Thursday, February 23, 2012

Separation of Religion and Medicine? I Hope NOT!

Lately there has been quite a buzz about the separation of church and state, but I'd like to share what I enjoy about COMBINING religion and medicine. In particular, I LOVE the season of LENT! Yesterday, we had Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of a 40 day (or 47 day, if you count Sundays) beautiful time of reflection, growth, and personal discipline in the Christian faith. Many people, particularly Catholics, have a tradition of giving up a dietary luxury of some sort- often chocolate, alcohol, desserts, or sodas. Today that list has expanded beyond dietary items, and many give up electronic activities such as Facebook, Twiiter, iPad, apps, or- gasp!- all non-school or work-related computer-based activities. How does this affect me as a family physician?

If I ask/suggest for a patient to give up, say, caffeine or alcohol- because it is causing him or her heartburn- patients are only moderately invested in committing to this change. Truthfully, they'd typically rather have a prescription for a pill to fix their symptoms, and not make any difficult lifestyle changes. If, however, this same conversation occurs after a Mardi Gras excessive celebration, and the patient CHOOSES to eliminate one of these substances from their diet as a form of religious discipline and self-sacrifice, the success rate skyrockets! I can't adequately express how often a Lenten "observance" has been an excellent kick-off for weight loss programs for my patients. Whether it is giving up a high calorie dietary staple, or freeing up time to exercise by giving up electronic play time, all of these changes work in a positive forward spiral, with the added benefit of personal religious fulfillment as well.

Of course, Lenten commitments aren't all about "giving up" treats, and I do not in any way want to minimize the religious implications of spiritual discipline. My point is simply that when we make positive health choices augmented with a higher purpose behind them, we can amplify our results.

BOTTOM LINE: Our personal religious beliefs can be a powerful source of motivation to make positive health changes- let's use them this Lent!

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