Mark Hyman, MD.
Founder and Medical Director of The Ultra Wellness Center.
Dr. Hyman plays a major role in the groundbreaking documentary Fed Up, which addresses food addiction and childhood obesity. Produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David, it was released May 2014.
“This is the first generation of children in history that will be sicker and die younger than their parents. For their sakes and ours may we all work together to take back our health”. From the new documentary Fed-up.
Dr. Hyman was Co-medical Director of Canyon Ranch for almost 10 years and is now the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and Founder and Medical Director of The Ultra Wellness Center. In addition, Dr. Hyman is The New York Times bestselling author of UltraMetabolism, The UltraMind Solution, and The UltraSimple Diet, The Blood Sugar Solution, The 10 Day Detox Diet and coauthor of The Daniel Plan UltraPrevention. He lives in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Mark was gracious enough to take time out of his very busy travel schedule to sit down with me and shed some light on some critical health issues facing us all today. Mark’s body of work is impressive. This is a man who is very passionate about his purpose in life, to serve the world by bringing everyone the message of Functional Medicine, health, and transformation. I would encourage you to pick up one of his many inspirational books. His advise could be life saving.
What is your well-being aha moment?
I was very focused on healthy eating and exercise from a very young age. My gym teacher showed us a film about people who exercised despite extreme adversity. One man ran in the Boston Marathon on stumps – he was missing his feet! Another man named Larry Lewis was 105 and would run 10 miles to work and back every day. That inspired me to start running on a regular basis.
Later, I became really focused on eating well and became a vegetarian. I studied Buddhism in college, which is about the wellness of the mind. Then I completed yoga teacher’s training. I went on to medical school, where I was always interested in nutrition and integrative medicine.
When I started practicing as a family doctor, I was overworked and extremely stressed. In my late thirties, I developed severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and could barely function. Every system in my body broke down. I had to learn how to build myself back up again cell-by-cell, system by system. There was no conventional medical answer for what I felt. I understood that I had to heal myself. I began to understand a very powerful strategy: that my body was as an integrated dynamic system. What I learned in medical school really couldn’t help me. I needed to rethink the entire paradigm of healthcare and medicine.
One of the nutritionist’s where I worked invited me to a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, a nutritional biochemist, about Functional Medicine. I realized that, “Either this guy’s crazy or he’s talking about the future of medicine. I better figure it out.” So I began to study it and used it to help heal my own chronic fatigue syndrome and to heal my patients. That was a huge aha moment for me.
Describe your perfect day of being well.
I would get eight or nine hours of sleep. Then I would ride my bike, practice yoga or play tennis. I would eat a delicious, healthy meal, something like a whole food protein shake or possibly eggs. I like lightly fried eggs in extra virgin olive oil with avocado and tomatoes. I would have a really healthy lunch and dinner with protein and vegetables, maybe a big salad with nuts, seeds.
I would also take time to get a massage. I would spend time with friends. I’d be in nature and play, do something fun. I would read a little bit, have quiet time, and work for four hours.
What’s in your fridge?
What’s in my fridge is a ton of vegetables—fresh vegetables. I have a lot of greens and all kinds of different vegetables from the broccoli family. I have healing shiitake mushrooms. I’ve also have a fridge full of spices and condiments, such as hot sauces and sauerkraut. I have a lot of berries, avocados, garlic, and ginger. I have organic chicken and fish in my freezer so I can prepare something quickly without shopping. It’s basically just real food. There’s no processed food of any kind in my kitchen. No bar codes, no labels, no ingredient lists. An avocado doesn’t need an ingredient list or nutrition facts label.
What’s your favorite workout?
I love to go for a long bike ride in the summer, a run in the woods or play a really intense game of tennis, and then do a yoga class to open up my body and deeply relax and breathe.
How do you keep yourself motivated to be healthy?
I know that if I do X I feel good. If I do Y I feel bad, so I’m always choosing X because I want to feel good, and have energy to enjoy my life and thrive. I want to be able to go and do what I really want to do. Once you learn what makes you feel good, you learn to crave that. Sugar and junk gives you a momentary high, then a crash. I am looking for ways I can feel good all the time.
Throughout your work you talk about health being a personal journey. It’s refreshing to hear a doctor articulate that. Could you tell us what that means to you?
It’s important to connect to what matters to each person and what motivates them. It is different for everyone. For example, my mother is 84. She basically let herself go, didn’t exercise and got so deconditioned she couldn’t take care of herself or live on her own.
Her motivation was that she wanted to be able to live independently. If she wanted to do that, she knew she would have to eat better, lose weight, and exercise every day, which she didn’t want to do. I want to climb up Mount Kilimanjaro or go on a 100-mile bike ride or be able to do whatever I want without thinking about it. I want the energy and the strength to live a purposeful life, to show up for my family and friends, to enjoy each moment and to serve the world by bringing everyone the message of Functional Medicine, health, and transformation.
In your bestselling book The Blood Sugar Solution, you talk about diabesity. Could you explain briefly what you mean by that?
Diabesity is the continuum of pre-diabetes or diabetes, associated with a little bit of belly fat that drives almost every chronic disease that we know of—not just obesity and diabetes, but also heart disease and cancer, as well as dementia, strokes, depression, and infertility and even acne.
And that really makes for a huge problem where we now have 70% of Americans overweight and one in two at least have diabesity and 90% are not diagnosed yet. It’s the single biggest driver of chronic disease today. One in four teenagers have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, up from one in ten about a decade ago. And nobody’s really talking about it and addressing it.
Tell us about the documentary Fed Up, currently in movie theaters across the country.
It’s a powerful movie that shows how the food industry is causing the epidemic of obesity. It’s an opportunity to look at the truth about food. How we produce and consume food is driving a crisis that will bankrupt our country, destroy our economic future, and deplete our human capital.
Are people just not using enough will power or are the majority of processed foods we are presented with so addictive that we are powerless?
The food industry is deliberately supplying foods that are biologically addictive. Extensive scientific research documents the ways in which these foods sabotage our hormones and our brain chemistry that drive overeating. Overeating is not a consequence of lack of willpower. Overeating is a consequence of hormones that are triggered by eating the wrong foods, such as processed foods containing lots of sugar and flour.
What do we do about the fact that these addictive foods are marketed to us 24/7? How do we create change?
I was recently talking to the head of the Senator Harkin’s panel that attempted to get food companies to voluntarily change their food marketing practices to children. He said that Nickelodeon told him “We’re not going to change our business model. We’re not going to change what we do until you [the government] force us to do it through regulation or legislation.” The food industry knows exactly what it’s doing: which is everything it can do to subvert the process of change. Senator Harkin tried to change the way food is marketed to kids. More than 50 countries have regulations that limit food marketing to kids.
Thanks to tremendous lobbying efforts, big food, big farming, and big pharma are getting away with feeding us toxic amounts of addictive foods and beverages, leaving us overfed, undernourished, and craving more. How can we as individuals create change?
Yes, I think people believe the problems are overwhelming, that they’re a global problem that they can have no impact on. The truth is that the problems are very local and they can have an impact. What the food industry says is, “We’re just giving our customers what they want,” So if people chose different things we would have a very different outcome. Health doesn’t happen in the hospital or the doctor’s office. Health happens where we live: in our kitchens, homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and faith-based centers. And those places are where we have to start voting with our fork.