Ahimsa lights the way
by Mary Clifton MD
I have spent the last twenty years in direct patient care. I work in a hospital taking care of people in the midst of their biggest health crises, literally fighting for their lives. Their hearts are failing, their livers are inflamed; they’ve had a stroke, heart attack, or serious infection like pneumonia or cellulitis. They’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or diabetes. In this setting, most people are scared to death.
Based on my experience, changing your diet to a plant-based, nutritious diet is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Giving patients clear, simple advice that leads to consistently excellent outcomes is something I love doing. Coming up with simple solutions to lifestyle problems for my patients with multiple chronic diseases is my favorite thing about my career.
Yesterday, I admitted two particularly sick people to the hospital. One woman suffered with Crohn’s colitis, an inflammatory disease of the bowel, for the past ten years. She was approaching her third surgery and was in some of the most terrible pain of her life, which led her to come to the hospital to seek relief. She was passing bloody mucous stools, and her doctor had suggested she eat “junk food” to try to calm her colon. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this advice from a fellow physician. The low-fiber junk-food diet slows transit time and at least decreases the diarrhea a bit for the short term.
Later in the day, I admitted another patient who suffered with long-term diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, recurrent cellulitis of his foot and leg, obesity, and constipation. He had sunk a tremendous amount of money and time into his healthcare, and he felt helpless and victimized. He was going to lose the log cabin he built in his youth, paying as an adult for the diseases his lifestyle created.
Both of these patients ate eggs and breakfast meats every morning, which is not surprising; most of my sickest patients start their day with eggs and sausage. By simply suggesting a breakfast of oatmeal with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg and raisins, I can start their day with cancer-preventing antioxidants instead of promoting inflammation with unhealthy fats. Opening a can of tasty baked beans instead of frying a chicken breast at night removes even more inflammatory protein, and seems reasonable and easy to most people too. Suggesting juicing vegetables and fruits to control a flare of colitis resolves the condition more quickly. It simultaneously promotes long-term cure instead of disease progression.
Everyone starts with little steps and by engaging people in the process of change instead of demanding perfection, we can make people healthier than they are today. By saving the human being, we save the environment and the animals too. This simple modification will save the production of 350 chicken eggs and the life of least one pig over the next year, per patient. It also saves tremendous amount of diesel that would be used in the production and shipment of processed foods.
People don’t need expensive programs and a bookshelf full of materials. With a little internet-based education, a small investment, and some ongoing community support, almost everyone can make the lifestyle modifications they need to achieve optimum health. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to help very sick people who are motivated to change their health. It turns out good health can start right here in the hospital, where the very sickest people reside.
People I meet are highly motivated to change their lifestyle. Not everyone is motivated by health, however. Ideally, we should be finding these folks earlier and preventing them from ever meeting me. That’s why what you say, what you write, but most importantly how you live, creates healthy opportunities in your communities.
Dr. Mary Clifton is coauthor of the books Waist Away and Get Waisted.
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