How does a lifestyle medicine practitioner study for a lifestyle medicine exam?

The reality hit me about 3 hours into the 30 hour online course. What the hell have I signed up to this for? I’m a new mum with a 7 month old baby, I'm going back to work 2 days a week and I am chronically, overwhelmingly sleep deprived. When I signed up for the certification exam 6 months ago I think I had some wild crazy notion that I would be enjoying a full nights sleep & this course would be the perfect way to keep me occupied while I stayed at home looking after my bub.  Of course this bub would be soundly sleeping for a couple of hours during the day and blissfully playing by herself while I studied.  Clearly I was completely and utterly delusional and my daughter did not get this memo!  Turns out she is the ultimate 20-30 minute cat napper and basically fights going to sleep with the utter determination and stubbornness that I would normally adopt when studying for an exam!  Oh the irony!  So you can imagine me, rocking this bub to sleep, singing, bouncing, feeding, doing everything I can to cajole her into dreamy sleep, then when finally she is asleep, I don’t dare put her down in the cot because that is her cue to wake up and party…..so I somehow hold her, get my laptop computer, sit down ever so slowly on the lounge, precariously position my laptop beside me, login to the online course, hook up my headphones and then start listening to the lectures, trying to pick up where I left of last time and focus enough to take in the info.  Aaannnnd just when I’m in the flow of things…….bam she’s awake again and ready for my 100% attention!  What was I studying again…..and why?  Lifestyle medicine and how to adopt a lifestyle that promotes health and wellbeing?! This was beyond ludicrous, but I was in too deep to back out…….(i.e. I'd payed my $700 exam fee registration and my $700 odd for the compulsory course).  What on earth was I to do? 

Was I going to stress myself out, stay up late to study and suffer even more sleep deprivation?  Was I going to ditch the course and give up?  Was I going to worry about this every waking moment and add even more pressure onto myself?  Was I going to just have a crack, do the best I could and risk the embarrassment of failing the exam?  I had to make some decisions.  On reflection, the decisions I made were confirmed through the teachings of the course and it gave me confidence that even if I didn’t pass the exam, I was living and breathing lifestyle medicine.   Either way, this would help me help others….and if I didn’t pass the exam this year, there is always next.  I could handle the embarrassment if I failed because the lessons were worth it!

Here’s my top lifestyle medicine tips that got me through the study; 

1. WTW

WALK THE WALK;  no point learning all this healthy lifestyle stuff if I’m not doing it myself.  No one wants to go to a practitioner for health advice and see that they are clearly unhealthy themselves.  I used to think this meant I needed to have perfect health for my advice to be valid.  But no, I have learnt that it just means I need to be adopting the lifestyle habits that I expect my patients to adopt.  I was heartened to see in the course content, research surrounding how a physicians health and level of engagement in a healthy lifestyle effects whether they address things like overweight and exercise with their patients.  While I was studying, this meant that I needed to maintain all of the daily and weekly rituals that help me stay healthy.  Things like going for a run with my running group, getting lots of sunshine, doing a meal plan at the beginning of each week and sticking to it, shopping at the markets for fresh organic local fruit and veg….and the list goes on.  If I dropped some of those things it certainly would have made more time for study, however, the consequences are not worth it and it’s during these times of pushing harder and doing more that these habits become even more important! 

2.  PR       

PRIORITISE ROLES; our occupational roles are so vital to our sense of self & hence our emotional & physical wellbeing. This is one of the fundamental philosophies that my degree in Occupational Therapy is based on.  When people are engaged in occupational roles it gives life a purpose and it usually gives your body physical activity.  Two things which have been shown through epidemiological studies such as the Blue Zones are paramount to a healthy and long life.  The key is, how to prioritise roles when you are taking on more than one or two things.  While studying, my roles as a mum, practitioner, student & partner started to conflict quite a lot and I had to step back and look at how to make it work.  My answer was that some days, being a mum had to be my priority and I had to completely ditch the roles of student and practitioner.  At first this caused me to worry about the other roles and worry that I wasn’t getting enough study done.  However, once I learnt to accept this and roll with the ebb and flow of life, things became a lot easier and ironically, I got more done.

3.  MBSR 

(sounds like a disease doesn’t it!) MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION;  how much unnecessary suffering was I going to put myself through?  When I hit that realisation of “holy crap I might have got myself in too deep here”, my stress levels definitely were on the up and up.  I started to remember those awful feelings as a uni student worrying if you were going to pass an exam like your life depended on it.  Thankfully, 20 years down the track, I have a few more tools in the bag to help cope with stress and I was so glad to see that this course had a module in emotional wellness.  FINALLY we have sensible sound stress reduction practices making their way into medicine and furthermore, we have some good research showing the links of chronic stress on immune suppression and therefore chronic disease.  But equally, some good research on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation on stress reduction.  During the process of studying I certainly had to up the anti on my stress reduction practices.  The easiest one for me being abdominal breathing…….just taking moments short or long to breathe deeply into my abdomen and feel the relaxation effects.  

4.  PA  

While I would like that to mean I had a personal assistant, unfortunately such luxuries have not yet come to me…..but I wont stop wishing!  PHYSICAL ACTIVITY was an absolute key during this study process and for life in general.  It is probably the single most important aspect of maintaining my physical and emotional wellbeing and after seeing all of the research presented in the course, it is probably the single most important thing everyone can “do” in their daily life.  The best thing is that it ticks so many boxes at once in terms of the benefits for health, both mental and physical.  One of the things that stood out to me through the research presented was that physical activity had a preventative effect and a treatment effect for people despite being overweight and obese.  So, even if weight loss was not occurring, the benefits of simply being physically active were still present.  As I am only 9 months along from giving birth, my physical fitness is not what it used to be, but, I can tell you that even despite my sleep deprivation, when I get up early and go for a run I feel so much better in my mind and body!  My ultimate stress relief, feel good “pill” is my Friday morning triathlon.  Run, ocean swim and coffee!  All done with my partner, my daughter in the pram and with friends which makes it 10 fold more enjoyable and fun.  

So as I sit here writing this, I am still waiting to hear if I passed the exam.  My fears of being embarrassed if I fail are still there.  No one wants to fail an exam!  Multiple choice exams are tough.  There were questions that I definitely knew the answer to, questions that I know tricked me and questions that I thought were not reflective of the content taught.  However, I strongly feel that the information I learnt and the consolidation of knowledge was worth it, despite the outcome, because it has reinforced and enhanced my ability to prescribe lifestyle changes, particularly for those with chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  It is so encouraging to see that lifestyle is being brought to the forefront as the first line of defence against our growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases.  Lifestyle is being recognised as the CAUSE and the CURE and it will be fantastic to see more and more medical and allied health professionals using lifestyle as the prescription first, with medications as an adjunct or secondary option.   

And, if I pass then I am one of the first in Australia, and the world, to become certified to an international standard in Lifestyle Medicine.  That’s pretty cool!    

Jac Edser

Managing the managers

It would seem that if you are a manger, the skills that make you a great manger are the skills that make your health suffer.  Your ability to just keep going, your ability to function highly under stress and your ability to put the needs of others first for a desired outcome are great skills as a manager.  Well they are great skills for managing work and business, not so good for managing your health.  If you are a manager, you are likely to thrive on a challenge and excel when the odds are against you.  Your probably even just a little bit stubborn..........or maybe just determined to get things done the way you want them done!

I may as well confess and admit that I was exactly that as a manager......and while I was seemingly keeping it all together on the outside, I was slowly draining out and drying up every last drop of adrenalin and cortisol, and, every last drop of joy (and some would say, sanity!).

Sitting on the other side of adrenal fatigue and mental burnout, it is easy to see the errors of my ways.  However, when I was immersed in the merry go round rat wheel of staff reviews, staff wages, rosters, contractors, balance sheets, time sheets, sick days, bad hair days it was not easy at all to see the warning signs.  

Hence my motivation to put together this health mentoring program.  I’ve previously focused on healing the healers, now it is time to manage the managers!  This program has a whole new section on workplace intelligence, where we complete a virtual or in person assessment of your workstation and your workflow.  Two of the most important ingredients for productivity in the workplace.  We might even get our feng shui on!

I welcome you to check it out and contact me with any enquires.  Please chat with me if you have several people in your workplace who would like to participate, as the program can be packaged slightly differently for you.

In health,

Jac Edser

Ham and cheese meditation

 Last time I wrote, I spoke about my calling to go do the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  After years of procrastinating I finally found the courage to get on that plane and go.  I really didn’t know why I had to go there, and I didn’t know why I had to go alone.  And, the funny thing is, after 21 days straight of sleeping in a different bed, 21 days of cheese and ham for breakfast and step after step after step along the path not talking to anyone.......I still don’t really know!  

When I first came home and people were asking me, “how was your trip”, I kind of didn’t really know what to say.  It was really challenging.  I saw really nice places and met cool people.  Drank lots of nice wine. I knew it was an amazing experience, I knew I felt different and could see things differently, but how do you describe such a profound experience in words.....without sounding like a hippy jillipy!    

Essentially though, I think this is where the true lesson of my pilgrimage was.  I just needed to experience the experience.  I needed to get out of my head and into my body and just feel and see the beauty of life.  It was one long meditative experience that was not always comfortable and had far too much ham and cheese in it, however, it was the experience that I needed.  I now know that the little lessons I learnt along the way, have and will change the way I see and feel things.  My reference point has changed and above all else, it was a lesson in trusting my intuition.  

So I think this is what I can pass on as lessons I learnt from the camino, from my ham and cheese meditation; 

          1.   Experience the experience - get into your body and experience things, big and small.  Eat the ham and cheese....smell it, taste it, feel it, just for the sake of eating it.  Not because it is healthy, not because it is going to give you energy, do it just for the experience.  When we can turn our minds off and experience things through all of our senses, taste, smell, touch, hear, see, we can effect profound change, not only in our bodies, but in our external lives.  If you think about it, this is what meditation is.  Sitting and breathing.  Experiencing your breathe through your body.  (sorry now I’m getting hippy!!)

          2.  Trust your intuition - I really believe that above all else, our own trust in our intuitive selves is where the answers lie to our health and happiness.  Especially given that we are living in a time where money is the driving factor behind our medical care, we need to trust what we think is right for ourselves.  Listen to your instinct.  Your instinct will tell you when to trust the information provided and whether to trust the people providing the information.  Do what your heart is telling you to do.  If you have a nagging feeling to do something.....then do it.  And I am not talking about egocentric extravagant experiences that we feel “called” to do because everyone will think we are amazing and wonderful.  Do what your heart is genuinely yearning to do.  It will be that thing that keeps popping up no matter how many times you ignore it.  It might be something small like paint your toenails......doesn’t matter.   

The cool thing is, when you just experience the experience, that constant blah blah blah blah blah that goes on in your head slowly quietens down and it becomes much easier to hear that inner voice of intuition. 

In health and happiness, 

Jac Edser

Intuitive decisions are not always logical

When I first learnt about intuition I thought it was some amazing skill that was going to help me be a great practitioner and heal people.  I was taught to “tune in” to my intuition so that I could help people figure out their health problems when the “medical” data didn’t give the answers.   Sounded pretty fabulous and cool to me, so I went about doing everything I could to heighten this skill and use it to best serve others. 

Little did I know that developing my intuition would totally change my own life and they way I lived it!  Little did I know that it would sometimes be this really annoying nagging feeling, telling me to do things that I didn’t necessarily want to do.....like having difficult converstaions with loved ones, stopping doing a particular job even though it paid well, leaving relationships, keeping on persisting with a vision even though it consumed my life and running marathons! 

The thing I have noticed about my intuition is that it points me in a direction to do something, and I think, how on earth can that be good for me!!  And yet, time and time and time again, when I follow that inner voice, it ALWAYS works out for the best.  Solutions and opportunities arise that I never even thought were possible.

The more I do this, the more it seems like decisions that are made following your intuition or “following your heart” are not always logical.  

So that is how I have found myself booking flights to Spain to go on a pilgrimage.......all on my own.  I have had this calling to go and walk the Camino de Santiago for many years and have continually put it off because I didnt want to go by myself.  And as much as I kept logically telling myself it was too expensive and I shouldn’t go by myself, my heart has continued to push me to go.  

It is a leap of faith and it is totally and utterly out of my comfort zone.  

When I told one of my girlfriends that I had booked my flight, she said, “Noooo!!!.....you are supposed to go to India to find yourself not Spain!!!”  My reply was, “well maybe I need to go to Spain to find out I need to go to India”.  

That’s the thing with intuition, it is not always logical.  This trip is a lesson in trusting and a lesson in following that inner voice.  I am so excited and I am also so scared.  It is an adventure into the unknown.....and, as recommended by another great friend, all I am doing now is breathing into my belly and schrunching my toes.   And oh yeah, getting very very excited!

So I will be away from the clinic for the month of September and then back on deck in October with lots of stories.  Who knows, I might then be going to India?!?

I would love to hear from you of your own experiences of what happened when you listened to that inner voice?

In health,

 

Jac Edser

Breast Cancer - a sensitive issue

Everyone has a story about health and I love reading them.  We learn so much from hearing about other people’s journey’s in relation to illness and disease.  After hearing so many people’s reaction to Angelina’s decision to have a preventative double mastectomy, I feel like I want to tell my story.  It is not for any other reason than to help people take another look at the same issue.  As it is with many many women in this world, breast cancer is an issue so close to home for me.  Three years ago I nursed my best friend to her death.....she had breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy, she lived another 9 healthy years and then it metastasised into her lungs and bones.  She was a very intelligent, healthy, emotionally connected integrative medicine doctor.  She knew so much about health and it didn’t make any sense that someone who knows everything about alternative medicine, who looked so vibrant and healthy, who was very emotionally and spiritually aware and connected, could number one get the disease, and number two, die from it.  That just didnt make sense to me and it made me question everything.  It also made me realise, there is something about illness and disease that we don’t fully understand.  It is different for every person.  Even though you might be diagnosed with “breast cancer”, it is a different set of things that have caused the disease and that will allow it to either grow or go away.

Last year I got my own personal encounter that was both scary and enlightening.  I had that experience that every woman dreads of finding a lump in their breast.  When I spoke with my doctor, we both agreed that it was not surprising, given I had only just gotten through adrenal fatigue and knew that I had a whole heap of extra estrogen floating around in my body....otherwise known as estrogen dominance.  None of this worried me, I knew it was just a consequence of pushing myself too hard and going through a few years of quite a lot of emotional stress.  I was not scared until I was lying on the table having an ultrasound of my breasts and the very scary, powerful radiologist came in to give me the report on my ultrasound.  Her booming words were that the lump I had found was no issue, however, they found another lump on the other side and it was time to panic please.

What I realise now, is that if it were not for some prior knowledge, some voices of reason and a very skilled and understanding integrative medicince doctor, I would be sitting here now having had either one or two of my breasts cut off.  

I was scared and I was in absolute turmoil about what to do.  I did not want to get into the system.......mammogram, fine needle biopsy, lump removal, etc etc.  I wanted to make some informed choices.  And, I had to make decisions that were right for me with or without the approval of those close to me.  I came to realise that I could make a decision that was right for me and my body, even though others disagreed with it.  A very hard thing to do when all you want is the people around you to agree with you and prop you up.  

So I decided I would give myself 3 months.  I would do some more testing to further understand why I had excess estrogen and why I might have a lump in my breast and how I could best cultivate a healthy body, mind and spirit.  The hardest thing was, during this time I had to try not to stress out about the obvious and I had to somehow get rid of this belief I had.  Without even realising it, I had developed this belief that if I got breast cancer I would die.  Quite extreme, but it’s funny how our minds work based on our experiences.

Part of the tests I had were some genetic testing.....and of course, it showed I was in the 10% of the population who have the progesterone receptor gene that indicates increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.  Hhhhmmmm...what now?

Wtih this information, rather than feel doomed to get breast cancer, I felt empowered to know how to further look after my health.  You see, I do not believe that your genes determine your health, it is just the blueprint for what you have got to work with.  There is such a growing field of science in epigenetics that confirms that it is our internal environment, and the signals we send our genes through our belief systems, that determines our health, not the other way around.  Although I knew, understood and believed this, I felt like I was butting up against a massive system that didn’t agree.  If I was to think this way, I had to get the system to agree?! It is such a new way of thinking, and the recent stories of Angelina Jolie show how we have such a long way to go as a society and as a medical system to integrate this knowledge.  When you think and act like I have, most people think you are a bit whack.  I have even been reluctant to tell this information to people because I don’t want other people believing that I am at high risk of breast cancer because of my genes.  I don’t want that around me.  

Now I realise, it is actually ok for people to know, because I know in my heart what really matters to me.....and if the system doesn’t agree, it actually doesn’t matter.  I know what really really matters to me and therefore, what gives me the absolute best opportunity at maintaining a healthy body.   I know that for me it is about healthy and intimate relationships, time at the beach, engaging work, running in the bush, nourishing food, red wine with friends, camping, travel, wearing nice clothes, time with my niece and nephew, dinners with my girlfriends doin weird things like angel cards and astrology.  And, this combination of “things” is totally unqiue to me and would not work for anyone else.  And that is ok.  I don’t need to explain nor justify it to anyone else.  And no one else needs to explain nor justisy to me what their set of things that really matter are.  

So after three months of turmoil, freaking out, deep soul searching, mediatating, drinking wine, juicing and some funny conversations about whether I should do some coffee enemas, I went and had another ultrasound.  This time my experience was totally different and it was calmy, cleaning and precisely explained to me that the lump identified on my previous ultrasound was a fibroadenoma.....it presented nothing like a cancerous lump and  there was absolutely nothing to worry about.  It had not changed and that was a good thing.  What the?  Why didn't I get that information 3 months ago!!  Obviously, taking a closer look at what mattered to me was the lessons I needed.

 

It is my hope that as individuals and as a society, we are able to see things differently.  That we develop a more whole way of seeing and understanding health, and we don’t blindly follow the system that surrounds us.    

After seeing my friend die, and sharing her journey, I learnt at a very deep level, that you can never ever judge anyone else for their decisions or actions, because you have absolutely no idea what they are going through.  We have absolutely no idea what Angelina has been through and it is not for me to judge or even have an opinion about her decision.  It is however important to see things for what they truly are, and not get sucked into a system that will now have women all over the world having “preventative” mastectomy’s.

 

Jac Edser  

Not your typical doctor.....essential tips to health and happiness

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the death of my dear friend Dr Lisa Macdonald.  Lisa was an absolute beam of health and beauty and if you were lucky enough to know her or be a patient of hers, I know you will be smiling reading this and remembering her.  

As a tribute to Lisa, I have written a list of things that I know Lisa believed were essential for good health and happiness.  Lisa was definitely not a typical doctor and her potions, lotions and notions were not your typical remedies.  But everything Lisa did was grounded in science, based on medical evidence and traditional wisdom........and of course, her own life experience.  

These are in no order of priority; 

  1. Love - Lisa knew that the fundamental life force that we all need to live and thrive is love.  We know from studies that children fail to thrive without human interaction and love.  Adults need it too.  A warm hug, a friendly smile a loving gesture.  
  2. Friends - especially girlfriends.  Lisa loved hanging out with her girlfriends and always encouraged others to hang out with their friends and foster friendships that were uplifting and fulfilling.  Be yourself and see who you belong with.  Don’t be someone just to belong to a particular group.  
  3. Good food! - no point eating something unless it is good for you and it tastes good!  Fresh food and good quality food.  Shopping at the markets for local, fresh and organic products was what she encouraged and to eat things that were specifically good for you and your constitution.  
  4. Herbs - if you every visited Lisa’s house you would always leave with a basket of herbs that were not only yummy, they all had their purpose.  Lisa taught me so much about herbs and how to add them into your daily life.  Growing them and eating them is one of life’s simple pleasures.
  5. Outdoors - getting outdoors and enjoying nature.  Cycling, bushwalking, beach and swimming.  She believed that this was essential to good health for many reasons including getting sunshine, exercise and fresh air.
  6. Good quality water - filtered water so that you get rid of all the chemicals in it!  We are made up of over 70% water so it makes sense to drink good quality water.  
  7. Seaweed - Lisa saw many medicinal qualities in seaweed....and she was able to make it taste good!  Cook with it in soups, salads, sushi.  Lisa knew all the tricks about how to make stuff taste fantastic.......I even had one of her spirulina smoothies that tasted good!  If you have had spirulina, you will know that it tastes yuk!
  8. Bathing - one of Lisa’s rituals was to have a bath in bath salts.  Her absolute favourite bath salts were SOUL, from Embody.  She realised the healing benefits of a bath.....a tradition that has been around for centuries. 
  9. Holidays - just about every patient that saw Lisa came away with a prescription for a holiday.  As a business owner, I used to laugh and think “yeah that would be great but.....”.  Life is short.  I now see that holidays are essential for good health and happiness.  Plan one now! 

In loving memory of a wonderful doctor, healer and friend.

Jac