A change in diet can be a big deal. And if you – like me – are busy managing a job and a marriage and school runs and all the other stuff that keeps us so busy every day then it’s important to know that a change in diet won’t mess up or disrupt your health.
Too many people rely on us, which is why I have always been a strong advocate for talking to your doctor when considering or while making a change in diet. If you are thinking of going vegan or WFPB or paleo (or whatever else) you should go talk to your doctor about it first, because they will have a clear understanding of the current state of your health, and will understand the possible risks or problems you might encounter on your journey. It’s vitally important to bring them along for the ride.
But… how do you talk to them about it?
Many doctors are hesitant to raise the subject in the first place – for a number of reasons – so this is a conversation that you will need to take the lead on. Keep in mind that this is something you want to accomplish, and you are asking their advice and guidance to ensure you do it the right way.
So, make an appointment and come prepared by giving clear thought to the following…
Have Clear Goals
When you walk into your doctor’s waiting room it would be immensely helpful to have a clear picture of what exactly it is that you want to accomplish, and perhaps why. Having clear goals will give you and your doctor something concrete to discuss, and will save you the unnecessary cringe of having to figure things out while you’re sitting across from them.
For best results, try to have SMART goals:
Specific: Look to accomplish something tangible. If you’re looking to lose weight, for example, have a specific number in mind that you would like to shed. Don’t aim to “lose some weight”, aim to “lose 8kg”.
Measurable: Try to set a goal where you can know for sure if you’ve accomplished it. It’s not helpful to say you have a goal to “have more energy”, for example. Why not set a goal to run 3 miles instead?
Achievable: Make sure your goal is realistic and achievable. Your doctor may be able to help with this, as they should have a good idea of what can be accomplished in a healthy and sustainable way.
Relevant: This one is really up to you, to decide whether your goal has meaning and to hell with those who disagree! If you want a bikini body while living in Alaska – well, that’s your business isn’t it!
Time-bound: Give yourself a timeframe to reach your goals. This goes hand-in-hand with “achievable”, so your doctor may give you some guidance on what’s possible within the timeframe you’ve given yourself.
Keeping the above in mind, an example of a bad goal to take to your doctor is “I want to lose some weight”.
You could turn that same goal into a smart goal by changing it up slightly, to something like this: “I want to lose 8kg in the five months until Christmas, because I am worried that my BMI is in an unhealthy range”.
This goal will give your doctor a lot to talk about without having to come up with a goal in the first place, which means you’ll end up having a more productive conversation with them in the time you have together. You may even end up walking out of your doctor’s offices with completely different goals – and that’s ok! Don’t feel like you have to dig in your heels just for the sake of it. Your doctor’s advice and guidance will matter, so absolutely take it onboard and adjust your goals as you see fit.
Leave Your Ego at the Door
To get the most out of the time with your doctor you will need to be ready to have a frank and honest discussion – and that may mean walking into their offices with a bit of a thick skin.
When talking about weight or lifestyle-related health issues (like high cholesterol or type-2 diabetes) it can be a bit confronting to hear the truth about the underlying cause of the issues.
But, bottom line, you’re there to do something about it because you’re unhappy with the current state of affairs – and that’s a very good thing, no matter what language the doctor’s using.
Doctors may sometimes be hesitant to discuss diet and/or exercise because… let’s be honest, some people don’t take too well to the subject (“Are you saying I’m fat doctor???“). Walk in ready for some real talk, and if you feel offended by anything they say then use that energy to do something about it!
If you can, bring a food diary with you which details everything you ate and drank for at least two or three days. This will give your doctor a great view into how you’re actually eating and will give them a good platform for advice and suggestions.
If you are doing a food diary it’s important to be complete and honest, and to diarise the way you normally eat. Don’t switch to salads for three days and take that diary to the doctor! Give your doctor a real picture into your real eating habits otherwise their advice may be unhelpful or even – worst case – useless.
It’s Not Only About Food
You need to talk about exercise too! As the expression goes, a body is built at the gym and revealed in the kitchen, and if you want to improve your physical health over the long term you will need to consider adding some exercise to your life.
Before your appointment, give some thought to how you can add some exercise into your life – then discuss your ideas with your doctor. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive! You could start out by dusting that old bicycle off that’s hidden in the garage, or regularly walking to the shops instead of driving. If you have a step counter start wearing it! Once things have improved, and when you feel ready for it, you can consider upping your exercise and perhaps signing up for a gym membership or buying in a home gym. But when starting out it’s usually good enough to simply aim to do more than you have been doing.
Get More Help
Your doctor is an important part of all major lifestyle changes because they’re able to help ensure you’re managing the change in a safe and healthy way, but they may ultimately not be the best person to guide you through the maze to success.
Doctors – especially those who graduated a few decades ago – typically didn’t receive much education on the science of healthy eating. Sure they could possibly still remember the chemical structure of vitamin C, but many still wouldn’t know basics like where vegans get their protein.
If your doctor is strongly opposed to plant-based diets remember you’re well within your rights to find a second opinion!
Your doctor can help advise on the right way to conduct your journey but they are not a guide. To maximise your chances of success you may need to reach out for extra help. An evidence-based health coach (like me!) will be able to set you up for success by providing you with everything you need: meal plans, education, motivation, and more!
Speaking with your doctor about a change in diet is an exciting and important step towards taking personal responsibility for your own health. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be put off by what you think might be a difficult conversation. You’ve got this, and remember: your doctor is there to help you!
If you feel like you need additional help then consider engaging the services of an evidence-based health coach to help guide you, and help you when you stumble. The journey does not have to be difficult!
Gabrielle is an evidence-based vegan coach who believes that health transformation begins when you switch to a plant-based diet. Her mission is to help midlife women eat in alignment with who they are and what they value so that they can lead a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.
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Written by Gabrielle (hi!), these e-mails will help you on your plant-based journey with useful tips, tricks, facts and inspiration – and perhaps the occasional inappropriate joke thrown in for good measure.