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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About MSAA

As a national nonprofit organization, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a toll-free Helpline; award-winning publications including a magazine, The Motivator; website featuring educational videos and research updates; S.E.A.R.C.H.™ program to assist the MS community with learning about different treatment choices; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; a resource database, My MS Resource Locator; equipment distribution ranging from grab bars to wheelchairs; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; educational events and activities; MRI funding and insurance advocacy; and more. For additional information, please visit http://www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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