How to Be Your Own Health & Wellness Advocate

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If you are living with autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, it is critically important that you understand how to advocate for yourself and your healthcare needs. Discover how to be your own health & wellness advocate for yourself and your loved ones with these personal and professional tips.

Health & Wellness Advocate

Become Your Own Health & Wellness Advocate

Here we go. I am about to say all of the things that I am not supposed to say as a registered dietitian and a practicing member of the healthcare community.

But I am indeed human and believe that we all connect with and learn from each other through sharing our stories and experiences.

This is mine and a reminder to you of why you need to become your own biggest health & wellness advocate because your life depends on it, especially if you have an autoimmune or inflammatory condition.

After experiencing a long and difficult battle with an unexpected illness, I feel that my entire perspective on healthcare has changed, both for the good and for the bad.

The biggest lesson I have learned from this experience is that it is our right, our responsibility and our duty as patients to be our own health & wellness advocates.

The Silver Lining in Every Situation

Even though my illness was a setback, I do believe that my experience has led me to become a more empathetic and sympathetic patient, provider, and human being.

Through what I have learned, I feel like I am now able to better understand and relate to the people I care for on a much deeper and meaningful level than ever was possible before.

Education is Great, But It’s Not Everything

I believe it can open doors and lead us to some of our greatest opportunities.

Five years of my life have been spent studying nutrition, science, and healthcare to earn both my Bachelor’s and a Masters’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. A big part of that education was the focus on evidence-based science.

But I don’t think that education is everything.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a full believer in science. But to be honest, I have a little bit of a bone to pick with ‘evidence-based science’ after what I went through.

I am sure that I am not supposed to say this, but after my experience, I feel as though I have the right and a responsibility to share my thoughts on not only our current healthcare system, and our blindness to our own inner wisdom as well.

Of course, I would never want to do anybody harm, and I would never want anybody to read this and mistake it for any type of healthcare advice.

But as patients and consumers of the healthcare industry, we have the right and the responsibility to feel comfortable advocating for ourselves, our health and our own well-being.

It is your duty to do your research for new answers and to get a second, third or fourth opinion if necessary, when you are not satisfied with the standard textbook answers that you received from your providers that are not in alignment with your own inner wisdom and intuition.

I felt that I had experienced a lot of missteps in my healthcare plan because my providers we not listening to me, and I was not listening to my own inner guide, my intuition.

I felt as if the doctors who were taking care of me wanted to throw a pill at my condition simply because that was the ‘traditional evidence-based protocol’, despite signs that it was not right for me.

I then began to question my own body, my own symptoms, and my experiences because I was constantly being ignored or brushed off.

I do not feel as if I was looked at or treated as an individual, and I do not feel that I stood up for myself in a way that I would today.

I feel like just because a scientific research paper told the doctor that I should take a pill, that is what they thought I should do, without regard for my thoughts, feelings, or individual circumstances.

In the end, it was a good lesson because I learned a lot about advocating for my own health care, and the importance of doing my own research.

This entire experience has changed the way I think and practice as a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Before I got sick I followed all the textbook rules without consideration of the individual. Now I look back, I feel like I was condescending, snarky even, because I was so busy following evidence based-based science that I completely forgot to listen to and care for the unique human sitting right in front of me.

And that leads me to the point of this post here today of why you need to become your biggest health advocate.

We are so bogged down by science and information that we forgot to really listen to our bodies, our experiences, and our own intuition that guides how we feel.

Related: I Am Not An Anti-Diet Dietitian

The Dietitian I Used To Be

Whenever a patient would tell me that they would avoid gluten, I would immediately ask them if they have Celiac disease.

If they said no, I would roll my eyes and tell them that there was no need to follow a gluten-free diet unless they have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.

My illness led me to develop a form of colitis and I needed to find a dietary solution to help me control my symptoms. A gluten-free diet allowed me to do that.

I’ve thought to myself many times, ‘I’ve become the person that I hate’ simply because I now avoid gluten without a definitive diagnosis.

No, I do not have Celiac disease. But, when I eat large amounts of gluten confining foods, I get very sick. It has been confirmed that I do not have Celiac disease, but since all my gastrointestinal issues first appeared, I have found some relief from adopting a gluten-free diet.

Does that mean I’m following the trends? No, I don’t think so. It means that I am listening to my body and doing what feels best. I am following the model of Intuitive Eating.

I know for a fact that when I consume large quantities of gluten-containing foods, my symptoms worsen. And that’s where the problems start, we are not truly listening to our patients or ourselves.

I was so blinded by what I have been taught by evidence-based science that stated that a gluten-free diet is not helpful for those without Celiac disease, that I was ignoring the correlation of my symptoms.

Today, I avoid gluten I am glad that I listened to my body and my own inner wisdom to help me make that choice.

Six months ago if I was talking to a client who was experiencing what I did, I would tell them that I don’t think gluten is the problem.

Now I think to myself if gluten is or is not the problem, what does it matter as long as the patient and the client is feeling better?

The same thing goes for dairy.

Before I got sick I consumed dairy every day, yogurts, cheeses everything except for fluid milk out of personal preference.

Now I can only tolerate small amounts of dairy without running to the bathroom or experiencing cramping.

No I am not lactose intolerant, and yes sometimes I will have a little bit of cheese for pleasure.

But the bottom line is that I feel better, I am my healthiest when I do not have these things because that is what works best for me.

The New Me As a Person and a Dietitian

Now the good thing is that I am educated enough and thankful to have the education needed to be able to manage these conditions on my own.

I suppose the biggest problem comes into play when people remove these major food groups without knowing which nutrients they are removing from their diet without an adequate replacement for them.

That is why it’s important for clients to be working with a registered dietitian nutritionist or other qualified healthcare professional so that we can help them navigate through what is making them feel better or worse in a safe way.

Although it was painful, I am thankful because I have learned such a good lesson about being less judgmental, and listening to more about my patient’s feelings wants and needs versus what a textbook says.

I think there needs to be a healthy balance between scientific evidence and textbook rules combined with anecdotal evidence and real meaningful conversations with our clients.

Just as each one of us has a very distinct individual personality, I think that we all require a distinct and individual health and nutrition plan to keep us our happiness & our healthiest.

I will always practice with scientific evidence as my foundation, but I am opening up my mind and my practice to be more understanding, forgiving, and empathetic to people in their situations.

A major problem in our healthcare system today is that we treat everybody the same. That is an absolute shame and we are doing a disservice to the people who we trust our care.

The fact of the matter is that science is not the end-all-be-all of everything. I think that the best bet we have for living our happiest & healthiest lifestyle is to become your own health & wellness advocate.

But how exactly you know if you are already a are good health & wellness advocate for yourself?

Don’t worry if you’re not the best health & wellness advocate for yourself just yet, with guidance and some much-needed confidence you too can learn how to become your own best health & wellness advocate so you can live your happiest & healthiest life possible.

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