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Art & Soul: The Art Of Well Being - St. Joe Health System Offers Whole Health Journey


Well-being is not just about our mental health, but includes our physical health and both aspects combined. WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Lisa McDowell, director of lifestyle medicine & clinical nutrition at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, about their new "Lifestyle Medicine Program," which educates people on how to enhance their overall health and even reverse some health issues.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89-1 WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. I'm Lisa Barry. This week, Art and Soul is about the art of well-being, and often for the segment we focus on the mind or the well-being of our self-awareness and how we think. But well-being impacts all of who we are, including our physical health. So, we're joined today by Lisa McDowell, director of lifestyle medicine and clinical nutrition at St. Joseph Mercy Health System, to talk about their new lifestyle medicine program. So, thanks for joining us.

Lisa McDowell
Credit St. Joseph Mercy Health System / stjoeshealth.org
Lisa McDowell, director of lifestyle medicine & clinical nutrition at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.

Lisa McDowell: Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Barry: How would you describe the program?

Lisa McDowell: Lifestyle Medicine is an official program from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and we created our own intensive version where we're looking to use evidence-based, therapeutic approaches to treating disease, preventing disease, and even reversing disease. And so, it's rooted in these six pillars of lifestyle medicine, and those include having a whole food, plant predominant eating pattern, engaging in regular physical activity, really understanding and getting restorative sleep, stress management, avoiding risky substances, and, probably most importantly, positive social connections. So, again, we're using these as a primary therapeutic modality to prevent, treat, and, again, reverse some of these chronic diseases. We know that 80 percent of diseases in the United States are lifestyle-related.

Lisa Barry: OK, I think that's a huge point to back up and focus on. 80 percent are lifestyle-related. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Lisa McDowell: That is true. So diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, back pain, obesity, cancer, asthma, arthritis--many of these are related to the risky behaviors, like poor diet, not being physically active, smoking, maybe poor stress management, insufficient sleep, consuming too much alcohol. And so, 80 percent of all cause of chronic diseases are lifestyle-related. And that in part results in hospitalizations as well. So, we're really looking at giving our community information that can help them kind of get ahead of their own health and become educated in the choices. Those daily habits that we make really add up. And if we recognize that there is a deficiency in knowledge or education, we've learned so much--the lifestyle medicine dietitians who have put this together. We took the board certification exam, and, through that, really learned some excellent tools to help our community apply the knowledge for things like better sleep and being socially connected and just how that really impacts health is so critical.

Lisa Barry: You said it a couple of times, and I want to focus on that as well, that you can actually reverse some of these health challenges that we're facing.

Lisa McDowell:  Yes, that is true. So, we offer our lifestyle medicine intensive program, as well as a program called the Pritikin program, and that is a heart disease reversal program. So, if patients have had a recent heart attack or a known calcification in their artery, utilizing this lifestyle medicine management approach can actually reverse the calcification in the coronary arteries.

Lisa Barry: And that's without drugs. This is just with lifestyle.

Lisa McDowell: That's correct. And, you know, same thing with hypertension and type two diabetes. These programs have the evidence in the research that they can reverse these conditions.

Lisa Barry: And how is the program implemented? Is it one-on-one? Are there classes? How can people take part in it?

Lisa McDowell: Yeah, so our program is one-on-one for the first week, so we can really understand what each patient needs. And then, at six weeks of group classes, which include a deep dive into the pillars and the best practices and some really sound recommendations. And then, it goes to a culinary class after each group class. So, we're actually teaching really wonderful recipes that contain foods that are rich in micronutrients. And again, some of those plant compounds that we know really impact health and disease, high in fiber. And then, the last class is an individual appointment again. So, it's a total of eight weeks with six weeks of group classes.

Credit St. Joseph Mercy Health System / stjoeshealth.org
Lisa McDowell, Director of Lifestyle Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, offers a food demonstration during the 2021 Summer Olympics, and highlights how the six pillars of St. Joe's Lifestyle Medicine Program can help everyday people optimize their performance and feel their absolute best.


Lisa Barry: All of you at St. Joe who run this program, as you said, have been trained in it. And I'm wondering, were you trained in how to get people to really follow it? I mean, I think we all know how to eat a healthy diet, but when it comes to doing it, not so much. So, what can you say to someone listening right now who might need that little push, or what can you say that might entice them to be more interested and active in this?

Lisa McDowell: Oh, Lisa, that's a great question. And one of the modules that I completed for this class is on social connectedness and how to eat out at restaurants in a healthy manner. And when I was doing the research for my own contribution, what I learned, which I thought was so powerful, is that when we tell ourselves that we don't do something with a reason why, because we understand that when we eat out, we're getting significant amounts of added sugar. And, you know, the supply chain is less expensive ingredients, which many of those oils are pro-inflammatory. So, if you understand the reason and how it connects to your own health, then you're able to make that decision where it doesn't feel like, you know, you're being deprived. If you tell yourself I wake up in the morning and take the dogs outside for a little walk, because I know when I get some bright light sun exposure, it helps me reset my circadian rhythms, and I'll get a better night's sleep by getting bright light exposure in the morning for a few minutes. When you understand some of the best practices that are connected to each pillar, then it's easier to hardwire those daily habit choices into your routine. It's easy to just say, "Oh, eat more plants." But if you understand what fiber does and, you know, what you eat today is what you crave tomorrow, because our microbiome is so connected to what we're eating. You know, we know that 90 percent of serotonin is in our microbiome. And so, our cravings are really dependent on our food choices today. And so, we try to give the recommendation of what you add to your day is more important than what you exclude. And so, if you aim to get, you know, a good amount of colorful fruits and veggies and plants, then you're able to shape the future of your own healthy microbiome in your GI tract. And that, in turn, makes it so much easier tomorrow, because then you're not craving the sugar and the salt and the fat.

Lisa Barry: Lisa McDowell, director of lifestyle medicine and clinical nutrition at St. Joseph Mercy Health System. We'll put a link to the program if people are interested in participating with this interview on our website, WEMU dot org. Thank you so much for talking to us.

Lisa McDowell: Thank you, Lisa. 


**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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