When I started on my plant-strong journey, all I wanted was to absorb as much information as possible. I think most of us have been there. We feel as though a huge door has been opened, and an entire new world is staring back at us, ready to learn.
Today I wanted to go through a few ways I personally educate myself when it comes to being plant-strong.
1. I read studies. I don’t just read the headline, I read the entire study, I see how it was done, who conducted it. I find out how many people were in the study. I remember one study that made headlines that stated that coffee was shown to reduce T2 diabetes. I read through the study to find out that it had been conducted on 16 people, over a short time, and one of the sponsors was a major coffee manufacturer. The fine print is always telling.
I find this to be very helpful when I hear something very specific in regards to a single nutrient or food. When someone says something like “X is found to reduce rates of heart disease” or “People who eat X don’t get breast cancer” I am automatically wary. As most of us have found out from the book “Whole” by T. Collin Campbell, we need to look at the overall diet, rather than just single parts of it. Our diets should be looked at in the whole context, rather than very small parts.
2. I read books. Not just books that you’d find in a book store. I like reading books on biochemistry, science, physiology, clinical psychology and other books that explain how the body and brain work. I find this very helpful. Basic biochemistry has not changed in a very long time. What our bodies need hasn’t changed much. In fact, if you look at very old nutrition books, you will find that most recommend the same things we recommend today. Learning exactly how the body and brain works has been tremendously helpful in understanding how nutrition works.
3. I’m willing to be wrong. I’m very lucky to have someone I consider a mentor. Jeff Novick, MS, RD is perhaps one of the most straight forward people I’ve ever met. he analyzes everything that he reads, and stays 100% consistent. I trust Jeff to tell me if I’m off on something, because he takes the time to go through exactly why he has reached a conclusion. He just doesn’t say “you are wrong” or “I disagree”. He goes through the science, in detail and explains (without putting me down) where I may have missed something. I love being wrong. It means I’m learning. If I was right about everything, what good would that do? We learn by making mistakes, and by learning from those mistakes. My personal opinion is that we should never stop learning.
4. I look to people who have been doing this for at least 2 decades and have clinical experience. That’s my minimum. I figure after 2 decades that person has seen multiple case studies, has worked with all kinds of patients, and has been answering questions and researching answers for a very long time. I ask to see their resume, and if they do not send one or if they do not have one, I am very careful. I also look at where they obtained their degree/education. Was it an accredited institution or was it a mail order degree? When did they graduate? How long have they been in the field? I look into doctors and experts just like I look into doctors I’d see for my personal medical care. I want to know who I’m getting advice from. I want to know if they have any conflict of interest. Is their only motivation health? Does anything get in the way of facts and science? What are their motivations? Why are they doing this? What do they have to gain or lose?
*this is not to say I don’t listen/read/learn from people with less than 2 decades of clinical experience, just that I seek out people with the most experience first.
5. I take classes. Currently I am pursuing a degree in nutrition science. Short of that pursuing a degree there are a lot of classes you can take online to further your knowledge in regards to health. These are not for purposes to get a job, or to become an expert, they should be looked at self-education. For me, one of the online classes I loved was the certificate in plant-based nutrition, offered through E-Cornell. This is a great course for anyone who just wants to learn more for themselves. It’s not a class to take in order to become a health professional, or get a job in the field. However, I think that it is GREAT for self-learning so that you have a strong knowledge base for yourself. The more we know, the easier it is to stick to being plant-strong.
6. I am involved with a community that challenges me and supports me. For me, that is our community, Engine 2 Extra. However there are a lot of great communities out there, like Dr. McDougall’s forums. Find a community that is positive and that has connections to experts in the field.
7. I ask questions, A LOT of questions. Because I’m not afraid to be wrong, I am also not afraid to ask questions. I ask all kinds of questions, to all kinds of people. There is nothing wrong with asking a question, or for not knowing an answer. After all, the experts became experts because they once asked a lot of questions.
8. I talk to people I trust. When it comes to health, we should trust the people who are giving advice. Trust is something that takes time. I like to really dive into everything that someone has written, or has spoken about. Jeff Novick is a good example of someone who has put out 100′s of articles, it is very easy to look up and read everything Jeff has written. Because of this, it is easy to see that for the past few decades Jeff has been 100% consistent. The same can be said for people like Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell. They all have given many reasons to trust them, over many years.
9. I talk to people with different opinions than my own. This can be one of the more challenging parts of learning for me. There are people who are just as passionate about what they believe in regards to health, as I am about what I believe. I think it is important to listen (and be respectful) of their opinions. I find it fascinating how people reach a conclusion, and often find that even if I don’t agree that I still learning something.
10. I have fun. This might be the most important part. This is why I LOVE retreats weekends, immersions and conferences. While a lot of learning goes on, a lot of fun happens as well. This past weekend at our 2 day event on the Esselstyn farm there were lots of laughs, dancing in between breaks, time with new friends, and even a dance party with all of the volunteers and speakers one night after everyone left. We have a lot of fun on the E2 team. We joke around and we laugh a lot. Sure, we have serious jobs, but we balance that out with a good amount of fun.
Keep learning! I believe it is the most powerful tool we have.