My Takeaways from the Food=Medicine Conference in Atlanta

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Food=Medicine Conference at Emory Conference Center in Atlanta, GA. The conference was terrific in all respects thanks to the hard work of Benji and Claire Kurtz. And it was so enjoyable to meet a number of my readers there. It makes me feel good to know that there are actually people out there who read what I write. And many of them said they first learned about the conference through reading my blog postings.

The lineup of speakers was nothing short of spectacular. We started off Friday night hearing from Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and Dr. Kim Allan Williams, president of the American College of Cardiology. That three hours of talks on Friday night was worth the price of the conference alone. Saturday morning started without me at the 6:30 a.m. boot camp, but I was close to the front of the line for breakfast. And that brings up the food. All meals were included in the cost of the conference. And all were whole foods, plant-based. That is the food contained no animal products, no dairy (I know that's somewhat redundant) and no oil. It was all composed of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts and seeds. But it was so good and so plentiful, it would convince even the biggest skeptics of the deliciousness of this way of eating. The culinary staff at Emory Conference Center did an excellent job at creating some delectable dishes.

In addition to Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Williams, the lineup of speakers included such notables as Dr. Michael Greger, Brenda Davis, John Pierre, Dr. Thomas Campbell, Chef AJ, Dr. Richard A. Oppenlander, Rich Roll, Dr. Terry Mason, Nelson Campbell, Jane Esselstyn, Ann Crile Esselstyn, Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Lindsay Nixon and Dr. Baxter Montgomery. There was something to be gained from each talk.

Although I learned a lot at the conference, there are three big takeaways from the conference that I wanted to share with my readers. Unfortunately, I cannot do them justice by condensing into a few words hours of talks that were had on these subjects. But I will try to give you a flavor of the useful information that I took away from the conference. So, here goes:

Coronary Artery Disease (aka Heart Disease) is Completely Preventable and Reversible

While I knew this before the conference, it's something that I didn't know just two years ago. And I think most people don't know it. Before I went whole foods, plant-based, I thought that coronary artery disease was just one of the curses of growing old. I thought that a certain unlucky percentage of the population got it and that was that. I knew that you could mitigate it through a bland diet and lots of aerobic exercise. But until two years ago, I had no idea that it could be prevented and even reversed through a rich and tasteful diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.

Dr. Esselstyn has led the way on doing this through his research at The Cleveland Clinic. During a two hour presentation on Friday night, he explained how this works. But it was also emphasized by several other speakers during the conference as well, and that's what made it a major takeaway for me. Dr. Williams says that heart disease need not exist. And several other speakers made that same point. We need to stop thinking of it as inevitable. Having stents put in is not a natural part of the aging process.

And in fact, it can be dangerous, which leads me to the second big takeaway I had from the conference.

Medical Procedures Can Be Dangerous

We all know this just from watching television. There are loads of pharmaceutical ads on television (what better evidence than that to show us what a sick group of people we are) and it can seem like the longest part of any given ad are the side effects. But there's not just side effects from pharmaceuticals. There are also side effects from medical procedures themselves.

I saw that with my wife when she was found to have a brain tumor. From the moment of discovery, she underwent one procedure after another and not one procedure cured her or made her feel better. It was all downhill from the first procedure (surgery to remove the tumor) right up to the end three months later when she died as a result of a hospital infection that she couldn't fight because of no white blood cell count as a result of chemotherapy that she had been receiving. Every procedure the doctors did left her worse off.

So, it was very personal for me to hear Dr. Baxter Montgomery talk about that very thing at the conference. And his answer, as is mine, is to avoid getting those medical procedures by proactively taking action to prevent the cause of these western diseases. And we all know the drill now, right? Preventing the cause of western diseases means eating a whole foods, plant-based diet.

We Need to Move Throughout the Day

This one isn't food, but it's an important message. It was delivered by John Pierre, and basically he made the point that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But it's not just exercise for twenty minutes or even an hour and think we've done enough. It's important to keep moving throughout the day. Sitting is dangerous for us. Using a stand-up desk is healthy. Having a treadmill connected to it is even healthier.

Most of us, however, are not going to have stand-up desks with attached treadmills. But John had some practical tips for getting in exercise throughout the day. He suggested equipment that could be kept in each room of the house. And when you enter that room, you do a little bit of exercise with the equipment in there.

As a result of this talk, I came away from the conference committed to moving more and exercising more throughout the day.

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I know that each of my readers who attended the conference will have different takeaways. These three were mine because of their personal connection for me. In the first case, I have a family member who is fighting coronary artery disease and what was said was very relevant to that situation. In the second takeaway, there was the issue of my wife's three month stay in the hospital before passing, and I could very much relate to what was being said. And in the third case, I knew that was an area that I needed to improve on in my own life.

And that's it. That's my three takeaways from the conference. A big thank you again to Benji Kurtz for putting it on, and to Claire Kurtz for working so many of the logistics and to each of the speakers for an inspiring and informational conference.