Updated: Mar 1
I've been in practice for almost 15 years and I've witnessed some pretty intense situations. I'm not a brain surgeon, or an oncologist. I don't cut people's skull open or prescribe chemotherapy, but I’m an expert in getting to know you. I know your kids. And if you've been a patient of mine long enough, I might even know the name of your dog. We’ve probably been through a lot together. I'm "just" a family doctor, but you don’t have to feel bad for me purposely choosing to not add an extra 3 years of medical training to specialize. That was a personal choice. I wanted to be a family doctor. I chose that path on purpose.
What I like the most about being a family doctor is forming strong long-term bonds with my patients. I often think about them even when I'm not at work. They pop-up here and there in my thoughts, spontaneously distracting me from whatever I was doing. Then my wife says "what are you thinking about?", to which I reply "Nothing". I feel connected to them, and when I give them their difficult diagnosis, I feel it too. How can doctors keep working day in and day out when most of the news they deliver is bad?
For me, the joy that my patients feel when they succeed at lifestyle changes justifies it. I feel those emotions too. Don't get me wrong, 85% of patient encounters aren't particularly joyful, but the 15% of appointments that lead to a positive outcome, like a patient losing 20 pounds, or putting out his last cigarette, takes much more weight off my shoulders than the cancers put on. That’s why I've grown to love giving preventative counselling. After years of trial and error, I now use my energy wisely. I get an intuitive sense of a patient's readiness to change, and interrogate his conviction that the change will benefit him, and his confidence of being able to succeed. I tend to invest more time in patients that are ready, convinced and confident. A patient who is guided in a personalized way and supported without judgement is much more likely to succeed.
Once, I had a patient who drank too much. He was morbidly obese and an alcoholic. After years of failed attempts, I realized that instead of trying to convince him to stop drinking, I had to help him convince himself. I stopped bombarding him with all the complications his bad habits would lead to, and I finally asked him what he thought would happen if he quit drinking. His answer was simple. He replied that it would make him lose weight and lower his cholesterol, like I had told him each of the last 5 years, during his annual check-ups. I asked what else would change if he stopped drinking and lose weight, to which he replied: "I'd be in better physical shape". We both didn't know where this conversation was going, but I kept on pursuing my investigation. I asked him "What would be different if you were in better shape?", and he replied "I'd be less short of breath". I then proceeded to ask him in what way being less short of breath would affect his life. This is where he broke down. I wasn't expecting it. He cried so hard that I became emotional as well. He told me he wasn’t able to keep up with his son, an avid soccer player, due to his shortness of breath. We then proceeded to discuss how his drinking and obesity had gravely affected his relationship with his son. His son was an athlete, and he was the opposite. Can you see what happened there? It was organic and natural, but on purpose. I intentionally wanted to see how his weight and alcohol abuse impacted his life. We went from a “cognitive“ approach, linking his bad habits to medical complications, trying to scare him into change, to an “emotional” or “affective” way of seeing the impact of his drinking and obesity. He now saw that the medical impacts were less important than the real-life ones. He recognized that his desire to fix a broken relationship with his son was much more important than avoiding whatever disease I tried to scare him with that particular day. He has been sober ever since. He lost over 150 pounds, probably more. I recognized then that if you want to help someone on a journey of lifestyle changes, you must sometimes shut up and listen. You must ask questions instead of giving answers. The patient already has all the answers, he simply just doesn't know it yet.
So if your father smokes, instead of bombarding him with threats of lung cancer, ask him how cigarettes impact his life. Ask what are the benefits of his smoking, and ask him what he think would happen if he stopped. Then shut up and listen. Don't give suggestions or options, just listen. You'll quickly notice that he already has all the reasons to stop and the recipe for success inside of him. Maybe you’ll even understand why he smokes, and what are the positives that make him hesitant to stop. It's buried deep down, but when they say it out loud, it floats to the surface and becomes real. For a lot of people, that could be their breaking point, their rock bottom.
Play a role of support and encouragement instead of fear mongering. Make them feel comfortable to talk about it. Don't try to guilt them into changing. Show them that they'll be able to talk to you about it openly, whenever they're ready. Most of us have already had either personal, or family medical issues. No smoker wants to die from lung cancer. The immediate benefit of a bad habit will almost always outweigh the predictable, but distant negative outcome. That's one of the reasons people keep doing things that they know are bad for them. They need our ears and our support, not our criticism. Be kind, and be respectful. You have no idea the fight that someone is having everyday, quietly with themselves.
Even if you're not ready to stop smoking or to lose weight, talk about it with someone you trust. That doesn't oblige you to anything. But if you know you'd be healthier without that bad habit, talk about it. That doesn’t mean you have to act on anything. Having the right conversation with the right person at the right time might just redirect you on a path you would have never predicted. That's exactly what happened to me. When I decided to embark on my plant-based journey, I wasn’t thinking about cholesterol or high blood pressure, but about that father-daughter team I’d seen rock climbing together. Unbeknownst to me, seeing them that night would change the way I saw getting older. I go rock climbing regularly with my daughters, they’re 6 and 8, and plan on still being able to do so in 20 years, if they can still keep up with me!
Change is a process, and the likelihood of succeeding increases tenfold when the people surrounding you are like-minded!
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches!
Look for me on the socials, @plantbased_dr_jules on Instagram and go like my Facebook Page, Plant-based Dr. Jules. If you’re looking for some fitness motivation and are curious to see what a plant-based athlete can accomplish, follow me, @maritimeninja, on my fitness account on Instagram or check out my fitness group on Facebook, called Maritime Ninja Warrior.
Thanks so much for reading!
Plant-Based Dr. Jules 💚🌱
Please keep taking care of each other!
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Plant-based Dr Jules 🌱💚
PS: the patient mentioned in this blog gave me full consent to share his story in hopes of helping others❤️