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What Do Lifestyle Medicine Doctors Do?

Lifestyle medicine operates from a holistic health approach that works to treat root causes of health issues. Lifestyle medicine uses evidence-based methods to uncover what is really going on, and also treats symptoms. It examines and solves upstream causes of chronic conditions. For example, working to relieve stress in an effort to combat tension headaches, digestive issues or insomnia, would be a lifestyle medicine practice.

According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, 80% of healthcare spending in the U.S. goes towards treating or managing health issues related to poor lifestyle choices. Many health issues, like heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and even mental health disorders can be remedied through preventative medicine. As a form of preventative medicine, lifestyle medicine seeks to prescribe behavior changes that reduce unhealthy behaviors and focus on the promotion of positive ones. 

How Does Lifestyle Medicine Work? 

Lifestyle medicine is based upon the idea that the body can heal itself. It focuses on treating the entire physical and mental systems in order to improve overall function and well-being, through lifestyle intervention.  

Choosing to pursue treatment through lifestyle medicine doesn’t mean that one rejects all conventional medicine. Lifestyle medicine treatment can work in conjunction with other conventional, or western medicine treatments. A lifestyle medicine practitioner helps the patient course-correct and get on a path to fostering healthier habits. The body can’t begin to heal itself until it has a base level of health. 

A lifestyle medicine practitioner will likely start the patient out with the following: 

  • Dietary changes. Lifestyle medicine focuses on eliminating toxins, processed foods, and excess sugars from the diet and instead opting for plant-based, organic whole foods. 
  • Considering food sensitivities. Intolerances to common ingredients can cause a host of symptoms throughout the body that prohibit normal function. Without eliminating foods with these ingredients, the body will continue to fight inflammation and struggle to digest. 
  • Testing for allergies. Allergies to food or medication can cause internal issues that have lasting effects. A lifestyle medicine practitioner may want to test for certain allergies in order to eliminate them from the diet. 

What is the Transtheoretical Model of Lifestyle Medicine?

Since lifestyle medicine is about changing behavior, practitioners must consider how willing and ready an individual is to undergo changing their habits and routines. The transtheoretical model is a behavior theory that looks at the various stages a person will go through while changing behavior. The stages are:

  • Precontemplation. During this first stage, an individual does not have future plans to incorporate new behavior and may not be aware they need to change. They may know about healthy changes but do not believe the host of benefits they can gain when making those changes. 
  • Contemplation. A patient plans to begin healthy behavior within the near future. However, they aren’t fully convinced that a change of lifestyle will solve their health issues. 
  • Preparation. The individual is preparing to start implementing healthy lifestyle changes. They share their plans with close friends and family and can greatly benefit from support, encouragement, and love.  
  • Action. This stage involves actively participating in healthy behavior. The patient will try to avoid unhealthy habits from their past but may still experience setbacks. 
  • Maintenance. A patient has been practicing lifestyle medicine practices for at least six months before they enter into the “maintenance” stage. During this stage, they may experience some relapse but are committed to healthful habits and return to healthy behavior even after backsliding. 
  • Termination. The termination stage is rarely reached. It indicates that an individual will not return to unhealthy behavior and is at no risk of relapsing. Most people stay in the maintenance stage, with occasional relapses but a solid commitment to the pursuit of healthy habits they’ve implemented. 

Is Lifestyle Medicine Considered a Conventional Medicine? 

At its core, lifestyle medicine simply encourages adopting healthy practices that take care of the body and mind, setting each system up for a life of health and wellness. As such, lifestyle medicine should be the basis for all conventional medicine practices. As chronic health conditions continue to rise across the global population, more and more conventional medicine practitioners are turning towards implementing lifestyle medicine in their treatment plans. 

For almost all chronic diseases, the guidelines for management and resolution of the issue cite adopting healthy habits as a main form of treatment. Lifestyle medicine isn’t one mode, but instead, encompasses many touch points for health and wellness. 

What are the Pillars of Lifestyle Medicine?

There are many steps in affecting personal change to manage and treat ailments. Lifestyle medicine focuses on main areas, including: 

  • Nutrition. Eliminating processed foods, refined sugars and any triggering ingredients is a foundational change that must be made. Since lifestyle medicine views food as medicine, the better quality items that go into the body, the better the entire machine can run. 
  • Exercise. Implementing 30-minutes of physical activity each day has been scientifically proven to improve mental and physical health. Switching up sedentary practices for more active ones can improve blood flow, spur weight loss and reduce high blood pressure. Leading an active lifestyle is a crucial piece to implementing lifestyle medicine. 
  • Stress. Adopting stress-management practices, like attending therapy, participating in meditation or practicing yoga, helps the physical body as well. Reducing stress can eliminate hypertension and high blood pressure. Reliance on food, substances, or other unhealthy practices can decrease through stress-reducing activities. 
  • Substance Abuse. Avoidance of risky substances has a huge positive impact on overall wellbeing. Eliminating alcohol, cigarettes or other harmful substances is a crucial step to achieving healthful living. Depending on consumption levels, one may start by cutting back and consulting with their healthcare provider for help quitting entirely, especially when it comes to tobacco use. 
  • Sleep. A solid night of sleep resets our minds, reduces stress and regulates our appetites. A lack of sleep can throw off our entire system, cause our energy levels to take a nosedive, and make us turn to unhealthy behaviors like eating sugary foods for a quick energy boost. 
  • Relationships. This spoke of lifestyle medicine is crucial for those seeking to maintain healthful behaviors. Improving current relationships, increasing social connections and releasing toxic relationships based on unhealthy behaviors, supports your efforts in maintaining healthy habits. 

Lifestyle medicine looks at each of these spokes and reworks them to involve healthy practices. Healthcare professionals and primary care doctors are increasingly adopting this practice in order to work with his or her patients on making slow lifestyle-related changes. 

UCF Health Believes in Lifestyle Medicine

We provide resources to patients so they can take control of their health on a daily basis. Lifestyle medicine is a habitual practice that a holistic doctor can help patients manage. Finding a holistic doctor or plant-based doctor is easy with our patient portal. Stay on top of COVID-19 updates for patients and use our online scheduling tool to find a doctor near you.