Take Back Your Health


A few months ago, I offered one ticket to a conference called Take Back Your Health, which featured a number of prominent health experts. Among them was Joel Fuhrman, the father of “nutritarianism” (a philosophy that emphasizes a high density of micronutrients and low density of calories). Today, I got to attend the conference with the lovely Valerie.

The first person I saw when I arrived at the Crystal City Marriot in Arlington was Ryan, whom I’ve corresponded with for years, and whose blog I love to read. Ryan was a co-organizer of the conference, and she graciously ushered me into the main auditorium, where Jason Wrobel was speaking.

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This was the first time I’d seen Jason speak, but we’d met briefly at Expo East, and I’m a huge fan of his giant personality and his fun, passionate, and conscientious approach to raw foods. I knew that the conference itself would offer up many health perspectives, not all of them consistent with the raw foods philosophy, so I was thrilled to connect with a fellow “rawbie.” And I must say, Jason has that infamous “raw glow”:

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Jason and I enjoyed a brief chat before Dr. Fuhrman’s presentation. In the moments before he went onstage, Dr. Fuhrman graciously stopped and chatted with me and Val. I told him that Eat to Live (his most well known book) had inspired me in many important ways, and I also mentioned to him that I’m a pre-med student. He asked me how far along I was, and I said that I’m about halfway through my post-bacc.

You can imagine how moved I was when Dr. Fuhrman told me that he’d gotten a post-bacc himself, and that he didn’t start med school till he was 29. As you all know, my age was a big deterrent when I was considering the post-bacc, and it’s still a source of self-doubt, given how unbelievably long the process of med school, internship, residency, and fellowships will be (presuming, of course, that I get into med school at all). It was wonderful to hear that an inspiring and pathbreaking plant-based physician began his medical career on the later side, and that he would do it all over again.

In his presentation, Dr. Fuhrman stressed the importance of micronutrients (vitamins, antioxidants, minerals), the importance of eating a diet that’s high in volume and high in vital nutrients, but low in caloric density, and the possibility of disease prevention and reversal through wholesome food choices. Since he’s heavily interested in maximizing the nutrition of the foods we eat, Dr. Fuhrman also shared information on which vegetables release most of their disease-fighting properties through cooking (for example, mushrooms) and which are most potent when eaten raw (onions). I find this fascinating, as I’m always striving to eat a raw/cooked balance that maximizes nutritional density. Left to my own devices, I often prefer raw food to cooked, but I’m also mindful of the fact that cooking does release certain vital compounds, like the lycopene in tomatoes, which is one of the reasons I’ve always had a semi-raw lifestyle.

I thought you’d find the following slide interesting. Dr. Fuhrman shared a breakdown of typical SAD diet composition. As you can see, a staggering 62% is refined grains, oil, and sweets. Another quarter is animal flesh, eggs, dairy, and fish. No matter how many times I read these statistics, I’m always galvanized to help change the way we think about our plates in this country.

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It’s no doubt daunting for a person who is new to healthy eating to be presented with as much detailed nutrition information as Dr. Fuhrman has to share, but he presented in a friendly, humorous, and accessible fashion, and it was very inspiring to watch.

We broke for lunch, at which point Val and I devoured some raw kale chips, some kale salad that was being sold by Whole Foods, some fresh honeycrisp apples we’d picked up in the morning, some raw crackers, and a snack bar or two. It was a little raw food lover’s picnic. And after, we readied ourselves to see Andrea Beaman, holistic health coach and natural foods chef, speak. Many of you may remember Ms. Beaman from her stint on Top Chef, season 1 (she was the “healthy” chef). Val and I had both heard great things about her work, and were excited for the presentation.

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Isn’t she a picture of energy?

Ms. Beaman was diagnosed with a goiter and an array of thyroid problems (at various moments, she tested positive for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism) at a relatively young age. She was told by doctors that these conditions were untreatable, except with synthroid or another form of thyroid medication. Instead of taking that route, she changed her diet and lifestyle, and she was able to heal the disorders entirely. Her speech was angled specifically to sufferers of thyroid problems, but she said that her health advice could be applicable to most anyone, whether healthy or facing a health crisis.

What struck me as problematic about this presentation, though, was that Ms. Beaman presented advice that’s specific to thyroid afflictions as though it’s prescriptively appropriate for most anyone. For example, she made a point of discouraging the audience from eating raw goitrogens (kale, broccoli, and cauliflower, as well as unfermented soy foods). It was clear that this advice was loosely intended for thyroid problems, but it also seemed to me that those foods were being cautioned against in general. A few audience members who’d just eaten raw kale for lunch seemed perplexed, and I was left with a feeling I’ve had before in natural health circles, which is that it’s very important for people who lecture about healing to not allow their personal healing stories to dominate their points of view.

Naturally, many health practitioners get into the health field because of personal struggles, and these struggles inform what they teach. Because I’ve had an eating disorder and IBS, I’m interested in helping people find solutions to those problems. But I also try to remember that not everyone has my history, and that what worked for me is not a universal prescription. If there’s anything the holistic health world should offer us, it’s a remembrance of the fact that bodies vary, and that there’s no single dietary structure for everyone. Ms. Beaman tried to drive this point home, but she also seemed very intent on discouraging raw foods, encouraging the use of butter and other animal foods, and even discouraging almond milk, ostensibly to benefit the thyroid, but with a fairly universal slant.

More troubling than this was Ms. Beaman’s attitude toward the power of intuition when it comes to healing. She made a great point of emphasizing “ancient wisdom” and the body’s own healing powers, which I respect, but she also made a point of taking jabs at doctors, medical school, and anything to do with the mainstream medical establishment. She also kept insisting that “there is no disease your body can’t heal”—a common viewpoint in holistic circles, with which I will never agree. When asked by an audience member if cancer fits into this statement, she responded with a resounding “yes,” and, after a vague discussion of the cell biology of cancer, Ms. Beaman asserted that cancer is often an “idea” that someone can’t let go of (she also believes that her thyroid ailment was linked to an inability to “speak up” in that decade of her life).

I know that statements like this are meant to be empowering. But I think that the suggestion that cancer is an “idea” is an insult to anyone who has suffered through the disease, or lost a loved one to it. I was reminded of Susan Sontag’s superb Illness as a Metaphor, written when the author was battling cancer, which reminds us all to resist the impulse to imagine sickness as an extension of personality.

I was also reminded of how careful we must be when we talk about the body’s power to heal. No one feels more passionately about the power of diet and lifestyle to transform personal health than I do. But I also recognize the limits of human agency when it comes to sickness and wellness. There are many things we can control, and some we can’t: DNA changes and cells divide for reasons we don’t fully understand; autoimmune diseases crop up mysteriously; childhood cancers strike long before lifestyle habits have formed. There is a difference between the Dr. Fuhrman’s assertion that we can help to control heart disease and diabetes through diet, and the suggestion that our bodies are capable of conquering any kind of sickness, regardless of its nature. The latter is not only incorrect, but also misleading to the many men and women who suffer from ailments that won’t respond to healthy lifestyle habits.

In all, I’m so glad I had a chance to celebrate our power to embrace good health through diet and lifestyle today, and I thank the lovely Ryan and Robin Shirley for organizing the conference. I do, though, wish that Ms. Beaman’s positive message had been tempered with a bit more respect for the many important interventions that modern medicine has afforded us, and a somber recognition of the body’s limits. The body is powerful indeed, and beautiful, but the sad reality is that sickness can often defy even our most conscientious efforts to live healthily. Here on this blog, we celebrate the power of nutrient dense, healing food. But I’d like to think that we all also understand the inherent mystery of health, and our limitations in controlling it.

Local readers: there is a major discount if you sign up for tomorrow’s events today. Check out the conference website for details!

What do you guys think? Is every human ailment within our power to control? How do you feel about allopathic vs. holistic medicine? Illness as a metaphor?

I’ll see you back here tomorrow.


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  1. laptop test
    What’s up, I read your blogs like every week.

    Your story-telling style is witty, keep up the good work!notebook test

  2. I do strongly believe in the body’s ability to heal. I do not believe it is the only factor but from both my personal experiences and my work with oncology patients I do believe in the power of the mind-body connection to incite physiological changes. To me, its why the placebo effect works to begin with! I also believe that sometimes our bodies do manifest metaphysical issues in a physical manner. Do I think all cancer is unrecognized emotions, trauma, etc? No. But do I think some portion of it is? Absolutely.

    That being said, I do think that “this is the ONE AND ONLY way to live a long healthy life” lectures are alienating. Part of that is because I don’t believe there is one “right” way to live for any given person. I believe a vegan diet is the way to go for longterm health and happiness but I also recognize that it might not be for everyone. Even within the vegan community there are so many sects–raw, low-fat, etc–with their own “spokespeople” for how and why this particular lifestyle has worked for them.

  3. This is a fantastic post. I agree that a balance between natural and traditional medicine offers the best opportunities for creating and maintaining health. I had kidney problems as a child, and had one kidney removed at 2. I kinda doubt that as two year-old I was capable of fixing myself, or that I’d had so many negative thoughts that I made myself sick.

    On the other side of the coin, diabetes and heart disease run in my family, and at 45 I’ve managed (so far) to avoid it — I believe this is through adopting a vegetarian diet, and losing more than 50 pounds a few years ago (I’ve gained a few pounds back, but I’ve maintained pretty well in terms of the improvements I made to my blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.)

    Here’s one more story, that makes me annoyed with people who take an “absolutist” stance on nutrition issues. This summer, at our state fair, my husband and I were watching a demonstration of the VitaMix blender. As I’ve been exploring raw foods I was interested in the unit. The demonstrator came out with some statement about pasteurized juices having “absolutely no nutritional value.” To which my omnivore husband replied, “Oh, bullshit” and stalked away. That demonstrator just made it that much harder for ME to make any argument about the benefits of raw foods, even to my own husband. Grrr!

    Of course my husband can see the benefits of whole foods, because he enjoys the meals I prepare — even though he continues to eat meat. But it’s the remarks of people like the VitaMix demonstrator — exaggerated and stated as the only truth — that steer many people away from natural/alternative health options and make reasonable discussion more difficult.

    Which is why I’ve been loving your blog. Thank you!

  4. Thought provoking and informative as always Gena. Thank you taking your time to share your thoughts and experiences. You seem fiesty and dedicated to learning and increasing your knowledge. Love your blog.

  5. Great recap and again kudos for starting on the medical path. I agree practitioners need to remove their personal bias; however, I do think high levels of unfermented soy can pose problems even in those with previously “normal” thyroid function. An interesting topic, I wonder where you stand on soy.

    • Lauren,

      I agree about truly excessive amounts of GMO, inorganic, unfermented soy. But the problem here was that she didn’t say that: instead, she cautioned against soy, period. That’s a stance I don’t agree with: I think organic, non-GMO soy foods (preferably fermented) are perfectly fine a couple of times a week. The issue is gross excess of processed soy, and not the inherent evil of soy itself; I think soy can play a very healthy role in all diets, provided it’s of high quality and eaten moderately 🙂


      • thanks Gena, I received your reply and mostly agree. I’m posting on soy tomorrow. While it can depend on the diet, I lean a little toward the anti soy camp in many ways because I feel no soy is better than the type/amount of soy most people eat. I think there is consensus on the safety of fermented soy with lower phytoestrogen content.

  6. I am SO glad I found your blog. It has quickly become my favorite! I love the mix of food/issues in your posts. I love that you post often (which must be so hard to do). I love your balanced perspective. Super, super post. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for doing what you do!

  7. I have almost the same array of thyroid-related health problems that Ms. Beaman does, and although I agree with your points that we can’t let our own healing dominate our point of view or discount modern medicine just because holistic practices worked better for us, I do understand where she is coming from. It took ten years for any of my 15 doctors to diagnose me with thyroid disease, and that kind of experience is common to most of us. The levothyroxine is a partial solution at best and there is a real lack of understanding about that in the mainstream medical community. I think, for us, holistic approaches are our only real option if we want to live an as normal as possible life… and that’s something we have to figure out the hard way, because there are so few resources available to someone who doesn’t know where to look. It would have been great for her to clarify or expand her message so as not to confuse or limit her audience, but as someone her message does resonate with, I appreciate that there are at least people out there talking about it. Even if they aren’t necessarily doing it the way I would.

  8. My son was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 7. I do not understand how people can make blanket statements about how we cause our own diseases; in my son’s case that makes no sense to me at all…it seems to me that we are complicated beings living on physical and other levels and that there are probably a number of factors that contribute to an illness. Yes, negative thinking may play a part but I am convinced that genes, environment, food do as well. Unfortunately, there are people who want to believe that they can control every aspect of their lives and health and they are comforted by the idea that they can do so simply through diet and “positive thinking.” I sympathize with them but can’t agree.

  9. Fantastic, provocative post and discussion! I wonder how people feel about the “Crazy Sexy Cancer” empire? (No insult whatsoever intended at the lovely Kris Carr but I think it is a relevant topic). I personally believe, like many of you, that a plant-based diet has very effective “medicinal” properties, mostly preventative. Kris Carr’s story is powerful evidence pointing to the healing potential of a wholesome vegan diet/lifestyle (like Andrea’s), but how do you feel about the universal, prescriptive nature of her publications? In a certain way, I find that the “Crazy Sexy Life” enterprise falls into the same trap that Sontag describes (illness as an extension of personality/character or as a self-fulfilling prophecy)…

    • Jami,

      A toughie, since Kris is a friend and I’m on her posse, but I can certainly be objective: I do think that the empire, if you will, takes on an “illness as history/personality” slant, and given that Kris’ cancer was a very rare one, I think it’s absolutely crucial that readers remember that her story is not universal. I think she offers up fantastic information for anyone dealing with a “disease of excess”, as they say: type 2 diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, or obesity. For those individuals, her information is invaluable. If I knew a mother of a child with leukemia, or a person with lymphoma, I might advise them to visit the site for Kris’ attitude and spirit, but not for prescriptive advice, and I would caution them to read selectively.


    • You are right in the sense that Kris Carr shares her personal story. However she has studied intensively the subject of nutrition as it relates to cancer growth and development. She has taken courses, attended seminars, spoke to the most reknowned biochimists, read many books and studies. I am a Doctoral Candidate and I have to give her credit for her knowledge because the studying she did is not that different from what we do in graduate studies.

  10. It is a very short hop from empowerment to blame. Yes, I believe that a lot of our modern diseases are within our control (Type 2 Diabetes, many cancers, obesity and the related musculo-skeletal issues that come from it) but a baby born with a malformed heart will not eat her way out of the problem.

    I’ve never read The Secret, so I may be mischaracterizing it, but I heard that part of the method is to not give one’s attention to things that we don’t want to manifest. I don’t believe, however, that not looking at homelessness or poverty or abuse will make it go away or make me immune to those problems. There is a fine line between doing everything that you can to positively influence an outcome and wallowing in self-blame if things don’t work out as wished for.

  11. Andrea kind of rubbed me the wrong way on top chef. probably because she wasn’t that competitive. She made healthy/vegetarian type people look bad because her food wasn’t as good.

    Interesting she brought up the crustiferous veggie thing. I have to be cautious about them due to thyroid. I have heard from some people that it might cause hypothyroid to eat too many of them, but none of those people were MDs or even NDs, just health-minded civilians.(ie. Kevin Gianni, your favorite I know). They tend to think less scientifically about it.

    I personally don’t believe that all health issues can be solved by the body alone, um, when we didn’t have medicine, people died. I think good diet is more for preventative health than to apply once things get bad. Case in point Steve Jobs who tried to cure his cancer with juice fast and alternative treatments which delayed his surgery. it was too late probably. I’d rather live preventatively with natural treatments and use modern medicine wisely.

  12. I just returned from a whirlwind two weeks of medical school interviews on the east coast. At each school my most pressing question posed was “what opportunities exist for students to study integrative medicine and be exposed to complementary and alternative modalities?” I think some individuals, such as Ms. Beaman herself, might be suprised by the encouraging responses from mainstream institutions of allopathic medicine. As you may know, Georgetown offers a masters in CAM, George Washington’ s medical school offers a track program (kind of like a minor) in Integrative Medicine, to name a few in your area. The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine http://www.ahc.umn.edu/cahcim/members/home.html is a great resource for anyone wanting to find out more about educational opportunities in integrative medicine.

    We are obviously not seeing the paradigm shift in medical practice and philosophy that many proponents of holistic healing feel is necessary, but personally, I am optimistic and hopeful that we are moving in the right direction. For me this direction is one in which patients can expect to have comprehensive and individualized care that respectfully integrates allopathic, osteopathic and alternative medicine modalties when appropriate.

    • This is absolutely invaluable information to me. Thanks so much, Mikaela. I really appreciate your guidance as I go through this!

  13. Ultimately, a message like Ms. Beamans will end up scaring more than inspiring. However, I do think that its a really important message for people to hear and sometimes the only way to really understand that food is so powerful is to hear a story such as Ms. Beamans. My father is diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and while I would not encourage him to quit his medicines, I really am trying to encourage him to eat healthier and see if that will not erase or minimize his diabetes, which is brought on by lifestyle (and to some extent a genetic predisposition).

    However, I agree completely with you that modern medicine is not to be forsaken and that we shouldn’t think of diseases as a manifestation of personality.

  14. As always, you spoke eloquently and candidly while maintaining the utmost level of respect. I just love that about you. Brownie points for all the kale you ate too! Hehe. 🙂

    Not every human ailment is in our control. The one thing that stuck out to me in this post is Ms. Beaman’s comment on cancer. Cancer is most certainly a disease that we often cannot control. Sure, eating a plant-based diet decreases our risk factors for obvious reasons and can prevent cancer in many cases. However, as we know with science, there is always an exception to the rule. Cells become damaged and metastasize for unknown reasons quite often in otherwise healthy individuals.

    I took a course at UMass Amherst on the microbiology of cancer with a brilliant professor (Dr. Wilmore Webley) whose life was researching cancer and reporting on it. I learned so much and it greatly dispelled the myth that I too toyed with mentally…that all cancer is preventable through diet. Holistic medicine certainly has its place. In fact, I believe that modern medicine would benefit from more holistic practices instead of medicating everything left and and right without first visiting diet choices. But, to your point, I do believe that medicine has its place and can save lives in extreme cases. And for that, we should be most grateful.

  15. What a great post Gena, and you raise some really important questions. When I took my holistic nutrition schooling, I often felt as though I was receiving conflicting information about specific issues. One person said this, the other said that. It was hard to figure out ‘who to believe’. The more I learned about health and the human body, the more I understood the bigger picture and was able to answer my own questions. Now I trust my own intuition, while continuously updating my knowledge and allowing for a change of opinion now and then. That seems to be the best recipe for me and my health.

    As far as all diseases being curable – I agree and I don’t agree. It’s a very complex issue, and while I don’t think every individual *can* do what it takes, I believe it’s physiologically possible for the body to heal. Illness as a metaphor? Not sure about that wording but I believe that our illnesses can teach us lessons if we let them. A hard thing to hear, I understand, but if we look beyond the ego to what our body is really trying to tell us – I believe there is a lot of wisdom in that.

  16. This balanced, candid review just makes me want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gena immediately!

    In the meantime, I’ll just summarize by reporting that I’ve experienced the limits of both conventional medicine and natural, lifestyle/nutrition management techniques first hand and thus have a healthy respect for each. Like many young folks, I used to believe I was invincible and could independently treat all ailments through natural means, I now know differently. A great many health conditions require a multi-disciplinary approach; herein lies the frustration for many of us who have sought medical support, as relatively few physicians are trained to give equal credence to both integrative/alternative and western interventions.

    You are going to be a rock star in the medical profession, Gena!

  17. i love you gena. thank you for everything in this post. i am so glad there are people like you going into health care. every post you write makes me more and more encouraged about the future of medicine. 🙂

  18. OKay ,curious….
    I was reading your post and talked about how the speaker discourages raw goitrogens… I eat a lot of kale, broccoli, and I have been eating more tofu lately. I am a vegan, but not raw (though some times I do) so I generally cook all of those. These are bad for the thyroid? Or only when cooked?

  19. Remember Gena MD isn’t the only way! You’d be a fine DO or PhD from the sound of it!

      • This is actually what I wanted to bring up! First off, I really enjoyed the post. I think it’s very important to recognize the body’s limitations in health and that genetics can play a very large role in someone’s bill of health. I really enjoy reading your blog with such thoughtful posts!

        But more importantly, I see you mention ‘doctors’ on the blog and sometimes refer to them as (MD) etc… but I’m wondering if you know about DO’s? I’m in medical school at an Osteopathic Medical School where I’ll receive my DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree. Sadly there isn’t much information out there for students when they’re first applying to school, and too often student’s don’t know about all of their options! BUT DO seems like it would be right up your ally. I’d love to pass on more information if you’re interested. For the record, DO’s & MD’s are the same degree wise except for the teaching of osteopathic manipulative medicine for DO’s. Beyond that they are surgeons, radiologists, family practice, etc… and definitely some of my favorite doctors out there.

        • Thanks Shannon! I have only recently become aware of the DO option, but now that I have, it’s on the list of serious options for next year. I’ll certainly hit you up for information if need be — thanks for being so helpful to me!

  20. Another great post, Gina! I always walk away from reading your blog thinking! I’m so happy for you that you got to meet an inspiring person, who has been where you are right now. It’s those times in life that you know that you’re where you are supposed to be.

    That pie chart of the SAD diet makes me sick to my stomach, especially since it exactly depicts the way that I used to eat. My husband and I went veggie together, then vegan, and now high raw. He has a severe food allergy as well as liver issues, and I’ve seen modern medicine/doctors fail him over and over again. Since switching to a mostly raw diet he has totally changed and feels amazing. Does that mean that modern medicine couldn’t one day have helped? Not at all. To me it just means that we found something that works for him.

    Thank you again for such a thoughtful post!

  21. Wow–thanks for sharing, and for a post that just kept going deeper. I _love_ that you had that moment with Dr Fuhrman, giving you such a validation of your own choice and path.

    I guess we’ve all seen a person who healed from debilitating or life-threatening disease and then became an evangelist for the approach that was of help to them. I always try to feel glad for them, to salute their enthusiasm, and yet like you, I struggle with what often comes across as an liberation theology-type “I’m saved and so should you be, if only you do just as I did” schtick. I have a friend who developed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition) despite being on a high-raw diet. My high-quality diet doesn’t excuse me from taking my own thyroid medication, and my years of refusing to take any kind of supplementation have led to an almost laughable excess in the opposite direction (although the long-term deficiencies and absorption issues should be laid at the door of the ED, not the specifics of what I eat/ate).

    “Illness as metaphor” is so alluring, and it’s an oversimplification. Our mental-physical-emotional states are mutually influencing and interdependent. This doesn’t mean that mind and heart can always trump “matter.” I believe that _sometimes_ it can, but I know that I’ve ended up with problems from trying to force mind and heart to ‘carry’ issues that are genuinely physical.

  22. I think I’m adding my voice to most readers when I say that we can’t control everything ourselves. Diet and exercise are important to living healthy lifestyles, but there are still genetic and environmental factors. I’m certainly one of the last people to say that we should all pop pills at the first sign of trouble, but there are times at which Western medicine is a good solution. I respect holistic and natural medicine, and I never think it hurts to try those things, but Western medicine isn’t all bad either, especially not things that have been around for a long time and are very well tested. I also think that it’s a bit presumptuous to say that we can cure anything with willpower and self-empowerment, because it simply sets up some people with incurable diseases up to fail.

  23. I had to respond to this post because I am reading Super Immunity right now, fantastic book. If you would have asked me about nutrition and the body a year ago I would have given you a totally different answer then now. Last Dec we went GFCF/soy F in our house and the change has been beyond what I could have ever imaged. My 8yr has no more asthma, NONE. She is off all allergy meds completely. My husband is off his cholestorhl meds, his blood pressure has dropped so much they lowered his meds for that as well. He has lost a ton of weight. I have even gone back to college to get a degree in Nutrition and Exercise so I can help people. Note I am 42 with 4 kids :). So my answer is YES I believe what we put in our bodies makes a huge difference on everything. I do not believe in a magic pill or chemical to fix anything. The right nutrition balance changed our lives, now I want to show others how to change their lives.

  24. Hi Gena,

    It’s interesting that you would post about these topics today, as I just had the opportunity to watch Forks Over Knives last night. Although Forks Over Knives begins with a disclaimer that the viewpoints expressed should not be confused with actual medical advice, the movie does seem to argue (at most) or suggest (at least), based on the research cited in the film, that dietary and lifestyle changes can reverse most ailments – heart disease and diabetes, yes, but also cancer. Have you seen Forks Over Knives? What are your thoughts?


    • I should note that I found the information provided by the film to be interesting, informative, and inspiring, but not conclusive. I believe, like many of your commenters, that we have an incredibly capacity to heal ourselves in so many situations, and that diet, lifestyle, and frame of mind can contribute immensely. I also tend to veer away from western medicine, especially for small concerns, but would not ignore its usefulness in dire circumstances.

    • I have seen it. I actually wasn’t impressed with the filmaking itself, though I liked the pro-vegan message! (I wish someone had coached them on how to make the food more appealing: if I were on a SAD diet, I’d weep at the sight of those oil-less salads and baby carrots.)

      Some cancers do respond well to diet, both for reversal and prevention. Breast Cancer is a great example. Some, like Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, leukemia, inflammatory breast cancer, and a number of other cancers, do not, at least not beyond the basic premise that good food will strengthen immunity. I think it’s important to be nuanced and precise in the way we talk about illness, which is precisely why I have a hard time with the holistic model, which often suggests one root cause of illness, one cure. I think health is a lot more complicated. That’s no reason to be gloomy: there is *so much* we can prevent with proper lifestyle. But there are and always will be diseases that ellude us, and are beyond our control — at least until pathbreaking medical cures roll around.

  25. Gena thanks for this post. It was such a good read for me on this Sunday morning. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer three years ago. Knowing I have many genetic similarities to her, it can be daunting looking in the mirror and wondering if that will be my “fate” too. I often ask the questions: “Why did she get it?” and “What can I do differently so that I don’t?”. If I dwell on these questions too long, I can drive myself crazy because there is no magic formula of exercise/nutrition/medicine/meditation/spirituality that can provide me a safety net.

    I listed all those things because I truly believe they are all important aspects to your health. I’ve struggled with anxiety and have seen the physical effects it caused in my body. I’ve also benefited from changing my diet and exercise to help other ailments. Western medicine and pills have helped me with others. I didn’t know about green juices and smoothies when my Mother was sick. Do I think they would have cured her? Probably not, but they may have helped her with the fight. All I can do is try to find a good mental and physical balance in my health so if disease comes my way I am better prepared to heal.

  26. It seems like every raw foodist tends to believe that our bodies can heal every forn of sickness ever imagined, and while I do agree that some can de cured, I’m not so sure about every. single. disease.
    I also hate those one-size-fits-all aproaches to sickness.
    I agree with you, and I’m really glad you wrote this post.

  27. Can I just say that I pretty much agree with what you said and leave it at that? No? Sigh…okay then. Here’s my two cents.

    While I would like to believe that we can heal ourselves through the power of positive thinking and a plant-based diet, I think it’s absolutely necessary to rely on a combination of traditional and holistic medicine to cure the physical ailments our mental will and determination are unequipped to fight. Yes, a healthy attitude and diet are key to any type of health–both preventative and restorative–but some things are stronger than we are, and that includes most diseases.

    I should include that I’m rather anti-pills for anything–even a Tylenol–and I’m not in favor of medicating things as a simple fix. But from my experience with the mental side of things, I know that certain medicines can help me in to focus on those more rational changes that need to be made in a way that I’m not equipped to do on my own. I recognize that this isn’t a weakness of body or mind on my part, but simple physical chemistry that I have no control over.

    Once I can regain and rebalance those energies, I don’t plan on continuing the medicine. But for now, I feel like the only way I can take back my health is through a combination of education, natural foods, physical rest and trust in the experiences and knowledge of others–you and your readers included.

  28. This sounds like such an interesting conference.

    I think our bodies do have an amazing capacity to heal theirselves. But I do think it’s a fine balance. I do not think conventional western doctors have all the answers, and I think it’s important to have conversations, and questions for your doctors when they tell you certain “facts”. It’s also important to know that not all eastern medicine will work on it’s own either. I think you need both, like health it’s all about a balance.

  29. Hi Gena! I love your blog and loved this post which is why I am commenting – a first for me!
    I am a herbalist and most of my clients come to me after being diagnosed and have been offered allopathic solutions. I am always careful to explain that a natural approach is not always easier and that my job is to suppport the individual. We are all individuals with a unique healing journey which will not be the same as anyone else. This might mean that one person uses natural approach to prepare and recover from surgery while another can use it to avoid the same surgery. I often feel that health has become a battle between working out who is the ‘best’ approach. Where as really it seems to all come down to the individual – what is best for them at this moment.
    Naturally a supportive diet that includes lots of vegetables and again tailored to the individual will always play an important part within the WHOLE individual healing process.

  30. These are the types of posts that make me love your blog so much. You provide so many thought-provoking points and great information for us to consider.

    Awesome recap of Ms. Beaman’s presentation. I’m not familiar with her work, but I disagree with her statement that cancer is an “idea”. I fully support the notion that a whole foods, plant-based diet can do a lot to keep us healthy and prevent illness, but I don’t think it’s a cure-all, as much as I wish it were.

  31. i’m really glad that you found encouragement as you continue on your post-bacc path to becoming a doctor. it’s one of the main reasons i decided not to pursue a PhD (i’m going to be 29 in mere days!!). it really saddens me to look at the SAD and i believe that responsible vegans & omnis alike can be on the same page when it comes to having a passion for reclaiming the food/lack of movement that contributes to various pathologies in the first place.

    as a scientist, i try to find the happy place between homeopathy & traditional medical practices. i’m all about the data but i’m also a skeptic by nature so i don’t always want to ‘buy’ the pill that could ‘fix’ the problem. i dig a little deeper and usually use a combo therapy in dealing with my own issues. i believe we are what we eat and food is definitely medicinal. i always reserve caution if i have to take a prescription as i read up on it and try to be as educated as possible before ingesting something that could potentially lead to OTHER problems entirely. it’s a complicated web of info! i am sure that you will be a mindful and responsible doc…your future patients will be so lucky to have your understanding of your holistic health approach!

  32. How inspiring that you got to meet someone who succeeded on a path similar to the one you’re taking. I think those interactions are incredibly important, particularly to those who are making a giant leap for their new career path. I have no doubt you’ll be successful!

    I really admire your honesty when reviewing Ms. Beaman’s talk. I agree, healthy lifestyles can prevent and cure many things, but the human body also has a “mind of its own”, and some cancers and autoimmune diseases are bound to occur despite impeccable care. Even T. Colin Campbell in the China Study admits that there are some diseases which may not be prevented or reversed by a whole foods, plant-based diet. That said, the SAD composition is astonishing and I hope that my next career steps can help to change that!

  33. Gena,
    How I would love to work with you as a colleague in the future! I love your balanced approach to medicine and agree with many of your other readers that we need more physicians like you – physicians who are willing to help their patients find the path to optimal health through a combination of a whole foods diet, exercise, and Western medicine. I strive to do this every day with my own patients. It seems to me that you would be well-suited for a career in primary care. I hope you will consider it as an option!

    • Charlotte,

      That is precisely what I’d like to do. Thank you for this comment — it means the world to me — and it would be my honor to collaborate, if I make it 🙂


  34. Like many health and nutrition enthusiasts, I too believe in the great healing powers of the human body, especially when it’s fueled correctly. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with about modern medicine, but that’s largely to do with my frustrating experiences with traditionalist doctors and nutritionists. I could never completely discredit medicine, and to say that illness is a metaphor or an “idea” is preposterous. I do believe that a positive outlook on things can make all the difference when fighting a disease, but I’d like to hope the three relatives I’ve lost to cancer didn’t think themselves out of being cured.

    Laura, above mentioned destiny. From a religious/cultural point of view, I believe that everything is “maktub” or written. I could spend the rest of my life ingesting only the healthiest and purest foods and still contract a devastating illness if it’s what’s destined for me.

    Great post Gena, very thought provoking, thank you!

  35. Since I have found your web site I have consistently agreed with the majority of your opinions. I have always felt that you are very balanced on the view points and you give solid and compelling arguments to back up your views. In this instance I agree again. I know some others above have said it but even Steve Jobs says this is his biggest regret, not combining surgery to remove his tumor with his holistic beliefs,. Had he, it is most certain he would be alive and well today. As a veterinarian, every day I see people making decisions based on their own health issues for their pets, many times to their beloved pets detriment. I practice a very balanced form of medicine, I believe that “modern” medicine and “alternative” therapies including healthy eating can and should work together. Taking a completely holistic stance can work for some people in the face of serious illness (or animals) but I always feel that many of those people may have gotten better on their own anyway. On the other hand, blindly following your traditionally trained doctors advice and never questioning all the drugs and (usually) poor diet recommendations can be a recipe for disaster for your health as well. Although integrative forms of medicine (especially in oncology) are becoming more accepted it is still in an infantile stage. I look forward to the day when there are MORE practitioners in all medical fields like you Gena, who are going to maximize the benefits of modern medicine and surgery by looking at the patient as a whole instead of just as a disease. Only then do I feel that human health (and animal health) as a whole will truly improve.

    • Not true. Steve Jobs lived with pancreatic cancer much longer than average. Words like that are completely insulting to the route he did take in treating it.

      • I was not intending to be insulting however Steve Jobs had a curable form of pancreatic cancer (less than 5 percent are) and he could have chosen to have surgery AND continue to follow a spiritual path, continue his vegan lifestyle and all of his other holistic healing methods and as HE has stated in his own biography he now regrets not doing so. He could have still been alive today. I am completely and 100 percent in favor of holistic methods of healing however I feel that there is a place for modern medicine as well and that a balance of the two may be the best of both worlds.

  36. Gena, this blog article is exactly why I read your blog. You have such a balanced approach, and I love that. I’m so jealous that you met Dr. F (one of my heros). Have a great few weeks (I’m going overseas). I will certainly miss reading your blog!

  37. Enjoyed reading your well balanced post! I’ve been drinking green smoothies daily for over a year, and have just embarked on going raw. Although, I’m only at 75/25% raw at this time. Difficult when family is totally not into it. With winter coming, I feel the need to have something hot (cooked)! I think it is going to be a long winter, sigh!

  38. This is an amazing and interesting post. I do belive that what we put in our bodies, and also the attitude we live our life with majorly determines our physical well being.

    I am a big believer in mind over matter, to some extent of course. I do not think that the treatment for cancer is ONLY believing that you can beat it. Mind over matter also applies to your lifestyle choice, ie diet. Your diet and how you take care of yourself definitely applies to your overall health.

  39. I am currently taking Health Psychology at the University, and one underlying philosophical concept I truly find powerful is the idea of multifactorial causes. In other words, attributing control over all disease and healing to personality/mind is as reductionist and ultimately unhelpful as attributing it to biomedical/mechanistic reasons alone. Health or illness arise and progress in their own specific ways from a juxtaposition of multiple biomedical, social and psychological factors, and it is all three that we need to understand to the best of our limited ability and address.

  40. I think that in many circumstances, we are able to control our health when we make lifestyle changes before we become ill, however, I think it’s irresponsible to say that something like cancer is a metaphor. Many people who have cancer or any other illness for that matter will not be able to find that sort of information useful. While it may be meant to be empowering, it is actually disempowering because it only makes the person who is ill feel like they deserve the disease.

    I think that holistic medicine and allopathic medicine both have their place. Even though I am a nutritionist who firmly believes in the power of raw foods, juicing, colon cleansing, and other holistic lifestyle practices, I also acknowledge that modern lifestyle needs modern medicine at times, and I’m honestly tired of hearing the jabs at the medical community and reading the fear inducing articles from health gurus.

    I’m glad that you mentioned empowerment in this post because I think that is a huge part of regaining your health: taking your power back, making your own choices, and doing what’s best for you.

  41. Hi Gena, very well said! I don’t travel in the same ‘circles’ as you but your blog post struck a chord with me. I’m a parent to children with Asperger’s Syndrome. I understand completely that when someone finds something that appears to ‘fix’ a problem they’re experiencing, they want to tell the world. Unfortunately, in my experience, these people can often fall in to the trap of applying their own experience to everyone else’s, and offering a “one size fits all” solution. I know people who have changed their ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child’s diet and noticed massive improvements. I believe this and I personally have seen changes in children with ASD or ADD/HD once certain things were eliminated from their diet. The problem for me here is when people start telling me to put my children on these diets. Any ‘problem’ my children have is also related to their personality, not just what they eat. We have adopted a cleaner eating lifestyle for general health, not to improve our children. My husband and I too are Aspies and this cleaner way of eating (lots of raw for eg) is not going to change that. We don’t want to change, we’re happy with ourselves! We have had people suggest to us that if and our children meditate, we can change our DNA to not have Asperger’s.

    I know I’m waffling, I apologise! But I felt the same sense of irritation when I read Ms. Beaman’s comments, that I feel when people (parents and therapists) tell me what I should eat or do to ‘cure’ or improve my children– people should always take care not to make their history someone else’s story.

    Thanks and I love your site! You have inspired me to choose raw more 🙂

    • Oops, I should have taken care to point out that when I say I believe some children with ASD or ADD/HD have had massive improvements when things were eliminated from their diet, I do not mean they were ‘cured’ in any way. I mean that some areas, usually behaviour or anxiety related, show improvement. For example preservative 282 is a nasty that affects so many children, not just those with a diagnosis/label.

    • You aren’t waffling! This post is striking many chords, and I’m so glad. Moreover, I’m thrilled you’re choosing raw 🙂

  42. Hey girl. I think that there is clearly a link between how we think and our mental and emotional state, and our health. I also believe that the body is capable of healing itself. I do not believe that there is absolutely no modern diseases that our bodies are not cableable of healing though. If we lived in a completely natural world, maybe this would be true, but we don’t! We are inhaling carcinogens every single day. We are exposed to man made toxins and poisons on a constant basis. There are many many things that modern medicine has rescued us from as well! People used to die of small pox and polio, and they do not any more. There is a time and a place for everything. Some times natural healing is the best answer, and sometimes modern medicine is the most appropriate path. We have to remember that our bodies were not designed to face the things that they do now. Us humans have created many things that harm the body. All I am saying is that there is a time and a place for everything and to say one or the other is without use is near sited and closed minded.

    • Well said Ali! Our bodies these days have to cope with so many toxins and our bodies are just so overburdened! People are wanting a quick fix… A proper diet and natural lifestyle changes can make a world of difference and has cured people of many illnesses that medication just masks!

  43. Such a great post! One of the most upsetting things to me about such overreaching claims for diet and lifestyle choices (such as that they can cure all cancer) is that they work to discredit the very real positive effects that can come through diet and lifestyle, and these claims allow MDs or any regular believers in allopathic medicine to dismiss it all as the same mumbo jumbo. I know that as an MD you are hoping to bridge the gap and incorporate your knowledge of the healing power of nutrition into your practice, and I think one of the most important things in incorporating it effectively will be to know its limits. You can best demonstrate to your patients how effective and important nutrition and lifestyle changes can be by being clear about where the evidence has shown them to be most successful and not making over-promising cure-all claims. Such huge (and not evidence-based, but purely anecdotal or theoretical) claims do a disservice to both believers in the healing power of food and those who are more skeptical about adopting lifestyle changes.

  44. Thank you for this post – I don’t actually believe that anything is in our complete control. However, I do believe that our choices (including our diet) makes a difference in all aspects of our lives. Maybe I am ‘destined’ to get a serious disease – nothing I can do about it – however, if I am a happy, healthy person I will most likely handle the disease better and maybe even ‘beat’ the disease whereas if I am an unhappy, unhealthy person I may possibly allow the disease to get the better of me and allow it to take over or take my life. Thank you for your insights – I learn alot from you.


  45. Awesome post! I agree that the illness-as-metaphor concept is not necessarily positive. I think that we can learn very valuable things from illnesses of many types; however, the idea that we create our own illnesses can actually become a negative message. It can be abused as a way to create feelings of shame and blame and can prevent people from exploring every resource available.

  46. This is probably one of my favorite posts you have ever written, Gena. I appreciate what you had to say about the benefits of Western medicine, and that we can’t generalize one’s holistic health journey with everybody. I can’t believe what Andrea Beaman said about healing all diseases with diet-though after what she’s been through she may feel so impassioned about it, so maybe that is why. But simply, our bodies are machines in a sense, and they give out. Sometimes when we are a few months old, even. My dad’s death of ALS when he was forty five was not saved by either Western medicine and it sure as hell would not have been saved by wheatgrass shots and valerian elixirs. I contribute a good amount of recovery from my ED to my medication, and I don’t think we should rule that out just because it’s not from the soil. Especially as ED sufferers, and even in human nature in general, we want to control our bodies, control our lives. But there are just so many mysteries about the human body that we will never comprehend, and maybe that is just okay.

    • hannah,

      i am very sorry for your loss and while it may be of no use to you now. i wanted you to know that i had very recently the opportunity to visit a neuro clinic for patients with ALS to aid my understanding of the disease as i work towards the mechanism of it. i work for a company that has synthesized what we believe to be a drug to slow down the progress of ALS. the incidence of this disease is greater than most people believe and i will add your story to my growing list of motivators/inspirations as i continue to relentlessly pursue a cure for this terrible disease. best, melissa

  47. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gena.

    “Is every human ailment within our power to control?” = No I don’t believe so. There are some things that are just simply not within our control. We can do the best we can, but at times, we are handed a genetic card or the Universe or the environment or whatever it is steps in and is in charge.

    We can overcome many of these things with naturopathic medicine, too, but just like we are not in complete control of every single thing, I believe that both allopathic AND naturopathic medicine have their place.

    Can’t wait to read the comments you get on this one!

  48. This post is exactly why you will be a great doctor!! I think you make incredibly good points re: Ms. Beaman’s POV. I have run into many many people that have this kind of wishy washy, hippie dippy view that modern medicine is always detrimental… which is completely untrue. I agree that diet and lifestyle are important, but stuff can just happen that has nothing to do with it. (Look at Steve Jobs!) Anyway, you said above all that I would want to say, and you make great points (especially to an audience that probably needs to hear it).

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