How Much Should We Be Listening To Our Doctors?

I had a physical last week and I wanted to share a little piece of the visit with you. I’ll preface this post by saying that I haven’t done much research on the topic of nutrition and what we “should” eat, but I did see the documentary Fed Up! and have read a bunch of articles that RM has sent me since he is much more in tune with nutrition and things like that (he’s done a ridiculous amount of research on various diets like paleo, Whole30, SCD, bullet proof, etc.) so I feel like at this point I know a lot more about food and nutrition than I used to.

But, back to my visit. As most visits start out, we recapped my last visit. My doctor mentioned to me that my cholesterol was a little high and that I should get re-tested. And by a little high, I mean VERY little: they want you under 130 and mine was 131. She said that they don’t require you to do take an serious actions unless you’re over 190, so I had a long way to go (it’s also worth noting that the last time I got blood drawn for my cholesterol test it was 5pm after a full day of eating… they want you to test after fasting usually to get the most accurate results). Regardless, in typical Monique fashion, I got instantly nervous that I had high cholesterol and asked how I could fix it. She handed me a paper, titled “Heart Healthy Steps: Top Ten Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol”, but said not to worry too much since mine wasn’t that high.

When I got in the car (after another cholesterol test, mind you), my curiosity got the best of me so I started to read through the material. I didn’t get far, though, because after I read about how to reduce the saturated fat in my diet (which was the first tip in the document) I was appalled by the information they were giving me:

  • Avoid full-fat or “regular” cheese- instead, look for the terms “fat-free”, “reduced fat,” or “50% light” on the label.
  • Use non-fat, FIT milk, Simply Smart or low fat 1% milk and nonfat or lowfat yogurt (containing aspartame and fructose if watching carbs)
  • Avoid butter… it is NOT better than light tub margarine (without trans fats)
  • Avoid foods/desserts prepared with coconut or coconut milk

If you’re shaking your head as you read these, don’t worry- I was too. Actually, as I was typing them word for word from the sheet, I was chuckling to myself. There are so many things in just these 4 “tips” that go against all the research I’ve seen recently. If you watched Fed Up or if you have read any sort of food-related articles over the past few years, you’d know that picking “fat free” or anything low fat, reduced fat, margarine, etc. is probably not your best option. Sure, the fat count may be down, but what do you think they do to make them still taste good? They load them up with sugar and other artificial ingredients that your body doesn’t know how to accurately process. They may not have a high fat content, but low-fat isn’t the end all, be all to a healthy diet. There is so much more that goes into a well balanced diet, like eating lots of veggies, eating healthy fats like avocado and nuts and nut butters, eating lean proteins and eggs (yes, yolk and all!) and also treating yourself to pizza and wine every so often. 😉

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But, I feel like your traditional doctors office “send home” material is not accounting for the times and how recent research has opened up a whole new way of looking at food and what we “should” and “should not” be eating. Rather than pushing us to lower our fat by seeking out “low fat” and “fat free”, maybe they should talk to us about what foods make up our diet and what our day to day looks like. Are we eating a good mix of veggies, healthy fats, protein, carbs, etc.? Are we moving consistently? Are we drinking lots of water? These are things I wish she would’ve asked me when I asked her how I could lower my cholesterol.

At the end of the day, most of the time we should be eating REAL food in its natural form because our bodies know how to process and digest that. While I appreciate my doctor trying to help me, I was so discouraged my what she gave me as a reference/resource. Even though I am by no means a health or nutrition expert, I’ve at least been exposed to enough at this point that I kind of know what foods I should be eating to properly fuel myself for my daily activity, which is a lot more than probably a lot of people who have likely asked her the same “how can I fix it” type of question I asked.

As RM always tells me- if you focus on eating a diet that primarily comes from the ground, you’re probably fueling yourself well. Does this mean we don’t eat packaged foods or have pizza or wings or cookies? Hell, no! If you’ve been reading B2B for a while I think it’s pretty safe to say I actively strive for an 80/20 balance: most of the time I eat lots of veggies, protein, grains, etc., but I also have no problem going out for pizza and wine or a burger and a beer. These help keep me balanced and help me practice #moderation365 as Jill Coleman so perfectly says. Eating full fat foods/drinks, eating lots of veggies & fruits, eating fish and chicken (and yes, I choose dark meat over the breast meat!), drinking wine and eating pizza are things that make me happy and make me feel good, so that’s what I focus on much more than reading the labels to see how much fat or how many calories something has. If I can pronounce all of the ingredients, I feel pretty good about what I am choosing to fuel my body with.

I’d love to hear from you, though! What does your diet usually consist of? Have you changed your eating over the years as you learn more about nutrition and different foods? What are some key foods or products you like to include in your diet? Do you read labels when you shop? Do you prefer adhering to a strict “diet” or do you prefer to practice #moderation365 and take a more balanced approach?

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8 thoughts on “How Much Should We Be Listening To Our Doctors?

  1. Marie says:

    Hi Monique, I’m glad you wrote this article. I got similar information at my last physical. It doesn’t seem as though doctors’ materials keep up with the latest research. As much as you work out, your good cholesterol probably is the reason why it is up a bit, and probably cancels out any triglycerides or bad cholesterol numbers anyway.

  2. Kristen says:

    I am appalled at what the doc gave you!! I have always been a whole milk, natural sugar (stevia, spenda…ick!!), butter over margarine, yolks in my egg type of eater. there are points when i questioned this (“should i go for that low fat cream cheese?! why did it never occur to me to pick low fat? why is everyone eating just the egg whites? I just want what tastes the best!”) really well written post!

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Hi Kristen- I’ve gone through stages where I did the low fat or fat free everything and did anything I could to eat less fat and calories, but at this point I am happy to say I *mostly* stick to the real deal when it comes to foods (i don’t like whole milk, though- it’s too thick, so i drink 2%). Glad you liked the post!

  3. Fiona MacDonald says:

    So I didn’t even finish reading your post, because I know where you were going but I guess let me be the devils advocate. I am an RN working in cardiac health and Diabetes so cholesterol is my peanut butter to my jelly. You have to take these information pamphlets with a grain of salt when you don’t have high cholesterol. Those that do are at a much higher risk of heart disease AND heart attack so yes ideally whole foods are better in general but when you’re arteries are clogged and you’re at risk of death, reducing saturated fats is best for your health. I posed this question to one of my cardiologists because I always get baffled by the butter vs margarine topic as well….but he said in terms of saving your heart for those at risk, it is better to choose margarine as it has reduced saturated fat (vs butter) which is what causes clogged arteries (from your diet) obviously among other things. I would say the information sheet your physician gave you is poorly written and you would probably find better information from the American Heart Association to help guide you to lower your cholesterol with more options. I’m apologize if this comes off harsh but you have to think of those who are at great risk of heart disease and heart attack. Ideally my suggestion to my patients is to reduce high fat foods (processed like you discussed) and increase lots of fibre, fruits, vegetables and whole foods but we still recommend avoiding saturated fat and adding in mono/poly unsaturated fast (which a Dietitian would teach them all about) before sending them off with poorly written material such as what your doctor gave you.

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Hi Fiona! Thank you for playing the Devil’s Advocate, because although I think the information provided to me, specifically, was not appropriate, I do see how if there are people who fit the mold of what you’re describing, the information provided might be more in line with the correct course of action. I am glad you’ve shared a different perspective because it’s good to see both sides of the story and if someone is just trying to reduce their saturated fat so that they don’t get clogged arteries, they would need a different course of action than someone who might just be a little high on the cholesterol scale. However, once they rectify that problem, I think it would be advisable for them to take a good look at their diet to see what could be changed to help reduce that risk going forward (which, as you mentioned, would be eating less processed food and more veggies, fruits, lean proteins, fibre, etc.). Thanks again for your comment!

  4. Ellyn @ In Fitness and In Health says:

    LOVE this post! I’m surprised at your doctor’s recommendations! Great post addressing them!

    I define “diet” as what someone habitually eats rather than a restrictive short-lived program that’s ultimately unsustainable. I always read food labels and always opt for the low(er)-sodium or no-salt-added options when buying canned goods (which is rare). I usually stick to a cart full of fruits and veggies and meats like ground turkey and chicken breast for my protein.

    One staple I can’t live without is english muffins. Rudi’s Organic Multigrain with Flax are THE BEST english muffins I have ever had. I eat one for breakfast (and a snack) every day. I also really like Dannon’s Oikos Triple Zero greek yogurts. They only have 6-7g of sugar in them versus Chobani which has sometimes up to 15-20g depending on the flavor.

    I’ve also been really getting into Crockpot meals recently, which saves time on mealprep and leftovers last for days! 🙂

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      I agree with your “diet” definition. I love Crockpot meals- we were just talking about making one the other day. English muffins are so good and I think I’ve had that brand! RM has also gotten me into eating just plain greek yogurt, which was hard getting used to, but if you doctor it up with lots of good stuff it helps!

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