and helpful. But our time together is about you, not me.
I want you to feel free to ask me how I manage my own health. It’s important to me that I Walk the Talk. I will answer honestly, if sheepishly. I will share my struggles with you. I risk judgment by you when I do this, and I accept that. One of you actually said, “Shame on you,” to me one time. Maybe you feel judged by me, also? I think that is inevitable. We all judge ourselves, and then subconsciously project our judgments onto others. I’m working on self-compassion—ask me about that, too!
It’s about strategy and execution, trial and error, and repetition. No matter what the behavior change, the more times we try, the more likely we will finally succeed. So the next time you come in and we talk about health habits, think of it as comparing notes, rather than reporting progress or regress. If you found something that works, please share! I might just steal the idea for myself.
Having worked in university hospitals and coordinated residency programs, I’ve often thought “Physician heal thyself”, as I saw doctors living unhealthy lives – like the general population, they ranged from overextended marathoners to chain smokers. It’s a reminder that one’s profession does not protect a person from the vicissitudes of being human.
In a world of unrelenting scrutiny and commentary, it’s best to remember we’re humans first, so that we can be kinder towards ourselves and consequently, kinder and more forgiving of others, no matter what their job. Your self-scrutiny and honesty as a physician, is endearing.
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Wow, you have done so many things in your life! 😳
Your comment is spot-on; somehow we think of caregiving professionals as rightly giving up care of themselves as a requirement for their work. It’s a dangerous assumption for us all, and an important aspect of our culture that needs to change.
Have a great weekend! 😊