Should Your Doctor be Asking Questions About Your Diet?

doctor asking about vegan diet

"Let Food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food"

--Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine

This past week with a slight amount of reluctance and apprehension, I visited with a certified Integrative Medicine Practitioner for the very first time.

Why, you ask? 

After listening to an interview with Santa-Cruz physician Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams on the Rich Roll Podcast, I learned about a practice that combines Western and certain Eastern medical philosophies called Integrative Medicine. 

I had never even heard of this type of care before, and was pretty skeptical until I did further research and found that most of our country's leading health care centers have jumped on board long ago. 

Duke University's informative website defines the practice as such:

"Integrative medicine is an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. Employing a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs and circumstances, it uses the most appropriate interventions from an array of scientific disciplines to heal illness and disease and help people regain and maintain optimum health".

Living in Houston, I am extremely lucky to have easy access to the world's largest medical center filled with specialists and practitioners of excellent pedigrees. 

I have a family history of skin cancer, anxiety/mental illness, and autoimmune disease. 

And even though I am currently 26 and very healthy, I believe in a focus on preventative measures. I decided to have several spots on my leg examined by this board-certified Mayo-Clinic trained dermatologist in her integrative dermatology practice office, and what happened left me feeling completely transformed. 

She asked me first to complete 4 lengthy patient questionnaires the day prior to my visit. The surveys covered everything from my diet and current medications to a lengthy family health history and "willingness-assessment" to make lifestyle modifications.

Some of the most surprising questions to me included:

  • What were my overall goals with treatment?

  • If I could wave a magic wand and fix 3 problems, what would that look like and what would they be?

  • Am I happy?

  • What types of foods do I consume?

  • Do I practice meditation?

  • How often do I practice stretching, cardio, strength training?

  • Do I feel like I have a purpose or passion?

The next morning I arrived to a lovely 2-room office and was surprised to see only one other person in the entire establishment. 

No other people, no waiting room, and no hurried vital sign check ups.

Just myself, and my doctor. 

I was then offered a cup of hot ginger tea upon which I sipped while the woman seated across from me unfolded a notepad and asked, "so how are you feeling?".

I looked around the office as I contemplated an answer. 

The decor was elegant and calming, with natural light glowing behind a gorgeous sill lined with several paperweight crystals. 

An enso crowned the translucent window shade.

"I'm worried". I replied.

90 minutes later, I felt like I had spilled my entire life's story. While mildly concerned about the patches of discolored skin on my leg, she seemed more interested in my underlying emotional, mental, and dietary health.

"Fixing the outside problem" she remarked near the end of the session, "normally starts with what's going on inside".

I've been a registered nurse for 6 years, 2 of which I spent in the nation's 3rd best Children's Hospital, and 4 as a nurse anesthetist putting patients to sleep in the operating room. 

While I've been a part of amazing teams of providers in my short career, I've also seen how broken our health care system can be.

The truth is, we don't understand a lot of what we're doing. And it scares all of us. 

We run lab tests, diagnose to the best of our abilities, and save lives in critical situations. But long-term preventative care and truly getting to the bottom of what health really means seems to escape us ever still.

We're still learning, evolving our practices, and struggling to provide some sort of health care to every citizen.

I hope that one day, all of us will not only have access to care, but will thrive under true health care that lives up to the definition set forth by the WHO: 

“a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”