Talking with Healthcare Professionals About Nutrition

By Alene Brennan

“Eat whatever you want, it’s not going to make a difference.”

I had heard the line from doctors before but this time it was different. This time there was so much more on the line.

I had just heard the words “you have multiple sclerosis.”

I needed something within my control to begin to reclaim my health.

As a nutrition coach, food was the obvious choice.

It was also the obvious choice because Dr. Terry Wahls – a physician diagnosed with progressive MS – created a nutrition protocol that was reversing the effects of the disease for her and many participants in her clinical trial.

Why then was I being discouraged to improve the quality of foods on my plate by the doctor who’s supposed to support me in feeling my best? It didn’t make sense and if this was his message to me, it meant that others were likely being told the same thing.

I pursued the conversation and my doctor began to pack peddle saying that nutrition wasn’t going to hurt me but I just wasn’t going to cure MS.

This is a conversation that many of us having with our medical care team and I’ve found it incredibly important to approach the conversation in the right way.

The following are strategies in talking to healthcare professionals that I’ve found to be helpful and share with many of my nutrition clients to do the same.

Do your homework.

Before you go to your appointment, do some research to understand the various nutritional approaches that may be helpful for your diagnosis.You don’t have to look up scientific studies – although if you have access to that, it’ll be a tremendous help – but simply be informed about how others are finding success through dietary changes.

Doing your homework can consist of:

  • Reading a book
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Talking with respected friends in the industry
  • Reviewing credible websites/blogs

You’ll likely discover that there are two main dietary approaches being studied for MS – the Swank diet (low-fat, minimal animal products) and the Wahls Protocol (organized paleo approach). This background enables you to have a more specific and productive conversation with your healthcare professionals now.

Ask the right questions

This step is key!

“What do you think about nutrition?” is way too broad of a question for even the savviest of physicians to answer. It’s also the type of question that will deliver the response that I received in that nutrition doesn’t make a difference.

Consider the outcome you want to achieve and ask targeted questions accordingly.

Do you want to try a nutrition plan before starting medication?
Ask: “I’m seeing a lot of information on the benefits of nutrition in managing MS, based on my diagnosis and recent test results, would you be agreeable to me starting with this plan for three to six months before starting on a medication?”

Do you want to ensure your desire nutrition plan doesn’t conflict with your medical care?
Ask: “I’d like to follow this nutrition plan to help reduce my symptoms – fatigue, brain fog, etc. – given my overall health and medical plan, do you have any concerns or foresee any contraindications?”

These questions are far more specific and will yield clearer direction on next steps for you. It also lets your healthcare professionals know that you’re taking it seriously.

Keep in mind, medical school still doesn’t include much beyond one or two classes on nutrition. They’re trained in hard science and using standardized medications to treat patients. We cannot always fault them for not speaking to something they’re not trained in.

Understand the context of the conversation and ask questions accordingly.

Decide what resonates best with you

Continue to gather information until you feel confident in a plan that resonates best with you.

  • Get a second opinion
  • Continue your research
  • Explore your options in functional medicine
  • Schedule a consultation with a nutrition coach

At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with your approach. And know that you don’t have to do it on your own. Making dietary changes can he hard. If engaging the support of a health or nutrition coach will help you in succeeding, go for it. You and your health are worth it.

*Alene Brennan works with individuals living with MS and other autoimmune diseases to create a diet and lifestyle that will support their healing and disease management. She holds four certifications: nutrition coach, yoga instructor, personal trainer, and natural food chef. You can learn more about her work and follow her blog, recipes, and more at www.alenebrennan.com. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook, too!

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Advice for Talking to Your Doctor

My MSAA Community - Strategies for Talking to Your DoctorRecently, we asked the members of our online community, My MSAA Community, what their strategies are for talking to their doctors.  Here is some of the advice and experiences the members shared:

“If there is something that I really want to express to my doctor I always keep a journal, but add to it printouts of my research. Last fall, I was Continue reading

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Remembering I’m the Boss for My Health Care Professional Team

By Stacie Prada

When I think of all the health care professionals I’ve seen in the last thirty years, it overwhelms me.  When I look at how I interact with them and how it’s changed with time, I think changes in my confidence level and perspective have contributed to much better interactions and level of care.

Thinking of the number of health care providers I’ve seen since reaching adulthood Continue reading

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Keeping Track of your MS

I thought I would share a “tip” on how I keep track of my MS – so I’m able to recall things when needed or share information with other members of my health care team (who are not my neurologist).

So here is what I’ve done. I went and bought a HUGE binder… and I requested all my Medical Records… Personally, I had to get medical records from my diagnosing neurologist (general neurologist) and my MS Specialist neurologist. But I also got my records from all my other doctors.

I find this a lot easier when I need to recall past treatment… while I can sit here and name off MS treatments I’ve taken, I can’t always recall the dates in which I was on certain medications and/or received a specific treatment for something.

My medical records binder also includes my MRI reports. I also requested my MRI reports from the radiology clinic, because I’ve found that when I have a followup appointment, and I have the records on hand… it’s easier to go over with my neurologist… especially since results can take some time to be sent.

Now let me say that this is a work in progress… because I’m always getting more medical records… I usually collect them after I have a “change” in my health… or every 6 months.

I also take the time to place my records in order by date. So it’s kind of like a binder timeline of my MS…

I’m currently working on getting dividers for the binder. While I like things in order by date, I thought it would be beneficial to categorize things further, for example: Primary Care, Neurologist, MRI Reports, etc. I’m also contemplating getting a small binder for each category, so if needed, I can take a binder with me.

It’s all about personal preference… and honestly… some people could carry their medical records with them at once… but I have A LOT of records, so that wouldn’t be so easy.

It may not be needed a lot… but I can tell you that I’m very happy that I requested my records… because it has helped me make  decisions since I was diagnosed. For example, I decided to change from my diagnosing neurologist, to a specialist. I had been contemplating the idea, but then  I went over my medical records and I saw that there were things documented in the records that were “discussed” with my mother and I… that actually were NOT.

Just know that as a patient, you have the rights to your medical records. You never know when they might come in handy and they may help to keep you on track.

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