Updated: Jul 19
How would you rate the U.S. healthcare system in treating chronic health conditions versus preventing them? It’s an interesting question that may warrant further consideration and review (please read to the end to receive your helpful doctor's guide).
I first considered this question during my health and wellness certification program. I was surprised to learn from many featured doctors who stated they did not receive training on the value of nutrition-based behaviors or upholding a healthy lifestyle while attending medical school. Instead of learning how to prevent illnesses, they learned how to treat them. Others mentioned that long-hour shifts and fast-food restaurants located directly in the hospital adversely impacted their eating habits. Therefore, “a growing number of public health experts are calling for a new value-based healthcare model that emphasizes disease prevention, lifestyle and nutritional medicine, and patient-centered care to lower healthcare costs and effectively reduce the rates of chronic disease.” 1
One such doctor, Andrew Weil, MD, who attended Harvard University and Harvard University Medical School, stated, “This whole enterprise [U.S. Healthcare] is not really a healthcare system; it’s a disease management system, and the diseases we are trying to manage are mostly lifestyle related and preventable, and we’re not doing a good job at preventing them.” 2 Dr. Weil further stated, “We have a disease-management system – one that depends on ruinously expensive drugs and surgeries that treat health conditions after they manifest rather than giving our citizens simple diet, lifestyle and therapeutic tools to keep them healthy.” 3
To be clear, our healthcare system, surgeries, and medications are instrumental in saving lives and improving the quality of life for countless patients every day. However, the point is, as a U.S. society, we are in the cycle of treating diseases rather than preventing them. Some may argue that recommending a healthier lifestyle while treating a medical condition is not the role of the attending physician. In contrast, others would counter-argue that it should be. I’ve spoken to others who have stated that their doctors continuously discuss lifestyle habits and make recommendations to improve their health. Are these the exception rather than the rule?
My Journey with Medications
Regarding medications, sometimes the side effects are far worse than the health condition. My personal experience with migraine headache medications serves as an example. A few years ago, I took a specific medication when the aura of a migraine headache began. A short time later, I was in tears, curled under my desk at work, entirely clueless about what was happening.
After this terrifying encounter (for me and my co-workers), I went to a different doctor, who prescribed an alternate medication that helped manage these crippling headaches immensely. However, the doctor never discussed the underlying reasons for these headaches or triggers that might have caused them to occur so frequently. We only talked about treatment to the exclusion of prevention.
While I am very thankful to have the “cocktail” of medications to help with migraine relief, I am even more thrilled to know that by adopting a healthy lifestyle, I can PREVENT migraines from happening in the first place.
I gradually transformed my poor eating habits—snacking being the worst—into eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables as part of my daily routine. As a result, my migraines decreased from happening at least twice a month to only once every four to six months. When one does occur, it is often light compared to earlier years when they were so severe that trips to the emergency room were essential! I am forever indebted to the medical profession for this long-awaited pain relief.
Making the Shift
Although not new, patient-centered treatment for promoting healthy living has a way to go. There are certainly doctors who care for the person rather than treating the next patient on their schedule for the day. For instance, I once went to the doctor’s office for treatment of a medical issue and instinctively asked for a prescription. I was surprised when the doctor sympathetically stated, “The best medicine I can offer you is diet and exercise.” Though his answer seemed simple, it was somewhat complicated. While not terrible, my eating habits were far from great, and I needed more desire and motivation to improve them.
Regarding physical activity, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it (maybe more of a hate/hate relationship). Exercise frequently made me feel worse, not better. I literally could not get up from the floor following a workout. To this day, doctors have not determined the cause. Therefore, diet and exercise were outside my agenda of high priorities.
Although this conversation occurred more than 15 years ago, it has taken me that long to understand the value of his words. Implementing wellness and health practices has significantly improved my quality of life and health. Regarding that advice to exercise? By keeping my workouts brief, I can still get the health benefits of exercise without experiencing extreme exhaustion. Even though I’m still not a fan, I now understand why physical activity is essential to my general health, motivating me to exercise three to four times weekly.
The Role of a Health and Wellness Coach
Health and wellness coaches partner with you and your healthcare practitioner to develop sustaining strategies for lasting lifestyle changes. These efforts are designed to improve overall health and prevent chronic medical conditions.
It's no secret that diet, exercise, and maintaining mental and emotional balance can significantly increase your health and wellness; however, determining your "why" is the key to engaging in consistent healthy habits that can reap substantial health and life benefits. Without a motivating factor (your why), adopting a daily health and wellness routine may not occur. Additionally, taking on this endeavor can be intimidating and challenging while, at the same time, attempting to find determination, courage, and motivation.
Enter your dedicated health and wellness coach. Starting with mindset, we encourage and inspire you to "want" to care for your health rather than "have to." We will also help to find your why. Being our first clients, we understand the struggle of incorporating healthy habits into a busy life or finding a reason when we’re not feeling up to it. Those are natural feelings and are entirely understood. Since health coaches can empathize with those feelings, we develop working strategies that deliver life-sustaining results.
As illustrated in the diagram below1, you have a team of professionals supporting your choice to prioritize health and wellness.
Once you realize the tremendous benefits of the health game plan you've created with your doctor and health coach, you'll be thrilled with your outcomes and glad you decided to get started. Never give up on yourself, ever. Increased energy, clearer thinking, fewer ailments, weight loss, happiness, contentment, joy, fewer doctor trips and medications, and even reversing certain medical conditions can be yours. These are all life-saving measures waiting for you to take the leap.
Health and wellness coaches are in a perfect position to provide an individualized plan for your health and wellness successes and long-term behavior changes for sustaining a health-focused lifestyle.
Maximize Your Doctor Visits: A Comprehensive Preparation and Discussion Guide
As you may remember, an old proverb states, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” This statement holds immense truth, and you have the power to participate in your prevention. To help you get started, I’ve created a helpful guide to make the most of your upcoming doctor’s visits. Click the secure link below to download your free copy. This guide includes preparation tips and essential topics to help you have meaningful discussions with your doctor.
Consider incorporating gradual daily lifestyle modifications emphasizing the prevention of health conditions rather than treating them. I’m here to support you as your health and wellness coach to make positive adjustments to your lifestyle for a better, healthier you.
I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you have any questions or thoughts, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
To your health and wellness,
1. Institute for Integrative Health Certification Program. (2022). Certification Program in Integrative Health.
2. Devin Thorpe. (2016). Dr. Andrew Weil Works to Focus Healthcare System on Health [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPwZ_z6XEVY
3. Weil, A. (2013, March 10). U.S. manages disease, not health. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/03/08/opinion/weil-health-care/index.html