Disease Is Not Your Destiny
Monday, January 06, 2014
Dr. Riedel

One of the most difficult things about practicing medicine is convincing my patients that they have the power to overcome their family’s past medical history. I’m sure that many of you -- upon being diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure -- have uttered the words, “Well, it runs in my family, so I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.” This is the furthest thing from the truth!

I want my patients, and everyone reading this article, to understand this fact: you are not at the mercy of your predecessors’ choices. Disease is not your destiny. You have the power to prevent or reverse many of these so-called “lifestyle illnesses.” All it takes is commitment to change.

Change does not have to come in leaps and bounds; it can – and should – come in baby steps.

Commit to changing your diet:

The first step should be eliminating sweetened beverages from your diet: sports drinks, lemonade, ‘sweet tea,’ soda and any other beverage containing (or to which you add) sweetener.

Next, change your eating habits, one meal at a time. Have plain oatmeal or unsweetened shredded wheat for breakfast. Add as much fresh fruit, unsweetened raisins, and cinnamon as you like. Replace cow’s milk with an unsweetened milk substitute (soy, rice, or almond milk).

Once you’ve made these steps, work to change your dinner plans. Include fresh vegetables, grains, and lean protein sources. Consider going meatless a few nights a week to lower your grocery bills, as well as your cholesterol. Make enough to pack up for lunch the following day. Check out the Moosewood cookbook series or www.pcrm.org for some inspiration.

For lunch, if leftovers are not available, combine steamed sliced carrots, broccoli and greens; a grain, such as brown rice, quinoa or millet; and a lean protein source like beans, or baked or broiled chicken or fish. Season with black pepper, lemon juice, or vinegar of your choosing.

Drink water throughout the day; I find it’s easiest to keep a bottle on my desk at all times as a reminder to stay hydrated. You should snack on fresh fruit between meals – I usually have an apple in the morning and an orange on my way home from work.

Commit to changing your lifestyle:

Make physical activity a priority. Regular exercise will improve your mood and your blood pressure, as well as prevent weight gain. Physical activity is so important to my family that we venture out year-round, in all types of weather. I’m writing this article on a gloomy, drizzly, forty-degree day. This morning, my infant son, the dog and I took a two-mile walk.  My husband runs three miles every morning with the dog – in the rain, snow, and often before sunrise. You just have to put on your boots and coat and do it.

Most people will tell me that eating healthy is too expensive and, besides that, there isn’t time. Stop eating at restaurants and on the go and the money will be there. Closely examine your family’s extracurricular time – will you really suffer if you miss an episode of “Homeland”? Do the kids really need to participate in three soccer leagues? Spend more time at home as a family. Cook together, read together, do homework together, be active together. Everything else is just fluff.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy New Year.

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856/384-0210.