Before we dive into Lifestyle Medicine, it’s first important to understand the differences between Conventional Medicine and Functional/Integrative Medicine, as Lifestyle Medicine sits in between both.
Conventional Medicine is mainstream medicine, and while it is crucial for managing medical emergencies and acute illnesses, it falls short when it comes to treating chronic, lifestyle-related conditions. Conventional Medicine relies heavily on procedures, medications, and other interventions that often only target compartmentalised symptoms instead of treating the person as a whole.
In Conventional Medicine, the practitioner is in control, as they have the required medical expertise. This attitude is often very disempowering for the patient since doctors practicing Conventional Medicine aren’t usually concerned until your blood work is abnormal. Yet, we all know abnormal blood work isn’t the only indicator of a health problem. This approach is reactive—action is only taken once there’s a confirmed problem.
While Conventional Medicine practices are strongly evidence-based, an over-reliance on ‘the facts’ can sometimes make practitioners close-minded.
Functional/Integrative Medicine is on the other end of the spectrum. It focuses on more ‘natural’ therapies like herbal supplements, hypnosis, acupuncture, diet, and lifestyle. It is a holistic approach that seeks to address the root cause of a person’s symptoms. The evidence behind some of its recommended therapies can be weak or limited and is often based on theories and mechanistic studies.
Both schools of medicine are often at odds with one another. Conventionally trained doctors think that Functional and Complementary Medicine is a joke and a waste of time. Functional Medicine practitioners are largely against the conventional approach.
Lifestyle Medicine bridges this divide. It recognises that there is a role for drugs and procedures, and it also draws on aspects of Functional/Integrative Medicine for optimal, cost-effective, evidence-based care. Lifestyle Medicine helps bring together practitioners from both sides, enabling greater cohesion.
Why Are Lifestyle Changes Overlooked?
There’s been a gaping hole in healthcare for a long time. And while lifestyle changes have always been recommended as the first line of treatment in virtually all clinical guidelines, they are often poorly implemented or overlooked.
Most health professionals do not have the skills, training, or time to help people make and sustain changes to their behaviour. When their approach of just telling patients what to do doesn’t work, they become frustrated and come to the conclusion that promoting lifestyle changes is pointless. It’s like repeatedly telling your spouse or child to put their dishes in the dishwasher—they don’t do it, so, eventually, you stop asking.
Also, although doctors are trained to diagnose and treat disease, their tools are often limited to medications, medical procedures, and surgery. It’s not their fault—they weren’t trained in nutrition or wellness.
The Conventional Medicine approach is not sustainable; thus far, it has failed us in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease.
Lifestyle Medicine is a growing global movement, and there’s a very good reason for that: there’s been an explosion of chronic diseases attributed to our modern lifestyles—namely diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This has led concerned and passionate health professionals from around the world to come together to find better solutions to this surmountable problem.
Lifestyle Medicine is the solution we’ve been overlooking all this time. I’m amazed at the extraordinary amount of literature on the beneficial and powerful effects of lifestyle changes for the treatment and prevention of disease. If you could package this all up into a pill, it would be a blockbuster!