12 Ways To Become Your Own Wellness Expert

Becoming an expert in your own health and wellness is imperative for the future of healthcare. It may sound strange, but the medical world is shifting. The provider-patient relationship is no longer “I am your master, the expert of your health, you will listen to me and take what I prescribe you”. What we have now is a partnership, a guide towards navigating your specific health and disease. We learned to treat populations of people with certain symptoms, diseases and disorders, not you as an individual and your unique situation. This is a guide to help you to become your own health and wellness expert. Any questions you have, should definitely come our way, that’s what we’re here for.

This can also help you become an expert in your loved ones health too, if the situation arises. After recently been recruited to help my mom take care of my dad, I realized how important it is to be a well-informed health advocate. I came back a couple weeks ago to accompany my mom, my sister and my dad to his Oncology appointment. We were all prepared to fight the doctor about how he can’t just willy-nilly prescribe the next treatment of chemotherapy because my dad is so sensitive to anything he ingests and my mother has to suffer the consequences. Fortunately, this guy was a total king. Compassionate and understanding, he surprised us with his plan of care and we were really relieved with his approach.

So now, I want YOU to find the healer within and make sure your next appointment with your medical provider is more of a partnership, where you discuss the possibilities and make the most educated and informed decisions based on your personal, individual symptoms and disease/disorder.

1.  Become Self-Aware

We’re often so busy with everything that is going on the outside, keeping up with the latest trends, responding to emails, texts, facebook, homework, happy hour, that we rarely go inward. Whether it’s self- breast exams, food journals, or just waking up and doing a self-check in on how you feel every morning, I want you to know your body and what goes on inside it better than I or any of my colleagues do. Which leads me to lesson number three.

2. Practice Regular Self-Physical Exams

I’m pretty shocked at how many people come in to see me who don’t practice self-breast exams or self-testicular exams. This is an essential part of your health and we’re supposed to discuss this with you at every yearly visit. The people who don’t do this usually have one of three reasons: 1) they were never taught how to or that they should 2) they don’t know what to look for or 3) that’s what this doctors visit is for. Ok, so this is my usual speech: “You are with yourself 100% of the time, you should know your body better than anyone, this includes what is normal for you, so you can let us know when something abnormal pops up.” Get it? Got it? Good.

3. Do Your Research

Patients come in and feel like they’re going to get in trouble if they have researched their symptoms on Dr. Google or WebMD, but I’m totally comfortable with this, in fact, I advise everyone to do this. Of course, don’t get crazy and come to us thinking you have a deadly disease because you’re operating from your fear, but instead be reasonable and logical and then come to us if you feel like you can’t find the answer. There is so much information available, it’s impossible to not read up or research a diagnosis you’ve been given. Read, research, study, ask people who have the same diagnosis and then present them to your provider and see what they say. I’ve had many visits where the patient knew more about a specific disease or disorder than I did and I had to swallow my pride and admit it to them. Back in the day when I was an insecure, unsure, newbie PA, anyone who thought they knew more about anything in medicine I blew off. I wore my education like an end-all, be-all.  Then I learned that patients don’t follow text books and sometimes there are details of diseases that I haven’t retained in my seven years out of school. Trust me, getting educated about your disease doesn’t require you to be a doctor or a PA, it just makes you a smarter, more empowered patient.

4. Come To See Us If You Feel Something Is In Dis-ease

So once you do find something abnormal or something that is not right, come in and see us. In PA school, I had a patient who had a HUGE mass on his abdomen. I felt it on exam when he came in for a regular annual physical after four years of not seeing a physician. When I told him the steps that would be taken that eventually led to his diagnosis of aortic tumor, he said he knew all along, he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. Once you become super familiar with your body, you may start noticing symptoms that may have always been there, but you didn’t want to address. We’re here to help you, earlier is better and prevention is key to leading a healthy life.

5. Notice Side Effects of Treatments

When my dad was diagnosed with leukemia, it caused him to have anemia. He had the first transfusion and my mom noticed a change in his personality and activity level that wasn’t present prior to the transfusion. She ignored it, though mentioned the only treatment/thing that had changed was the transfusion. Six weeks later he was back to normal and very manageable. She took him to get blood work and again he was sent for another transfusion, guess what? He turned again and it landed him 10 days in hospice care. When you get a prescription, not only should you get a breakdown of possible side effects from your provider, but you’ll also get the list when you get your medication. Read it, know it, identify them and if its something you can deal with, great, if not, then ask if there is an alternative. Again, you’re ingesting this into your body, you should be incredibly in tune with what you’re putting in.

6. Eat Real Food

‘Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants’- Michael Pollan. Stay away from chemicals, preservatives, processed, factory farmed, GMO’d, sugar-laden food. When I was asked to break down a food plan for underserved populations I said to buy as many organic vegetables and fruits possible, organic chicken and turkey, fish, drink only water and green tea and sparingly eat sweets. This goes along with knowing the side effects of treatment. Food can be the best medicine or the worst toxin, depending on what you decide to take in. Be mindful of the choices you make and when you eat something and feel sleepy or get a headache or your mouth starts itching, take note, perhaps that is a food you should avoid.

7. Move!

Whether it’s walking, running, biking, swimming, yoga, chasing your kid around the house, move for at least half an hour. Sitting is the new smoking and so many of us spend the majority of our day in a chair. Wake up 20 minutes earlier everyday and do a quick work-out or take your family out on a walk in the park after work. Find time people, it’s so important to do this every single day, your body and mind will thank you. Also sweat is one of the ways the body gets rid of toxins, plus it helps with insulin resistance and feels darn good!

8. Sleep Well And Good 

Good, high-quality, uninterrupted sleep is essential for every single organ system in the body. Make sure your bedroom has only that, a bed. Keep all electronics out, make it super dark, don’t drink caffeine or alcohol late, treasure your sleep, its the nectar of the brain. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep have decreased concentration, coordination, memory, and mood changes. We also know that if you don’t get enough good sleep, your blood pressure goes up. So please, do your brain a favor and practice good sleep hygiene and get your z’s!

9. No Stress For YOU! 

Okay, a totally impossible one, I know, but I really encourage you to get any amount of stress-relief you can and get it daily. Whatever, however, whenever this shows up for you, do it. I have patients do yoga and meditate in the morning and I also have patients who take five minutes every hour to just breathe. There are also women who go get pedicures and really take advantage of that hour by putting on an eye-mask and earplugs and totally zen-ing out completely. It doesn’t have to be a specific practice, but it does have to be a daily habit. Find time and as Russell Simmon says “if you can’t find 30 minutes to meditate, then you probably need 3 hours”.

10. Find Your Tribe

Community is really important in taking control of your health. Most everything in life is better shared. This doesn’t mean you have to be out there every day, hanging out with family and friends, but a regular check-in is good for your health. As an introvert, I enjoy hibernating with my inner circle of people. Weekly, I make a date with friends I haven’t seen in a while and I try to make monthly trips to see my family. Then I have my yoga teacher friends, my best friends, my dog-owning friends, my mentors, my food as medicine friends, my work friends, my medical friends and though I may see these people once a year, they’re still integral to my happiness and overall wellness. You can find your tribe anywhere: coffee shops, meet-ups, grocery store, yoga class, so get out there and find your community friends!

11. Love Your Provider

Now before you say, “here goes the hippy dippy PA again”, give me a second to make my point. You take a while before you settle on buying a car, insurance, a house, a cell phone, so why wouldn’t you do the same for someone who is going to be a partner in your health? I know first time patients who are so eager to be ‘picked’ as our patient, they’ll make themselves appear as though they’re the best candidate out there. You don’t have to sell yourself, in fact, we should be the ones putting on a show. And if you have someone you’ve gone to for a while and you just don’t feel as though you jive well with them, then go find a better fit. If your provider refuses to spend time explaining things to you or doesn’t make eye contact or flat out fails to make you feel cared for, move on. There are plenty of providers who are really in this for the love of the medicine and patients, not just the status or money. So please, ask yourself ‘do I love so and so to trust him/her enough with my most valuable asset, my health?’ And if love it too strong of a word, then just replace with like a lot, that’s good enough.

12. Don’t Lie

Don’t lie to yourself or your provider. We’re here to help you, not reprimand you or make you feel like you’ve been called to the principals office. This is your health, take ownership. If something is off, fix it, if you need help, come to us. Don’t tell yourself the lies that lead you down the path of disease and definitely respect us enough to let us know the truth, no matter how complicated or complex it may be.

How does taking control of your health show up for you? Thank you for reading.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stress Belly Solution

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book. I’m excited to share with the world! Please let me know your thoughts and feedback. Thank you for reading!!

What Is Stress Belly?

Stress belly can be one of two things. The first is that beautiful mound of fatty tissue around the gut area that lots of people have. It is otherwise known as:

– beer belly

– pot belly

– muffin-top

– paunch

– spare tire

– arm shelf

– love handle

Growing up hearing the ladies of my family and our community complain about how ‘all the weight goes right to their belly and thighs’ was always so frustrating. I remember thinking how lucky they were to have curves like a real woman should and keeping my fingers crossed for their figures. I heard a lot of constant complaining about this wonder belly and I couldn’t understand why this was the case. Why didn’t it go to more flattering areas where we would like it to go? And why did our ancestors not have these big, beautiful bellies? This curiosity followed me all the way through PA school and after graduation.

I then started noticing that this belly was not just reserved for women, but men had it too! This nice bump at the stomach area, otherwise known as abdominal obesity or truncal obesity, was becoming a trend among both genders. I continued wondering why there were so many so called pot bellied folks in our country.

At one point before PA school, my sister mentioned cortisol-controlling supplements that helped decrease the amount of fat in the belly. I hadn’t learned much about it; I just knew cortisol was produced when you were in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Now after my 13 plus years in medicine, I have noticed that this is probably one of the most prevalent issues in America and now it’s going to Mexico and spreading around the world! The other thing I noticed was when people decreased their stress, whether it was through exercise or removing themselves from a toxic situation, their bellies faded too.

I dug back into my Endocrinology notes where we talked about cortisol and remembered that it was connected to something called Cushings disease or Cushings syndrome. This is a disorder where too much cortisol is produced from a pituitary tumor or taking too many steroids for different conditions like asthma, eczema, back pain, and others.  Now don’t go thinking that you have a brain tumor or you’ve overdosed on steroids. Steroids can be lifesavers, so if your medical provider thinks you need them, take them. Cushings is a super rare disease. Super rare.

In modern day society, we produce cortisol on a daily basis simply through living our lives. A typical day, if I remember correctly goes like this: wake up after a few hits to the snooze button, roll over, pick up smart phone, check email, text, facebook, rise from bed, get in shower, think about all the exciting things you get to do this weekend while in shower, get out, dry off, brush teeth, prepare coffee/breakfast/nothing for sustenance, get dressed, feed dog, lock up, drive to work on autopilot, work through patients or emails or spreadsheets, go to lunch, gobble down lunch in 5- 10 minutes or while still working on your work, finish up the day, get in car, drive home on autopilot, prepare dinner, sit and watch tv while eating dinner, laugh, cry, get angry or sad at the stuff on the rectangle box, aka the tv, brush teeth, go to sleep, wake up and repeat.  For many of you, this routine has about 15-100 more steps because it involves kids or a partner and even less time to breathe and practice some self-care. So in all of this madness, we’re usually not breathing properly, taking time to just sit and chill or letting the body and mind go into the ‘rest and digest’ state, because lets be honest, even when you’re sleeping you’re going over the days events or future happenings in your dreams or nightmares.

Stress Belly Definition Two

Almost every Monday in junior high and most of high school I stayed home ‘sick’.  I would wake up and claim I had a stomachache or a headache or both.  These were easy ones to claim and mom and dad didn’t question my pain. I can’t say that I actually had any kind of real ailment, actually I diagnose this type of issue regularly as functional abdominal pain.

I also have a best friend who can’t move her bowels whenever she goes on vacation. TMI, maybe, but I don’t think this is uncommon. We’ve created a mantra to help her back to wellness during these times.

There are countless examples of irritable bowel, functional abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, gallstones overall GI upset and most of them come up with nothing on x-rays or CT scans or labs.  This is the second type of stress belly. There is nothing quantifiable about it, but we’ve probably all fallen prey to this ailment at one point in our lives.

When we get stressed, all types of stress, our guts take most of the burden. In gastrointestinal reflux, for example, heartburn symptoms are known to increase with a physiological stressor (3). Also, about 40% of people with irritable bowel syndrome also have anxiety or depression, so there is definitely a correlation between the mind and gut.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Whether you’re concerned about your love handle or your constant abdominal issues, the stress-belly solution can help you.’

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net