Fighting Eating Disorders: Why Naturopathic Medicine May Be the Answer

Fighting Eating Disorders: Why Naturopathic Medicine May Be the Answer

Learn how naturopathic approaches to screening and treating eating disorders can help patients overcome their disorder to lead healthier lives, both emotionally and physically.

30 million Americans will struggle with disordered eating at some point in their lives. Nearly one million Canadians are living with a diagnosed eating disorder, and millions of others struggle with food and weight preoccupation. These serious illnesses affect all kinds of individuals across the spectrum of gender, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status.

The month of February marks two observances to raise public awareness about the dangers of eating disorders. In the United States, the National Eating Disorders Association is spearheading National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from February 24th through March 1st. In Canada, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre is behind Eating Disorder Awareness Week from February 1st through February 7th.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia and binge eating are complex and life threatening – they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. However, due to societal stigma, many eating disorders go undiagnosed or untreated.

The holistic, patient-centered approach of naturopathic medicine is a key tool in screening and treating eating disorders effectively.

“Many patients are reluctant to discuss eating patterns that they suspect might not be healthy. NDs typically use a very comprehensive intake with new patients, and take the time to ask about diet, desired weight, anxiety, depression, and more, which aids in eliciting warning signs for eating disorders.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

“Addressing eating disorders and nutritional peculiarities requires a sensitive eye, a listening ear and a thorough appointment: the written patient intake, the physical exam, and an extensive interview.”

Jennifer Botwick, ND

Renowned Nutrition Expert and Retired Clinical Supervisor and Adjunct Faculty, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

After the initial stage of screening, naturopathic doctors take a multifaceted approach to address the eating disorder as thoroughly as possible.

 

 “Naturopathic physicians always aim to treat the cause of a condition, be that anxiety, depression, trauma, or other – and in treating the cause, we can offer lasting improvement, or in many cases, cure. NDs also typically spend more time with patients than conventional doctors, and thus are able to establish trust, which leads to healing. Many NDs are also open to other types of activities, such as meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and journaling, all of which are helpful in promoting healing in this patient population.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

“Management of eating disorders should be a multidisciplinary approach involving psychiatrists, psychologists, endocrinologists, dentists, gastroenterologists, internists, naturopathic doctors and so on. All personnel must work closely together and maintain open communication and mutual respect.”

Afsoun Khalili, BSc, ND

Associate Professor and Clinic Faculty, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

“My team typically consists of a counselor who will address psychosocial variables, the family dynamic, issues of trauma, and the cognitive-behavioral factors that contributed-to and often maintain the eating disorder. I also work with a dietician, and sometimes a psychiatrist. My role as a naturopathic doctor is to seek to understand the root cause, remove obstacles to cure, stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself, give the body what it needs to heal, tonify weak and damaged systems, and evaluate structural integrity.”

Nicole Cain, ND, MA

Integrative Mental Health Expert, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic doctors approach treatment for eating disorders from a variety of angles. These NDs weigh in with the methods they find most effective.

It is vital to address underlying causes and identify solutions or strategies to overcome the disorder. “A family history should be obtained regarding eating disorders and other psychiatric disorders. A detailed physical examination should be conducted with particular attention to vital signs; physical status (including height and weight); heart rate and rhythm; evidence of self-injurious behavior; muscular weakness; and more. Regular monitoring of Body Mass Index (BMI) should also be done.” Dr. Khalili points to a few studies where patients have had success in returning to a healthy weight and reducing harmful behaviors such as binging. One study shows that zinc was associated with an accelerated improvement of BMI. Another study indicated that patients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy saw decreases in episodes of binging and purging.

Afsoun Khalili, BSc, ND

Associate Professor and Clinic Faculty, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

It is important to “recognize behaviors and patterns with regard to food, eating, thinness, weight, self-acceptance, cutting, excessive exercise, regimented eating and precise daily notations” when screening for eating disorders. In treatment, she recommends regular therapy. “Therapy varies for the individual, as does what and how we eat. As nutritional lifestyles vary, so does the type of treatment. Talk therapy for some, dance, art, or music therapy for others. A professional and safe counseling relationship can aid the patient in their path of wellness with a healthy relationship to and with eating.”

Jennifer Botwick, ND

Renowned Nutrition Expert and Retired Clinical Supervisor and Adjunct Faculty, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

“Homeopathy can help address the imbalance, or triggers, that lead to the disorder, and I’ve had excellent results with this modality. Botanical medicine is fantastic at providing nourishment to organ systems affected. It can also be empowering to teach patients how to customize a tea blend, for example, to promote their own healing.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

“Basic treatments should include consideration of the biopsychosocial variables to care. This means the patient should engage in psychotherapy, receive nutritional rehabilitation, and their biological systems must be carefully monitored—particularly during the refeeding period if the patient has been restricting.” She sees the “most profound benefit from homeopathic treatment combined with psychological care, including counseling, support groups, and cognitive behavioral therapy.”

Nicole Cain, ND, MA

Integrative Mental Health Expert, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

When treating patients struggling with eating disorders, these doctors have seen great progress because of their naturopathic approaches. Here are a few of their success stories.

Dr. Stage treated a 20-year-old female patient struggling with anorexia nervosa and bulimia with some purging. “She had been on multiple medications, unsuccessfully, for anxiety and depression, and the medications, at one point, caused Serotonin Syndrome, a rare but life-threatening complication. We gave her a medicinal tea (with herbs like chamomile, lavender, and skullcap) and a homeopathic remedy that addressed her perfectionism and anticipatory anxiety. We did some counseling about adding in foods, but you have to be careful about that in eating disorders. We also put her on a multivitamin for suspected vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Her mood lifted considerably over the following several months and she started to gain weight, stopped purging, and moved towards a healthier eating pattern. Her improvement was significant and lasting.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

Dr. Cain helped a female patient who suffered from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). “BDD is a condition where the sufferer becomes obsessive about a flaw or perceived flaw or defect in their personal appearance. She expressed that she had put sheets over all of the mirrors because she hated her face so much. In secret, she would binge on carbohydrates until she was so full she felt sick and then she would purge. As time passed, the binging and purging became more frequent and she found herself unable to stop. Treatment focused on following the guidelines of the therapeutic order. This involved nutrition, movement, fresh air, counseling to work on self-talk, marriage counseling, prayer, going to Over Eaters Anonymous Groups, and more. She got rid of her social media accounts, received mind-body therapy, and she threw all of the junk food away. We treated her with a homeopathic remedy which addressed her mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. We prescribed trophorestoratives to help the nervous system, which had been in a state of ‘fight or flight’ for several years. We also gave her adaptogens to help correct the cortisol deficiency that was detected in her laboratory work. She started to receive cranial sacral therapy which helped balance her skeletal system and body as a whole. After several months of treatment, she stopped binging and purging, her depression started to lift, and her anxiety reduced. Twelve months later, she reported that she didn’t even relate to that self anymore.”

Nicole Cain, ND, MA

Integrative Mental Health Expert, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

Orthorexia is another condition that can arise from extreme dietary monitoring and an obsessive desire to “eat clean.” Naturopathic expertise is valuable for this circumstance as well.

“Orthorexia may start out as a healthy desire to change one’s diet and lifestyle, but may progress into a seemingly obsessive pursuit of a healthy diet. Those suffering with orthorexia will obsessively avoid foods perceived to be harmful or unwholesome, experience extreme anxiety about how food is prepared, spend exceedingly long amounts of time preparing for food, spend excess money on food, and feel extreme guilt or shame when not adhering to their dietary standards. It is important for naturopathic clinicians in particular to be aware of this because patients suffering from these symptoms are often attracted to naturopathic doctors and their information on diet and nutrition. The key variable in orthorexia is the underlying motive. Commonly, patients with this condition report being motivated by the desire to enjoy feelings of health, cleanliness, and pureness. Holistic counseling into the root cause to this need and desire is key and cognitive behavioral approaches are key treatments.” 

Nicole Cain, ND, MA

Integrative Mental Health Expert, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

“Education about nutrients and appropriate amounts and types of exercise is often helpful. Often these patients are very interested in their own health and thus respond well to education. However, in cases where there is a strong sense of perfectionism, or mood disorder underlying the condition, an appropriately chosen homeopathic remedy, botanical formula, acupuncture protocol, or mind-body therapy can be very helpful.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

This month and every month, naturopathic doctors work closely with patients to screen and treat eating disorders.

“Naturopathic medicine offers hope to the hopeless. While the modern medical model has helped millions of men and women recover from eating disorders, there are those who do not get well with conventional approaches. Naturopathic medicine provides a completely unique and fresh perspective.”

Katie Stage, ND, RH (AGH)

Faculty Senate President and Director of the Division of Therapeutics, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Dr. Lily Stokely – Bastyr

“Before discovering naturopathic medicine, I felt a hunger for more information about the human body in both physical and emotional states. I felt torn between more mental/emotional healthcare fields and the physical. It seemed confusing that they were separated in conventional medicine. Naturopathic medicine is the only healthcare profession that I know of that has the ability to fully support all aspects of health. I wanted a profession that I knew I wouldn’t be bored with. I wanted to feel inspired and to have a foundation of tools that I could continue to learn from.”

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

“I always had an interest in health and medicine. Much of my life I knew I wanted to become a doctor. In college at the University of California, Berkeley, I studied dietetics hoping it would provide a more comprehensive view of health than simply diagnosing and prescribing medications. I knew I wanted to support people from a more holistic perspective and I didn’t feel that medical doctors had all the information. After studying dietetics, I graduated and was reminded again that this field also was only one piece to the holistic health puzzle. I wanted to support people with all determinants of health, not just one through nutrition. At this time, I didn’t know naturopathic medicine existed. I took two gap years and lived in Australia and South East Asia studying and teaching yoga while waitressing and deciding my next career moves. I found naturopathic medicine through the yoga community. After learning more about the naturopathic medical field it felt like everything that had been lacking in other health professions was miraculously combined in one provider. I applied to Bastyr from a beach in Thailand and quickly returned home to interview.”

Bastyr as a springboard

“After traveling through many countries, living in the Bay Area, and growing up in Northern California, I felt slightly ungrounded from a sense of where ‘home’ was. Seattle and the surrounding areas of Bastyr felt like home before I even moved there. In touring the school, the idea of taking breaks to walk on trails and being surrounded by gardens and fresh air felt supportive and needed amongst the intense course load I was about to embark on. The emphasis on research-based medicine and Bastyr’s reputation within the natural healthcare field was also important in my decision. Bastyr was the foundation to the therapeutic tools and philosophy that inspire me in practice. I gained a solid science background and exposure to many healing therapies.

After graduating I finished a two-year naturopathic residency with Emerald City Clinic in Seattle with an emphasis in primary care. In the last six months of residency, I started the process of starting my own clinic, opening a week after finishing my residency. I was fortunate to be able to have the majority of my patients have continuity of care from residency to private practice and opened my doors with a full schedule.

My private practice got busier than expected in the first year. I hired a full-time resident to join me one year into practice with two administrative staff. My husband also joined the practice as a naturopathic doctor. I leave work most days feeling fulfilled. Work days are long, however I’m working with a personal coach to find ways to improve work-life balance and walk the talk of foundations of health.”

Finding fulfillment as an ND

“Life is full, busy, wonderful, and challenging. The aspects I love most about being a naturopathic doctor are the vast amount of tools we have to support individuals. We never have to practice by a ‘one size fits all model.’ Bodies are diverse and naturopathic medicine provides tools to support and respect this diversity. One of my favorite experiences as an ND is when a patient may not tolerate or like the original suggestion of treatment that I provide and I then get to use creativity to provide an option that feels supportive to them individually. I am passionate about supporting people who are underserved in healthcare and providing a compassionate approach to aid in both physical healing, but also trust in the healthcare field.”

Advice for aspiring NDs

“It is important to go in clear on why you are choosing naturopathic medicine. The training and practice is hard, but it is rewarding work. If you are not connected with the why of what you are doing, it will lead to burn out.

I attribute much of my career success to developing skills to remain adaptable, while finding the aspects of the profession that allowed my innate skills to shine. I found a few skills that I knew I wanted to hone in on including eating disorder treatment and physical medicine early in my learning at Bastyr. At the time I may not have known that these would be my ‘specialties’ however in hindsight getting specific with skill development helped me develop a niche that has allowed my practice to thrive. I practice from a concept of Health at Every Size with all of my patients which embraces the idea that people’s bodies can be healthy at any size if given the support needed to respect hunger/fullness cues and step away from a diet centered approach to health. This concept partners with intuitive eating and includes dismantling of weight bias amongst individuals and our culture. These concepts are also the foundation of eating disorder prevention and treatment that I provide in my practice.”

Join Dr. Stokely for a free webinar – Eating Disorders, Naturopathic Care Can Help

“Naturopathic medicine matches every aspect of care that someone with an eating disorder may need such as counseling, nutritional support, treating digestive sequelae, lab analysis, and elongated visits. Although naturopathic doctors are well suited to provide eating disorder care, direct training in eating disorder treatment is limited in the medical field as a whole.”

Join Dr. Stokely for an informative webinar to learn about the need for eating disorder professionals, where to start if interested in becoming an eating disorder provider, and how the support of naturopathic physicians can be essential in eating disorder care. Click here to register.

Learn more about Dr. Stokely:

Website

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Bodypersonal excerpts about body image

Continued education courses on eating disorder treatment

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Taylor Goodwin – SCNM ND Student

Hailing from Provo, UT, Taylor Goodwin is a second-year naturopathic medical student at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM). He shares his experience leading up to starting his journey in naturopathic medicine, and as an ND student.

Why did you choose naturopathic medicine?

Taylor recognized the need for wellness and preventative care and felt a true calling in healthcare. His curiosity in how things work, including all things science, technology, engineering, and mathematics made naturopathic medicine a natural fit.

How did you prepare for ND school?

“I picked up classes outside my major when they interested me, and generally let curiosity be a guide. I participated in extracurricular activities such as being a teacher’s assistant, volunteering at my church, and interning as a doula with midwife Heather Shelley for two months in Utah.

There were four major factors in my consideration of a naturopathic medical school: the level and quality of research on the campus, that the material being taught is not based solely on someone’s opinion or tradition, the feeling/atmosphere of the campus, and the approval of the school by my mentor. After hearing Dr. Jeffrey Langland – SCNM’s Research Department Chair speak, I felt SCNM had everything I was looking for. Dr. Langland played a large role in raising SCNM’s credibility with me, while also remaining open minded and true to the naturopathic principles. I also liked the open atmosphere on campus.”

What is your favorite thing about school? What surprised you?

“One of my favorite things in school has been tutoring. I love to see people make connections, to see their eyes light up with curiosity’s spark, and feeling the desire to learn for the sake of discovery. Seeing that kindles my own spark, and drives me further.

The most surprising thing that I have learned hasn’t been academic, but about myself. I am much more capable in certain areas than I expected. I have also found that I am much more vulnerable to positive peer opinions than I am to negative ones. I’ve learned a new skill set in dealing with that. I also found it surprising how quickly a close ‘family’ vibe formed in our class.”

How do you maintain a school/life balance?

“At first I was doing well and wasn’t stressed about school. Then I allowed myself get sidetracked by personal issues which led to poor academic focus. I had to take a break for a while. However, I have since found that pushing up to my real breaking point, and beyond, has helped my perspective and self-understanding. I am stronger for it.

Several habits have helped: only using high density study methods, making sleep a priority, and finding things that get my mind away from school such as learning to play the guitar and playing games with friends. I have also had to learn when to say ‘no’ to activities and opportunities.”

Taylor is pictured in teal with a group he led at the Arizona Desert Botanical Garden.

Taylor’s extracurricular activities include: teaching and participating in religion classes, tutoring (view a tutoring video that he made on reflex physiology), serving as a teacher’s assistant, working on research projects (current topics include kennel cough as well as others), making home botanical medicines, leading local plant identification walks, botanical medicine gathering trips to Colorado, and mission trips with Naturopaths Without Borders to Mexico. He also teaches religion at his church, and participates in a weekly religion class at Arizona State University.

Taylor is pictured with his Naturopaths Without Borders team in Rocky Point, Mexico. He says, “By the time we return, we look exhausted and a bit rough around the edges, but are more satisfied than ever, knowing we truly made a difference.  Medically, we know more, and are more confident in our skills, as they are forged in fire through hands-on practice.”

What advice do you have for prospective ND students?

“Learn how to learn before starting naturopathic medical school. I would recommend a free online course – Learning How to Learn  by Barbra Oakley. I strongly encourage you to have a solid idea of why you are coming and why you are learning at the school you choose. Figure out how to hold on to it because when it gets hard, you need to be able to remember why you are there and why you are doing what you are doing. Feed that daily, and you’ll have the emotional fortitude and motivation to solve all the more direct problems as they arise.”

Click here to learn about other naturopathic doctors’ paths to naturopathic medicine.

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Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter and Humor

Few things are as emotionally satisfying as a good belly laugh. Many people became familiar with laughter as medicine thanks to the work of Robin Williams in the movie Patch Adams. Based on a true story, Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams established the Gesundheit Institute dedicated to spreading humor, laughter, and joy to patients.

“There is so much literature specific to the beneficial effects of humor on health, but one truly advantageous benefit that is often missed is the impact on the doctor patient relationship. We are social individuals by nature, and humor is such an efficacious tool to allow a patient to feel comfortable and establish a sense of connection.  Humor has the ability to transform a dry and stagnant interaction to one that embodies the opportunity for trust, conversation and most importantly, compliance.  Patients want a chance to be heard and be themselves: a good joke, laugh, and smile is many times the simple answer!”

Joseph Vazquez, ND

Assistant Professor and Attending Clinician, National University of Health Sciences

Experiencing optimal health is a multifactorial process, usually thought of involving a healthy diet, exercise program, and other lifestyle choices. Laughter is a universal characteristic of all humans, and having a sense of humor and finding opportunities to laugh have been linked to better overall health, both mentally and physically. Everyone enjoys a good laugh. Here are some ways laughter can help you live a healthier and happier life!

Psychological Health

Mood

Not surprisingly, humor and laughter are great for the mood. Many studies have shown that laughter and humor are excellent stress relievers and effective at lowering anxiety by increasing levels of the “happy” brain chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. Cortisol and epinephrine (the stress hormones) decrease with laughter. A study involving “laughing yoga” classes, found that participants reported increased vigor and reduced tension. 1,2 Laughter has also been shown to alleviate depression and improve sleep quality. 3

Quality of Life

The stress of caring for sick loved ones is well-documented. Laughter therapy has been used to improve the psychological health of HIV patient caregivers. 4 Nursing home patients also saw improvement in quality of life markers with just a little levity. 5 Laughter therapy has also been shown to significantly improve the quality of life in cancer patients. 6

Cognitive Health

Laughter even has a beneficial effect on cognitive health.  In one study, watching humorous videos improved short term memory, learning and visual recognition in elderly diabetic patients. 7 And of course, laughter is a fundamental way of connecting socially and improves relationships across the board. 8

“Humor is a free, easy, noninvasive, and scientifically supported therapy that provides many health benefits. Laughter encourages the release of the body’s natural “feel good” hormones that promote a sense of well-being as well as increase immune cells to provide resistance to illness.”

Krystal Crawford, ND, MS, AHG (RH)

Graduate, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

Physical Benefits

Pain Reduction

Laughter and humor also have significant physical health benefits.  For example, in a study involving pain tolerance and muscle soreness, watching a comedic movie for just 30 minutes significantly and immediately reduced symptoms compared to a placebo group that viewed a documentary. 9

Cardiovascular Health

It is well-established that conditions such as depression and anger are detrimental to cardiovascular health, but whether or not the opposite is true, that is, if positive feelings are beneficial to cardiovascular health is still being studied.  One study did find that watching comedic films increased vascular function in healthy adults compared to those who watched a documentary. 10 In patients awaiting organ transplants, laughing yoga classes significantly improved cardiac function, and their moods improved immediately. 11  Another study involving over 20,000 people investigated the correlation between how often the participants laughed and their risk of developing heart disease and stroke.  Those who claimed to rarely or never laugh had significantly higher occurrences of both conditions than those who said that they laughed daily. 12  Daily laughter was also linked to lower mortality and heart disease in a Japanese study. 13

 

Immune System

Laughter and humor can also boost the immune system. In a study involving postpartum women, it was found that laughter therapy increased immune function significantly over placebo (14), and in another study investigating obese women, laughing therapy reduced the inflammatory markers, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).  The participants’ blood glucose levels were also decreased. 15

 

NDs share stories of patients treated with humor

“A male teenager and his mother came to me for weight management issues. He was overweight and had a family history of diabetes and obesity. He performed well academically and was an avid fan of video games and water polo; however, he recognized that his health and weight were becoming an issue. Actually, his mother recognized this. In fact, it was his mother who answered the majority of my questions, interjected with stories and clinical caveats, while he sat there, and didn’t say much besides an occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ teenage head nod. 

I was able to speak with him more when his mother left the room, and he confirmed that he wanted to lose weight, eat healthy and become active again.  He had already taken initiative and was proactive about the process, eating meals that his mother prepared for him and getting more movement throughout the day.

From my assessment, he was on the right track!  I asked if his mother was helping with the process and he agreed.  I asked if she was helping “too much” and he finally cracked a smile.  When I was ready to deliver the treatment plan with both of them in the room, I asked a few more questions directed to the mother.  “Are you preparing healthy meals for him?” to which she animatedly said “Yes!”  I said “Great,” and immediately moved on to the next question, “Does he suffer from any hearing loss or impediment?”  Again, she vehemently denied, but now seemed curious as to my line of questions.  I again said “good” and asked my next question, “Do you remind him that he needs to eat healthy and exercise?”  Her eyes grew big and enthusiastically said “Oh yes, absolutely!”  I quickly asked “How many times a day?”  She paused and then answered, “A few.”  I smiled and asked again, “Does he suffer from any hearing loss or impediment?”  At that point, the mother began to laugh out loud and quickly covered her mouth.  Her son looked at me with open eyes and a big smile, surprised that I “caught” his mother in the act, so to speak. 

We continued to have a long discussion on how to best support her son, and for him to acknowledge and show appreciation.  There were both tears and laughter on her part, but by the time the visit was over, she gave me a big hug and delivered a heartfelt “Thank you.”  Her son shook my hand, with the same smile that never went away 10-15 minutes prior.  The visit was so much more than a plan addressing weight loss and lifestyle modifications, rather, addressing the relationships that either get in our way or support the process.”

Joseph Vazquez, ND

Assistant Professor and Attending Clinician, National University of Health Sciences

“Humor serves as a great communication tool to relieve stress and facilitate a healthy doctor-patient relationship.  I use laughter in my consultations to lighten the mood which is helpful for my patients during dark times. Humor distracts patients from their fears and reduces their stress allowing them to open up about the challenges they’ve faced with their illness and diffuse their feelings of sadness, fear, and anger.”

Krystal Crawford, ND, MS, AHG (RH)

Graduate, University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine

So, it would seem that laughter really is the best medicine! In the words of Patch Adams, “The most radical act anyone can commit is to be happy,” so let yourself be, and remember to take time to fill your days with laughter.

To find out more about the comprehensive and patient-centered plan NDs take, click here.

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How to Read Food Labels

One of the first steps in making informed health decisions is the ability to decipher what exactly is in your food. With so much conflicting information on what constitutes “healthy food,” as well as potentially confusing claims on packages, it is in the best interest for consumers to learn how to read food labels and determine if the item meets their needs. Phrases that frequently appear on the front of the packages like all natural, whole grain, low fat, no additives, or heart healthy may not totally mean what you think they do.  It has been shown that consumers will base food choices on the claims on the front of the package rather than the nutrition label on the back, so how does one determine the actual nutritional quality of food they are going to purchase (or not purchase)? 1

What to Look for?

Serving Size

Perhaps one of the most misleading parts of a food label is the serving size. Labels list the caloric and nutritional information based on one serving size, which may be a fraction of what is in the container, and frequently less than what the average person may consume.  For example, one serving size might be half of a candy bar or half a can of soda, but most people will consume all of it in one sitting. If you’re not careful, you could be eating more fat and sugar calories than you think. Research shows that many consumers do not read or understand nutrition labels adequately, but those who do make healthier choices. 2

Nutrition Information

  • Carbohydrates are reported as total grams, and then further separated into fiber and sugar. This number may be important to someone who is diabetic or otherwise watching their carbohydrate intake.
  • Fats are reported as the total amount, and then how much of that is saturated fat. Artificial trans-fats, which are detrimental to health, were banned from packaged and restaurant food by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015. 3
  • Cholesterol is listed if found in significant quantities. People on a low-fat diet or with elevated blood lipids may want to pay attention these values.
  • Protein is reported in grams, and most people don’t need to worry about getting too much, unless they have kidney disease, for example.
  • Sodium content is extremely important, because many packaged and prepared foods are very high in salt in order to make them taste good and extend shelf-life. The total daily allowance for sodium is less than a teaspoon per day (2300 mg) and those with high blood pressure should be getting closer to 1500 mg.
  • If a product has a significant quantity of other nutrients, such as calcium in a dairy product or vitamin C in orange juice, these will also be listed.

The Order of Ingredients Matters

On any packaged food label, manufactures are required by law to list the ingredients in order by the highest weight.  So, if you were to purchase a jar of marinara sauce, you might expect to see the first ingredient as tomatoes or tomato puree, and then on as the ingredients become less prominent in the product, such as water, herbs, and spices. But this is where it is important to pay attention to the entirety of the list.  Many packaged foods (even savory ones like the above example of pasta sauce) will have added sugar or high fructose corn syrup to make them more palatable to consumers’ tastes.  What at first glance may appear to be a healthy tomato sauce might be laden with other ingredients that should not be consumed on a regular basis!

Generally speaking, if you look at a label, the first two or three ingredients will be the primary ingredients, but also notice if any single ingredient is then followed in parenthesis by several more ingredients; this is a strong indication of a refined product, which may not be that healthy of a choice.  A good example is a can a chicken noodle soup, which then lists all of the ingredients in the noodles.

Health Claims

What about those health claims that can mislead people into making choices that may not be all that healthy?  Some phrases do not have a lot of meaning, such as “whole grain” ( there is a Whole Grain council that makes recommendations) “all natural” or “no additives”, however some do have a legal meaning set in place by the FDA and food manufactures must adhere to them. For example, for a product to be called “low cholesterol” it must contain no more than 20 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams of saturated fat. For a food to be considered “low sodium”, it may not have more than 140 mg per serving. 4,5

Of course, the very best food choices are the ones with no ingredient list at, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. However, we live in a world where packaged foods are ubiquitous, so having as much information as possible is important.

If in doubt over whether a food is good for you, schedule an appointment with a licensed naturopathic physician and have them walk you through your optimal food plan. In fact, some will literally walk you through a grocery store to educate you on how to read labels effectively so that you can make the best choices for you and your family. Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.

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Put Your Health First with These Naturopathic Resolutions

After the holiday presents are unwrapped and the New Year’s glitter settles, the reality of a fresh start hits us. The new year offers limitless possibilities and new beginnings, how do we make the most of it? As you find yourself considering your vision for the year, where does your health fit into the equation? Doctors, professors, and other experts in the field of naturopathic medicine believe that setting wellness-driven resolutions will help you reach your full potential this year. Here are nine naturopathic new year’s resolutions you should consider adopting.

Resolution #1: Focus on the best ‘now’ possible

“Naturopathic medicine is about listening to your body and being in tune with the changes that need to be made to bring about health, wellbeing, and balance. Don’t wait to make a change that needs to be made—start today.”

One resolution that can have a resounding impact on health and wellbeing is the art of being present.

Mindfulness and being in the moment is a powerful tool for the following reasons:

  • It allows us to fully engage and focus on the opportunities in front of us.
  • It minimizes the stress that comes with the ‘what ifs’. We don’t have power to change the past—our power is in the now.
  • It minimizes the stress that comes from worrying about the future.
  • It allows for better connection with our body and environment.

When we are fully present and in tune with our body, we can better understand the root cause of an issue and the impact of any one thing on us.

I think of mindfulness like a muscle—the more we practice, the stronger and more natural we get at it.

4 Short Mindfulness Exercises

1.Mindful bites

Use the daily opportunity of eating to practice mindfulness! Take first couple of bites of any meal or snack you eat, and focus on the full experience—from the smell of the food, and how you feel as you anticipate eating, through to the textures and sensations as you eat. Apply gratitude to the nourishment and support it gives you to create a strong and functional body. Are the food choices we are making moving us closer or farther away from our health goals?

2. Too much screen time?

Give your brain a break! Instead of reflexively going to a device in the five minutes between meetings, or while waiting for something, try looking out your window and focusing on nature. Use mindfulness to give your brain a break rather than filling up every tiny space in your day by automatically reaching for a screen.

3. Scan your body

Scan your body, top to bottom for any sensations of discomfort or tension. Try softening any sensations of discomfort by breathing into those spaces, and filling them with healing light. Next, scan your body for areas of peace and relaxation.

4. Do one action mindfully

If none of the above work for you, pick one thing you do daily and choose to do it mindfully – paying attention to each step in the process and doing it all without judgment.

Wishing you all peace in the New Year.

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE

Executive Director, Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC)

Resolution #2: Make self-care non-negotiable

“The best resolution is to commit to listening to and honoring your body’s needs. The work that we do as NDs requires an ability to be fully present with our patients, which becomes quite difficult if we don’t first take care of ourselves. Put another way, the more we can love and respect ourselves, the better we can help our patients do the same. In reality, this isn’t a resolution at all (everyone knows that most people give up on their’s within a few weeks, anyway) but rather a decision to make self-care non-negotiable.”

Robert Kachko, ND, LAc

2020 President, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)

Resolution #3: Reflect on what you need in order to practice to the best of your ability

“My practice is focused primarily on supportive cancer care. I remember a patient asking me several years ago, ‘What is it you would most like to do right now?’  I answered that I would like to ski in the mountains of British Columbia for the first time. She replied, ‘Then what is stopping you? We will always think we’re too busy, or it’s too expensive, or some other excuse we tell ourselves. There will always be a reason not to. But I promise you that you will not regret it when you’re there, or when you look back on your life.’

Practicing naturopathic medicine takes a lot of work, compassion, focus and integrity. In order to practice to the best of our abilities and truly love the life we live, we must support ourselves by spending time with loved ones, being in nature or however we best recharge – what would you most like to do in 2020? “

Mark Fontes, ND

Chair, Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND)

Resolution #4: Enjoy nature, find time for self-reflection

“With so much chaos in the world and a global sense of being overwhelmed, my new year’s resolution is to spend more time in silence and reflection and enjoying nature. My goal is to practice the art of intention and to remind myself (and my patients) every day of the power of the mind and the ability of the mind to heal. I am excited about the possibilities!”

Iva Lloyd, BScH, BCPP, ND

President, World Naturopathic Federation

Resolution #5: Don’t bite off more than you can chew, know when to say ‘no’

“My resolution is to not bite off more than I can chew! That relates to all aspects of life. Choosing healthy food portions, healthy work life balance, and sometimes saying ‘no’ to what seems like an important new endeavor to get involved in. There are so many opportunities to participate in with inspired, capable people doing good work! My goal is to keep laser-focused on the priorities I set out for me, in the year ahead.”

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND

President, Institute for Natural Medicine

Resolution #6: Don’t put off healthy habits

“My resolution is to develop one new habit that is good for my health that I’ve put off and stick with it, and to rekindle one interesting hobby—perhaps playing music.”

Fraser Smith, MATD, ND

President, Assistant Dean, Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), National University of Health Sciences

Resolution #7: Make time for yourself

“Clear the mind and make time for self:

  • On New Year’s Day, spend at least two hours reflecting on how to incorporate some small, healthy habits into your lifestyle.
  • Spend at least one day away each year with no television, phone, or distractions; this was a common practice by beloved Maya Angelou.
  • Dedicate at least 10 minutes a day to meditation, prayer, or mantras.
  • Spend time in nature for 10 minutes a day or at minimum once a week (e.g. walking and observing your surroundings and the environment).

Be clear on your goals:

  • Write down one to two health goals for the year and look at them each day. Place these goals in a prominent place to be reminded daily (e.g. next to your nightstand, bathroom mirror, etc.). Reminders and reinforcements are key to resolutions.
  • Profess your goal out loud. Sharing with others helps to create accountability.

Be reasonable and love yourself:

  • It’s important to make baby steps towards your goals and also to be kind to yourself if you make a mistake or are not on track. Slander towards oneself is a self-defeating affirmation that makes it more difficult to reach your goal. Reflect, review, reaffirm, make a plan, and move on!
  • Remember that life is a marathon not a race; thus the small incremental health steps you make daily are much more impactful than short-term gains.”
Jaquel Patterson, ND, MBA

2019 President, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)

Resolution #8: Resolve not to make resolutions! 

“Resolve not to make resolutions! Rather, make the effort to improve your ability to set health related goals and achieve them. In practicing sports medicine, it has become apparent that those with effective goal setting skills, generally speaking, have improved long term athletic success and in doing so have inadvertently learned the art of resiliency.

How are these athletes any different from you and I? There are two factors at play. They are highly motivated to achieve performance and also excellent at defining performance indicators (through goal setting) that allow for successful outcomes. However, not only do their goals fit the principles of ‘SMART’ goals (i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely), but athletes tend to add to their goal setting technique.

Many successful athletes have a training log. This tactic forces a goal to be recorded. In doing so, the athlete has established a contract with themselves, resulting in accountability, which helps drive improvement in performance.

Another key benefit of logging information is that it allows for the ongoing evaluation of a goal. An athlete’s training journal provides a way to review historical change and more clearly identify key challenges that may be barriers to success. These challenges can then be addressed quickly, leading to more timely success in goal achievement.

The final aspect that athletes take into consideration is a factor of reality when participating in sport—injury. Physical performance can be considerably influenced through the process of injury and subsequent therapy. As such, the willingness to have reversibility of goals allows for the unexpected in life to occur, while concurrently building the resiliency that is required to reset a training plan and, subsequently, build a new set of ‘SMART’ goals.

By engaging yourself in three additional goal setting tactics (recording, ongoing evaluation, and reversibility) you are positioning yourself for ongoing success, not only at the start of a new calendar year, but consistently over the course of life.”

Lowell Greib, MSc, ND, CISSN

Past Chair, Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND)

Resolution #9: Be mindful, every day

“Practice 10 minutes of meditation every day.”

Joshua Goldenberg, ND

President, GastroANP

Resolution #10: Prioritize family

“In this day and age, the speed and reality of our day-to-day lives just seems to get faster each day—email, social media, or the logistics of family schedules—all pulling us away from the most important things in life: quality time with family and self-care.

This year, I resolve the following: to make the health and well-being of my family the priority.  To commit to regular meditation and nature time, self-care, and humor with my family every day. I resolve to make the health and well-being of my family and myself the top priority—before the Facebook feed, the online games or apps, the endless email, or the to-do lists that just get longer. Set it all aside and laugh and give health to yourself and to your family. Breathe life into that dream and vision for yourself. Take the plunge with me!”

Tabatha Parker, ND

Board President, Executive Director , Natural Doctors International, Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine

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