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This article was first posted on June 27, 2011.
You can file this "Dr. Tim Says" column under the heading "Shameless Plug."
I was having a conversation with the editor of a major food magazine this week. We were talking about my new book, and the mission of Dr. Gourmet, when I said that one of my goals has always been to build an evidence-based nutrition destination that my colleagues would feel comfortable referring their patients to. This is because your doctor just doesn't have the time to say much other than "You should watch your diet," or "You really need to lose weight." The funny thing is that the editor had been to her doctor that morning and noticed just this. The words were different, but she felt that the message was really "I care, but I don't have the time to talk with you about this."
A recent survey of primary care physicians (PCPs) including family practitioners, internists, OB/GYNs, and pediatricians shows that we doctors do a pretty poor job of talking with our patients about these issues. The study showed that fewer than 50% of PCPs reported giving specific dietary advice. Interestingly, we are more likely to offer advice about exercise than diet or weight control (Am J Prev Med 2011;41(1):33-42).
You could argue that they don't know themselves, but the research says different. Doctors are, for the most part, healthier than the general population and more likely to be eating a sensible diet, exercising and watching their weight. While the research says that we don't have the extensive knowledge of diet that perhaps we should, we are doing better than the general population. The good news is that those doctors who have healthy lifestyles themselves are more likely to make recommendations to their patients.
The interesting thing is that our patients are likely to follow our advice when we give it to them (Clin J Sport Med 2000;10:40-8) and when we share that we "walk the walk" ourselves by exercising and eating right, our patients are even more likely to listen to us and take action (Arch Fam Med 2000; 9:287-290).
So what's the problem? Whether your doctor walks the walk or not, why might he or she not be talking to you about this?
Because they, quite simply, don't have the time to discuss diet and lifestyle with you. It's really not your physician's fault, however. There are so many factors at play that limit our time with patients that there's very little room for preventative medicine like giving dietary advice.
This is one of the reasons that I created Dr. Gourmet and we put so much effort into the web site, and all those efforts center on providing information that your doctor wants you to have: evidence-based health and nutrition information that he or she doesn't have time to share with you.
So we'd like you to share Dr. Gourmet. Think of this as the chain letter of health: forward this column to your doctor and to your friends so they can tell their physician too.
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.