Eat Right and Lose Weight with The Wellness Forum’s Dr. Pam Popper

December 2, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and today we’re so excited to have back on the show with us Doctor Pam Popper. Welcome to Green is Good, Doctor Popper. PAM POPPER: Thank you for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, Pam, your show last time was so compelling our listeners wrote in and we were so excited to have you back. You’ve just written a book called Food Over Medicine that came out in June and also, we’re going to talk about that book and also the Wellness Forum. Let’s talk a little bit about obesity today. As we were talking on our last show, this has become a problem that’s not going away. What’s going on? We have all these Weight Watchers and all these Jenny Craigs and all these other type of dietary restrictive situations out there and programs. How come obesity is continuing to rise if everyone’s on a diet? PAM POPPER: Well, the problem is the diets don’t work. In fact, they are so ineffective that the likelihood that somebody will recover from stage four metastasized cancer is greater than that they will lose weight using any of the typical diet plans and keep it off. Ninety-seven percent of the people who do some type of diet don’t end up losing weight and keeping it off and the reason for that is that we have adopted a diet in the last several decades that just is not the right diet for humans and it doesn’t matter how much calorie counting you do and portion control and all the other silly things we teach people to do. As long as you’re going to eat the wrong foods, you’re going to continue to have health issues and one of those is being overweight or obese. JOHN SHEGERIAN: If going on one of those diets is not the answer, then what is the answer? What kind of program? When people come to your wellness forum, and again, for our listeners that didn’t have the chance to listen to Pam Popper’s last segment on Green is Good, she is the Executive Director of The Wellness Forum and she’s also the author of this wonderful new book, Food Over Medicine. I’m on your website right now, WellnessForum.com. What could I expect if I came to Wellness Forum and I was saying, ‘Help me. I’m 50 pounds overweight. I don’t feel that good. I’m 50 years old and I don’t want to feel like this anymore.’ Instead of one of those other type of limited diets, what would you recommend for me? PAM POPPER: Right, and the first thing we would do is tell you just get the word diet out of your vocabulary because this isn’t going to be some temporary thing where you use willpower to eat the right things until you lose the weight and then you go back to “normal.” What we’re going to do is we’re going to go back to the diet that you were specifically designed and engineered to eat, which is a plant-centered diet. Just to be clear, because there are a lot of misunderstandings about the things I tell people, it’s not necessarily vegan. You don’t have to give up all animal foods but you are going to eat a low-fat plant-based diet and most of your calories are going to come from fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and when you do that, provided you get the oil and added fats out of the diet and that sort of thing, you’re going to be able to eat whenever you’re hungry and eat until you’re full and I always phrase it this way because people who are chronic dieters are so used to restrictions. You can just eat with careless abandon the foods that are on the okay list; the fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and while you do that, you’re going to lose 2 or 3 pounds a week until you hit your ideal weight and without ever counting a calorie or portion measurement or anything like that again, you’re going to be lean for the rest of your life and you’re going to love the food. We’ll teach you how to prepare it, so it’s really tasty. It’s not suffering, believe me. People think I live on tree bark and pinecones and I don’t. It’s really delicious food and you’ll lose weight and while you’re losing the weight, you’re going to reduce your risk of having cardiovascular disease and diabetes and all the conditions that follow being overweight and obese over a period of time, so that’s what we’re going to teach people to do and it’s easy. Another great part about this is the grocery bill goes down. People think it’s really expensive to eat well. It’s cheaper, so they save money, lose weight, feel better, look better and they love the food so they can do it for the rest of their lives. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your website here, The Wellness Forum, and again for our listeners out there who are just now tuning in, we’ve got Doctor Pam Popper on with us again on Green is Good. This is such an important topic. We wanted you back. Our listeners wanted you back. It’s WellnessForum.com. If I don’t live where The Wellness Forum is in Ohio, can I still join and get benefits from being part of your network and part of your organization and get some of this information and find out how I can live a better life? PAM POPPER: Absolutely. Most of our members, by the way, because we have members in 33 different countries now, I think, are what we call virtual members so they buy a membership to The Wellness Forum. We send them a big box that has curriculum in it so they can do DVDs, self-study at home. We have 100 and some hours of workshops on our members website that they can listen to and we do weekly teleconference calls that they can dial in from anywhere, everything ranging from Q-and-As with me to Q-and-A sessions with our chefs to guest speakers that talk about a variety of different topics so it doesn’t matter where you are on the planet. We can show you how to do this and the food is readily available everywhere. I think another concern people have is if I go to my local grocery store a mile from my house, am I going to be able to find the stuff that you’re going to tell me to eat? And today you can find it anywhere. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sometimes carbs and starches get the wrong rap and we touched on it last time we chatted, Pam. Can you talk a little bit about what’s this whole thing? Are we allowed to eat a sweet potato or a baked potato? Are we allowed to have a little bit of pasta or is that off limits in the way that you think we should be eating? PAM POPPER: Those are the foods we encourage people to eat and they’re usually flabbergasted because they’re comfort foods. People love them and the reason they love them is they’re naturally predisposed to eat them. We’ve lived on starch for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and today, if you look at the healthiest populations on the planet, in Asia and northern Africa for example, these people eat a starch-based diet, so when people tell me starch makes you fat, I tell them two things. Africans and Asians never got that memo. They’re eating rice four times a day and they’re doing fine. The other thing is the problem with starch isn’t starch; it’s the company it keeps so we take a perfectly good potato and if you were to eat it plain, it would be great and we slather it with sour cream and butter or else we chop it up and fry it with oil and we turn it into a calorie-laden, fat-laden toxic waste dump, but if you were just eating a baked potato with black bean soup over it or salsa on it or something of that nature, it’s this delicious, nutritious, low-calorie, almost zero-fat food, so the problem isn’t potatoes. The problem’s what we do with them. The problem isn’t corn. The problem is the oil and the butter that we add to it, so yeah, you can eat those foods and most people find this diet really, really satisfying, both from the taste and being filled up perspective because of the inclusion of those foods. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Last time you told a great story about your pops. Can you tell our listeners today about your dad, how old he is, how he’s been living by the principles that you share with thousands and how he’s feeling today? PAM POPPER: Yeah, and my dad’s a good example of a couple of points I like to make because so many people think that the diseases that they have are based on their genes and it is true that we’re all predisposed to develop certain diseases based on our family history and genetic profile but my dad’s a great example because here’s a guy where cardiovascular disease runs in his family. The male members of the family die of it and like clockwork, my father ate his way into coronary artery disease. He had high cholesterol. He had high blood pressure, He was beginning to show a little bit of sign of diabetes and at the age of 76, he finally decided that he wanted to know more about eating the right things and converted to this diet so here’s my dad. He’s going to be 83 in December and he eats this plant-based diet. He looks so young you can’t believe it. I had dinner with my father on Sunday and nobody would believe this guy is going to be 83. He weighs what he weighed when he graduated from high school and he lifts weights and he walks every day and he rides his bike and he has a fairly large piece of property that’s high maintenance and he does all of that himself and so first of all, my dad’s still around, which is a blessing because I’m sure if he had just taken those drugs and kept eating the way he was eating he wouldn’t be and the second thing is I don’t have to worry about him so much. I’m concerned but I don’t have to worry about my dad being frail and not being able to live by himself and that sort of thing. He’s actually a pretty strong guy and it’s the diet and his ability to remain so active that keeps him that way so if you want to live a long time, you want to eat this diet. If you want to live disease free because all his friends are having procedures and taking drugs, not him. It’s the right diet for everybody. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When people start getting concerned about their genetic makeup in terms of their natural predisposition, the story of hope that you bring is that nurture, how we really live in the environment that we’re in and how we take care of ourselves, has a lot to do with how we’re going to evolve more than just our genetic predisposition. PAM POPPER: Absolutely, and again, we’re all predisposed. Women in my family tend to be obese. Women in my family on my mother’s side develop rheumatoid arthritis. My grandmother had it. My mother had it, and so I know that if I don’t eat the right things, I can pretty much see what’s going to happen to me but there’s a difference between having a gene and a genetic expression. I don’t have to switch on the expression of those genes. I can keep that at bay by eating an optimal diet and that’s really hopeful for people because if you go through life thinking that your genes determine your health outcomes, my gosh, you’re a victim because none of us got to pick our genes and you can’t change them but you can decide that you’re going to eat something different for lunch today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about some of the top diseases that are always leading the news. We just went through the presidential elections last year and Mitt Romney’s wife has MS and unfortunately, I don’t think they highlighted enough of what the struggle that she was going through, but I have friends and other people that I know that have had MS. Can you talk a little bit about MS and some of the autoimmune diseases and what we can do to work against them using food as medicine? PAM POPPER: Yes, and I’m always so discouraged when I see people in a high profile position like that with these diseases because they could become such spokespersons for us if they knew the right things to say but multiple sclerosis and other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis have a strong connection to food and it’s been clinically proven that these diseases can be stopped and people can be asymptomatic if they remain compliant on a plant-based diet. In fact, when it comes to MS, very interesting, Doctor Royce Swank studied MS and used dietary intervention and showed that he could stop or even reverse multiple sclerosis in 5,000 patients. He followed his original patient group for 34 years and showed that they generally stayed asymptomatic as long as they ate a low-fat, plant-based diet. Now carrying the torch today, Doctor Swank died at the age of 99 a couple years ago. Doctor John McDougall, a good friend and colleague of mine, is doing a research study with Oregon State University and using diet as an intervention tool and showing these patients are better off so that research is continuing today but the fact that it worked with 5,000 people should give people with MS a lot of hope out there that they should be eating this diet and that it should work for them but the problem is the disease group like the MS Society and every disease has a nonprofit group that’s associated with it right now, these groups really don’t promote this idea. They’re more promoting drug solutions and that sort of thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The same message, I take it Pam, goes for cancer, diabetes, heart disease? Again, plant-based diets? And, I know you’ve spoken about that and it’s covered in your book, Food Over Medicine. You could stop and potentially reverse the effects of these diseases if we start living the way you propose in Food Over Medicine? PAM POPPER: Absolutely, and I think if people knew what would happen to them if they just do traditional treatment, they’d get a whole lot more motivated to adopt the diet and that’s one of the ways that I get people to do it. People say, ‘How do you go into a company,’ for example because we go to these different employer sites, ‘and motivate people to adopt this diet?’ Well, one of the things we do is we show them what will happen if you’re diabetic and you just take the drugs. What will happen to you if you have an inflammatory bowel disease and you just take the drugs? You’re going to be wearing a colostomy bag in 20 years. How does that sound? You scare people a little bit and it’s all true. We don’t make this stuff up. We can show them the package and search for the drugs what’s going to happen to you if you do this. They become very, very motivated because the idea of restoring your health and not having to be on all these medications and live with declining health as opposed to taking drugs and spending your time in doctor’s offices and hospitals and it’s very appealing to use the diet as your intervention tool instead of drugs and surgeries. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m 50 now. When I was 17, I really wanted to lose weight and feel better and I was living in Boston and I started reading Michio Kushi’s books about macrobiotics and I started eating that way and felt a lot better and actually lost a lot of weight. What’s your take on raw food diets, macrobiotics and some of the adjunct diets to veganism and plant-based food diets? PAM POPPER: Well first of all, when you talk about the macrobiotic diet and raw food, they’re all based on eating a plant-centered diet, so really, they prove the point, to a certain extent, that a plant-based diet is where you want to be. My feeling about all this stuff though is that first of all, we don’t have research, for example, that says that eating a raw food diet is better for you than eating the diet that I teach people to eat, which is a lot easier to do, and one of the things I think we have to be very careful of is first of all, that we adhere to the science, as boring as it sounds sometimes, and the other thing is that we don’t make this harder than it needs to be because every layer of difficulty you pile on this diet is becomes a compliance issue and so if you want to eat a raw food diet and you can do it properly without the addition of a lot of nuts and oils, which that’s a problem. Most people don’t do it properly and they eat a lot of fat and that’s not good for you but if you want to do it and you can do it right, that’s great but what I really want to teach people to do is how to do this so easily and seamlessly that they can say, ‘My gosh, I was prepared for this to be a real ordeal and it’s no big deal at all,’ and so that’s why I don’t like some of these more complicated diets and I don’t think we have science to show that they’re better. I think we have a lot of practical experience to show that they’re harder and harder is not where we want to be. Easier is where we want to be. JOHN SHEGERIAN: My nephew and godson, who’s absolutely brilliant, his name is Armen and he’s going to medical school right now and I’m enjoying listening to him tell stories about medical school and be so excited about becoming a doctor but I’m so disappointed in the whole teaching profession in that he tells me there’s barely anything on diet in medical school, even now in 2013. Can you share some of your thoughts like that and also, in your book, Food Over Medicine, you have a chapter called ‘Managing Your Doctor’. Can you share with our listeners your thoughts on why and how we have to manage our doctors better? PAM POPPER: Well, the problem is the healthcare professionals that are taking care of people are not taught how to cure anybody of anything. I’m a naturopath. I wasn’t trained how to cure anybody of anything in naturopathy school. Everything I learned that’s useful to people I learned when I got out of school and that’s really unfortunate but first of all, doctors don’t get any training about nutrition and dieticians often get the wrong training about nutrition and furthermore, the additional danger, and I write about this in the book, is that you’re going to be subjected to useless and harmful diagnostic tests and drugs that are going to make you worse or drugs that are prescribed for conditions that are imaginary so when I talk about managing your doctor, the point that I want to get across to people is you just cannot afford anymore to show up at a doctor’s office and do what you’re told. The exception to the rule, of course, is if you’re in a car accident and you’re injured and somebody’s trying to save your life, that’s a time when you do what you’re told but if you drove yourself to the doctor’s office for some type of appointment and the doctor starts talking to you about wanting to run this test or that test or take this prescription drug, you say thanks for the information. I’m going to look into it and get back to you because I would say most of what goes on in the average doctor’s office today is probably going to hurt you more than it’s going to help you. A couple of examples I talk about in the book; mammography is a good example. For a thousand women who we screened for five years, we saved one woman’s life and we kill six and you just can’t justify that type of behavior so even the things that we take as like common wisdom and the right thing to do are absolutely harmful and if you don’t know that, you’re going to get sucked into what I call the medical mill and even eating a perfect diet, you can be harmed by the medical profession so you have to be a really savvy consumer if you’re going to interact with the medical community. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sticking on this whole health care issue, two things that are so controversial: How often should we get our blood tested by doctors or our health care professionals that we go to and what markers should we be looking for and asking him or her to test for when our blood is tested? PAM POPPER: Well, if you haven’t been doing a good job of taking care of yourself, I stay away from doctors. My gosh, you can go to the drug store and get a good blood test and blood pressure reading and that’s probably a better thing to do but get a lipid paddle and see what your cholesterol is. You want your total cholesterol to be 150 or lower, LDL 80 or lower. Your triglycerides 150 or lower, fasting glucose 140 or lower, low on some numbers, higher on some numbers and we can talk about that if we have time but you want your blood pressure to be in a normal range, although a high normal hypertensive should never be medicated. That’s medical malpractice in my opinion and make sure that you have a lean body so good to look at your body mass index or body fat composition and that’s what you want to know and other than that, stay away from doctors and if you’re taking care of yourself and you’ve got your numbers in range, then just keep doing it and stay away from additional testing and all that sort of thing. It just leads to disaster in a number of ways. We find out about conditions we’re better off not knowing about. There are fictitious diseases. I talk about osteoporosis, which is a myth in most people. It’s not that nobody gets it but this is one of the most useless tests that’s ever been invented so other than that, stay away from the health profession unless you’re sick. Then you go. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How about vitamins? Are vitamins important? If yes, whose vitamins should we be taking? There’s so many vitamins out there and is vitamin D one of the best vitamins that we should be taking on some sort of basis right now, given that we all have limited access to natural sunlight on a daily basis? PAM POPPER: First of all, vitamins, yes they’re important, but get them from food. We now know that not only do taking vitamin supplements it doesn’t reduce your risk of developing diseases. There’s not preventive value in it but some of these things are harmful. Numbers of studies have been discontinued because the people taking the vitamin pills were getting sicker faster than the people taking the placebo so stay away from isolating nutrients in a pill. You simply can’t equate taking vitamin C to eating an apple. They’re two different things so it’s fine to eat apples. The second thing with vitamin D, it’s the latest craze from people who are in the natural health community, who are just as incompetent, in my opinion, as many in the traditional health community. We are designed and engineered as humans to produce vitamin D in response to sunlight and we have ample opportunity to do it even in northern climates several months out of the year. Your body stores it for use in the wintertime. The Institute of Medicine issued a report after a committee looked at close to 1,000 studies on the issue saying that good vitamin D levels are easily achieved by sunlight exposure. There are risks associated with taking vitamin D supplements. There is very little evidence to show that there’s any benefit from doing so and the general population should stay away from these supplements. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No kidding. Well, we’re down to the last couple minutes now, Pam. Food labels; some of us read them. Some of us don’t. Give us basically the cheat sheet for reading food labels and getting better at this when we go through our food stores. PAM POPPER: The only thing that counts is the ingredients list and if I were in charge of the FDA, I would make a new rule saying the only thing you could put on the package is the ingredients list and what you start looking at is what kind of food is in this or is there any food in it? Manufacturers have gotten really good at a couple of things. The first thing is making health claims on the box, which they’re allowed to do under certain circumstances, and the second thing is improving the nutrient value on that silly chart that shows you how many calories and the RDA for this and that nutrient and they do that by fortifying junk food, by spraying them with vitamins. Literally, that’s how they make these fortified cereals. You really don’t care how much of a particular nutrient is in the food. What you’re really looking at is what is the food in the food and so if it’s just a bunch of sugar and refined ingredients and then they fortify it with some vitamin C and calcium and vitamin C, put that back. If you’re going to eat things in a box, we’re all going to do it because we all eat some packaged foods, read the ingredients list. Short ingredient list with just food in the package is what you’re looking for. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey you know, we’re down to a minute and a half. Give us your one or two favorite inspirational stories from The Wellness Forum and people you’ve counseled before. Tell us some real stories of victory, of overcoming your health deficits by eating the right way. PAM POPPER: Well, my dad’s an obvious one and another one is my good friend and work associate, Liz Coon, who had Crohn’s Disease when she came to me in 2002 and we put her on the whole foods plant-based diet. This is the woman who used to spend time in the hospital every year and her whole life was going to work and then going home because she had to be by a bathroom, she didn’t have any energy and she was sick all the time, and so she hasn’t had any episodes of Crohn’s Disease since 2002. She does everything she wants to do. She’s getting ready to go hiking in Scotland for 10 days, so that’s a big change in her life and she works for us part time and does a great job on our website. Then, another one is a guy that he was actually a physician who came to The Wellness Forum and lost about 50 pounds and he’s running marathons. He just completed his first triathlon and this guy doesn’t even look like he’s- If I put a picture of him before and after the weight loss, it’s so incredible. He looks like 25 years younger than he used to and then we have a yoga teacher at our center who had ulcers colitis. Twenty years she suffered with it. Three weeks, gone on this whole foods plant-based diet and so the list goes on and on, people who’ve regained their health and now live spectacular lives without sickness. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Doctor Pam Popper, you’re amazing. The science is irrefutable. Please go to The Wellness Forum. If you want to be engaged with Doctor Pam Popper and her great staff and feel better, thewellnessforum.com. Buy Food Over Medicine wherever books are sold, Barnes and Noble, Amazon. Doctor Pam Popper, you’re an amazing health and wellness leader and truly living proof that green is good.