Notes from a Naturopathic Physician: The Impact of Simple Lifestyle Choices on Your Health

For the First Time in a Long Time


Bob, a close family friend, is one of the nicest guys I know. He's the kind of guy that you could call at 3 am and who would pick you up no-questions-asked. He's also sneaky funny; he'll say things out of nowhere that catch you off guard and make you drop on the floor laughing. A "gamer", he has worked in the computer industry for years. When he turned 55, he was overweight with high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes. He continued to eat poorly and exercise rarely. I really worried about him acquiring a neurological condition, getting kidney disease, becoming blind, having a limb amputated, or developing some other complication associated with uncontrolled diabetes. To make matters worse, his wife was a heavy smoker, so he was constantly exposed to secondhand smoke, which increased his already-high risk for heart disease and complications from diabetes. He knew he was at risk, yet he chose to ignore his condition.

Motivation catalyst: Brother's brain tumor

When Bob turned 57, everything changed. His 42-year-old brother developed a brain tumor. Thankfully, he made a full recovery, but it opened Bob's eyes for the first time in a long time. After that, he made a decision to change his life. He knew he couldn't be successful alone, so he convinced his wife to make changes, too. She quit smoking, and they started to incorporate moderate daily exercise and became more cognizant of what they were eating. After just nine months of making simple lifestyle changes, Bob lost 55 pounds, had normal cholesterol levels, and his blood sugar had normalized. Today, he says that he is healthier, happier, and more productive than he has been in 20 years.

The How: Reading food labels, a talisman, & "gaming" for health

health-lifestyleDiet plays a huge role in reversing the adverse health effects associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Bob was able to control his blood sugar by limiting carbohydrates, restricting saturated fats, watching portion size, increasing vegetables, and limiting fruits. How did he do this? First, by reading the labels on food packaging. Although this was initially cumbersome, he said that once he established the habit, he really enjoyed it. It gave him the valuable information about his food and a sense of proactive empowerment. He took advantage of easy-to-access tools like a carbohydrate chart to help determine how many carbs were in each food item and, portion control measuring devices to limit portion sizes.

Bob's concern over his brother's brain tumor made him more conscious of his own vulnerability and the impact of his lifestyle choices. To stay motivated after his brother's recovery, he employed a few interesting techniques. One was to wear the watch his brother gave him as a reminder of why he was making changes. Another was to employ mobile health technologies that are centered on diabetes management.

Naturopath notes & free online resources

The lifestyle changes that Bob employed were not easy. But by implementing healthy daily habits, Bob did more for his health, quality of life, and lifespan than he probably realized. Choosing to be healthy takes work, which is why many people don't make changes. However, getting and staying healthy actually requires less effort than most people realize. It can be fun, and I promise, the "future you" will thank you for it.

NDlogo Nutrition Data
Use this comprehensive nutrition website to search for food, input how much you consumed, and then determine the specific nutritional components. Please note: When trying to determine the total carbs, the number listed under “total carbohydrates” is slightly misleading. You must subtract the “fiber” from the “total carbohydrates” on the label, since fiber doesn’t raise your blood sugar the same way that other carbohydrates do. For example: If the total carbs listed is 25 grams and the fiber is 5 grams, your net is 20 grams.
nourish Nourish Interactive
This resource will give you more information about how to read labels and interpret each component on the label.
sparkpeople-icon Carbohydrate-Counting Chart for People with Diabetes
This quick resource helps determine what portions of various foods equate to 15 grams of carbohydrates (~1 serving). The biggest dietary restriction for diabetics should be carbohydrates. The ultimate goal should be ~30 grams total per day: 6 grams of carbohydrates in the morning, 12 grams at lunch and 12 at dinner. Diabetics should try and limit carb consumption to 1-3 servings per day.
lazylowcallifestyle-logo Portion Control Tools
OnTrackDiabetes OnTrack Diabetes
Bob likes this free phone app for its ease of use and comprehensive focus. It allows users to keep track of blood sugar readings, foods eaten, exercise, medications, weight, blood pressure, pulse, and hemoglobin A1C.

Footnote: Additional interesting (but not free) mobile technologies for diabetes management include the ACCU-Check Nanometer and the GlucoTel—devices that make it easy to check blood sugar. The first is an example of a portable device that allows for easy blood glucose monitoring. The second is a slightly less convenient blood glucose monitoring system that allows you to upload your personal data online and even send it to your physician.

Written by Dan Warren, Adjunct Faculty, Center for Sustainable Health; Physician, Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center