'Don't do it, you would starve'
These were the words of a very good doctor friend of mine, said to me many months back when I told him that I was going to dedicate myself fully to the practice of Lifestyle Medicine. These are words that I remember always, and very vividly too, because up till today, I have yet to prove him wrong.
My personal journey as a 'preacher', practitioner & promoter of Lifestyle as Medicine came about accidentally. What started off as an accidental journey of a doctor turned incidental chef & restaurateur has brought me to where I am today - a passionate practitioner and advocate of Lifestyle as Medicine. Everything I do today is about waking people up and helping them to begin to take steps to harness the power of lifestyle as medicine to prevent and heal - whether it is the patients I see in my clinic, the students I teach in the classes, seminars and programmes in my Engines of Health School or the audience who attend my talks or the participants of the various lifestyle medicine programmes that I conduct in companies, organisations and churches.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
Many, if not most of the chronic diseases, that are taking away years from the lives or the life from the years of people today, have roots in their lifestyle. What and how one eat, exercise, rest and manage the stresses of life have as great, if not greater influence than one's genes and environment on whether one develop diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, cancer and other 'common' chronic diseases.
One would assume that commonsense would tell us that if lifestyle is a major contributor to these chronic diseases, then lifestyle modifications should be a major part of the prevention, management and even treatment of these chronic and severe diseases. But we all know that the reality is that most people diagnosed with these diseases would still not make significant enough effort to change the very lifestyle habits that caused the diseases in the first place.
Lifestyle Medicine is not a philosophy, it is the scientific evidence-based use of lifestyle as Medicine, the specific prescription of lifestyle modifications customised to the individual to prevent and improve specific chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, frailty based on what latest medical studies say.
Lifestyle Medicine is about not just knowing, but actually putting into practice, what medical science has all along been saying and is increasingly saying emphatically what it is continuing to learn about the power of lifestyle in preventing and improving many chronic and severe diseases.
'Preaching' & practising & prescribing Lifestyle as Medicine - my journey so far.
So what and how have I been 'preaching' & practising & prescribing Lifestyle as Medicine? Firstly I run regular clinic sessions where I practise and prescribe lifestyle as medicine, not in exclusion of but in adjunct to the use of medicine if it is necessary, Secondly, I started and run a Lifestyle Medicine School called Engines of Health here I conduct classes to teach participants the medical science behind many of the diseases that are significantly caused by lifestyle such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, Thirdly I 'preach' and speak about the power of lifestyle as Medicine at every platform I get invited to, whether it is at medical conferences, company events or church meetings. Fourthly, I run structured programmes on Lifestyle as Medicine for companies and churches for their employees or members. Lastly, I even practise Lifestyle as Medicine as best as I could in the restaurant that I started and still continue to run, by introducing to people who would otherwise be unfamiliar with many healthier ingredients such as wholegrains (e.g. quinoa) by putting into the menu new but yet familiar hearty dishes I created intentionally using healthier but unfamiliar ingredients.
It has been and can be very discouraging.
Many of my friends, including the very good doctor friend who told me ''Don't do it, you would starve' , have been trying to convince me to face the 'harsh reality' that most people do not want to change their lifestyle, regardless of the number of or severity of the chronic conditions that they have that are brought about by their lifestyle, that they would rather pay a lot of money to 'solve' or 'deal' with the problem in a way that does not require any significant change in their lifestyle,
My well-meaning friends are right, majority of people would only want treatment in the form of medications, and would rather not hear or even contemplate making any lifestyle modifications that would require them to perhaps stop eating what they love, start doing what they don't love - exercise or improve what they have not been able to do such as taking steps to managing stress. or improve their sleep.
However passionate I am, however determined I am, I am still human at the end of the day. I do get discouraged like everyone else. My journey so far, in telling, teaching and coaching people (patients, coachees, participants, public) to know and harness the power of lifestyle to prevent and manage chronic diseases, to maintain and regain wellness, has been a long, lonely and largely a discouraging one.
There had been moments of encouragement, such as when I see my patients or participants of the programmes I run, make big improvements in their disease conditions after making significant lifestyle modifications - whether in their diet, exercise, rest or stress management.
But there were just as many, if not more moments of discouragement when the very endeavour to bring this very important message to people who need it most is met with not just indifference but sometimes even great resistance.
And when I turn to my fellow doctor friends in times of discouragement, quite a few will tell me ,'This is the reality of the society we live in, don't be a hero, just give people what they want, not what they need, otherwise be prepared to be discouraged or even starve.'
I am stubborn and I will press on.
Getting people to wake up to the power of lifestyle with regards to health, teaching and helping people to harness the power of lifestyle modification to improve their health is what I have been called to do, so I shall press on.
Perhaps writing this post is meant to be cathartic for me, it has afforded me an outlet for my frustrations and disappointment. Now that I have done that, I shall take a deep breath, be still and refocus. For I know if I focus correctly, I will never starve but instead I shall continue to run and run and not grow weary, I shall soar on wings like eagles. I shall refocus and press on.
Someone called me The Food Doctor recently and got me wondering if that accurately described what I do and who I am. Because a 'Heart Doctor' treats the heart, a 'Eye Doctor' treats the eyes or even a 'Tree Doctor' treats the trees but I don't treat 'Food', rather I treat my patients through 'Food', I run classes to teach people about Food, the power of food, not just to heal but also to destroy, about the power of Food to cause or reverse diseases, I even run and cook in a restaurant that encourages people to try healthier options and learn more about the power of food.
I do not think that makes me a 'Food Doctor', because I do not treat 'Food' but rather I treat patients through 'Food', so maybe calling me a 'Food Obsessed Doctor' would be more accurate. My conclusion was that it did not matter and I do not really care what names people give me, all I want to do is to wake people up to the power of food to heal but also more critically the power of food to destroy our bodies.
A few weeks ago I received an invitation from Good Gifts City Church, they wanted me to give a talk about food & health to their church members. I was delighted, it had always bothered me why Christians do not guard as zealously what they put into their bodies as they would guard what they allow into their spirit or soul and I saw this talk as a precious & privileged platform for me to wake my fellow Christians up to the power of food to destroy and also to challenge them to honour God by guarding against food that will destroy our God given bodies.
The talk was well attended and went well although as expected, I overran the time that I was allocated and by the time I finished speaking, It was almost 10pm. Despite the late hour, quite a number of people gathered around me after the talk to ask questions or speak with me. Amongst this group of people 'bombarding' me with questions I noticed a gentleman who seemed to want to tell me something but was waiting patiently for others to finish. He finally found a 'window' to speak and what he said to me struck me deeply, Below is what he said to me, Not 100% word for word verbatim but based on my best effort in recalling, this was the essence of what he said to me,
"I've been a diabetic for more than 10 years and recently I was also diagnosed to have coronary heart disease. After hearing what you shared tonight about the power of food and its serious impact on our bodies, how I wished someone told me all these 10 years ago when I was first diagnosed with diabetes with the conviction that you did tonight but now it might be a little too late for me. But nonetheless, I want to encourage you, you really must continue to do what you are doing because more people need to hear this. God bless you ."
When I heard what he said, I was so touched that I almost teared and all I found myself saying to him was just a sincere "Thank you" from my heart and as I extended my hand to give him a firm handshake, he gave me a hug.
It is encounters like these that give me the encouragement to press on with what I do despite all the challenges. It is for people like this man that I became the 'Food Obsessed Doctor' that I am today.
Talking about 'Food Obsessed Doctor' most Singaporeans would more likely think of the other 'Food Obsessed Doctor' in Singapore, my doctor friend Dr Leslie Tay of the 'ieatishootipost' fame who 'Gai Siow' or share 'lobangs' about where to find good eats in Singapore instead of this 'Food Obsessed Doctor', me Dr Chan Tat Hon who tells them what not to eat! At the end of the talk that evening, I jokingly shared with my audience at Good Gifts City Church that I have an ambition, I want to reach as many Singaporeans with my 'Power of Food - to heal or destroy' message as Leslie Tay can reach with his 'where to find good eats' message, starting with aiming to have as many facebook followers as he has on his 'ieatishootipost' facebook, so if they think more Singaporeans should hear my message, they can, on top of praying for me, for God to open doors to more opportunities & platforms for me to reach as many Singaporeans as possible, telling and waking them up to the power of food to heal and destroy our bodies, they can also like and share my 'WhatsCookingDoc' facebook page which at last count, at 1309 Likes has ONLY 239715 more likes to go to catch up to Leslie's 'Ieatishootipost' facebook page..
Whilst I know that most people prefer to know where to find good eats & good food deals than to hear advice about having to give up some of the local food that they have grown to love for the sake of the health and wellness of themselves and their loved ones. I am however always crazy enough to aim for the seemingly impossible,
So if you think more Singaporeans should hear my 'Power of Food - to heal or destroy' message, you can also help LIKE and SHARE my WhatsCookingDoc facebook page. I only got 239715 more likes to my target of catching up with the other 'food obsessed doctor', my friend ieatishootipost's Leslie Tay!
A recent conversation with a doctor friend made me realised that I have unknowingly made a transition from being an 'accidental chef' to an 'incidental chef', or putting it another way, from being a doctor-trained chef to being a 'chef-trained' doctor. Or to be more precise, from a doctor turned civil servant turned consultant turned entrepreneur turned CEO turned doctor-trained chef turned CEO-trained & Chef-trained doctor., although the reality is really that I am just an ordinary untrained home cook thrusted into the role of a chef, but people seem to like to label me as the doctor turned accidental chef.
he story of the many adventures in my colourful and eventful career is best told through the blog post I wrote about how the successes I found in the many adventures in my career would not have been possible without my wife >>> 'Behind every successful man is a long-suffering wife'
For those of you who do not know me and have not read my other stories. Here are some related blog posts that would fill you in :
>> Doctor turned Accidental Chef - How it all began.
>> The birth of The Bento People
>> How & Why I became a Food & Health Coach
>> Why & How advocating healthy eating became my purpose, mission and passion
The Incidental Chef or The 'Chef-trained' Doctor.
The past couple of years, up till recently, I had been working full-time as a chef and that my training as a doctor had been useful whenever I needed to create new healthier dishes for the restaurant, so it was appropriate then to call me the accidental chef or the 'doctor-trained' chef .
But I now no longer work as a chef full-time. Now, on top of still being fully involved in and responsible for maintaining and creating the menu for the restaurant, I spend the rest of my time as a doctor and my focus is to encourage, educate, enable people change their lives, maintain their wellness & regain their health through lifestyle & dietary modifications. Although I did not have the chance to go to culinary school or have any proper training as a chef, I have had to learn on my own and learn on the job when I was accidentally thrusted into the role as a chef a couple of years ago and this experience I had as a full-time chef has now come in very useful in my work with my patients on lifestyle and diet modification plans. I find I am better able to appreciate the need & challenge to winning over patients' ingrained palates as much as the need to winning over their minds and hearts when getting them to make the necessary changes to their dietary habits to regain their health. My experience working in the kitchen and in creating dishes and recipes is now also put to use whenever I need to help give practical advice to my patients on how to change their eating habits.
These last few years working in the food business has not only amplified my awareness and knowledge of the power of food to destroy or heal our bodies but also seeded in me a passion and a mission to tell & teach more people about that and also to help them maintain their wellness or regain their health through food. Realising that I can do that a lot more, and a lot more effectively as a doctor than as a chef led me to cutting down the time I now spend working as a chef so as to be able to spend more time as a doctor, whether it is as a doctor teaching at the :Lifestyle Medicine training and consultancy company (see >>> Engines of Health website) or as a doctor working in my clinic ( see >> my clinic website )
A doctor friend recently quipped that I am no longer the accidental chef that I have been the past few years but should be more accurately renamed the incidental chef or the 'chef-trained' doctor instead and I realised she was right. My work as a chef is now incidental to my work as a doctor, food & health coach and teacher, I now mainly cook and create new dishes with specific goals of wanting to help convince and convert my customers, coachees and even patients to switch to specific healthier ingredients in their diet.
When I first became a full-time chef, I was constantly grumbling to God, asking God why with all my years of training and experience as a doctor and corporate leader that I had to waste all that to work as a full-time chef, constantly wondering if I was making a huge mistake. But now, my experience as a full-time chef has allowed and led me to become a better doctor, coach and teacher to help people improve their lifestyle & diet to better prevent or manage their chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and other conditions where food has a clear significant role. things I would never had imagined doing or to be able to do before. So regardless of whether people see or call me a doctor, chef, teacher, doctor turned chef or chef-trained doctor, it does not really matter to me. What matters to me more is that this journey has reinforced my faith that regardless of what new unexpected twists or adventures that life throws up, no journeys ever wasted. God's ways are higher than our ways, indeed.
Delighted with the privilege to be able to contribute a feature article in the Diabetes Lifestyle magazine Sept-Dec 2016 edition. The complete article in text is attached for your reading pleasure if you are keen to do so.
Delighted, honoured and privileged to be afforded the opportunity to reach out and encourage people, especially those with diabetes or worried about diabetes, that they have a very powerful weapon in their armoury in this war against diabetes - their lifestyle, especially what what they eat.
The advancement of medicine is a double-edged thing, First the good part, Medical science advancement has led to some diseases that were previously not treatable becoming treatable or even curable. . The bad part? People have now come to expect and dependent on advancement in medical science to come to their rescue whenever their bodies break down instead of preventing the 'breakdown' through their lifestyle and especially their diet.
Diabetes in particular is largely a disease of lifestyle for most people and lifestyle changes, especially diet, should be the first stop and mainstay of 'treatment' or management of diabetes. My heartbeat is to wake people up to that reality, as many people as I can reach, and I am not just glad but am most grateful to Diabetes Lifestyle magazine for the feature article, affording a platform to share this message that is so close to my heart. THANK YOU.
See the full article in text below the attached image for your reading pleasure.
When Food Meets Medicine
Feature article in Diabetes Lifestyle magazine Sept-Dec 2016 edition.
Dr Chan Tat Hon is a practising medical doctor; he is also a chef, speaker, coach and teacher in food and health, especially about the science and significant role of food in conditions such as diabetes. Here, Dr Chan shares about his accidental journey with food.
When Food Meets Medicine
Some people call me the food doctor, whilst others call me the food coach or the accidental chef. Many friends simply think I am just food ‘obsessed’, with almost every aspect of my life and work revolving around food. On top of being a medical doctor, I am a chef in a restaurant I started some years back, and I am also a food coach and a teacher in a food and health school I founded. For the rest of the time, I can usually be found speaking at seminars, events, churches or companies, telling and teaching people about the significant role that food plays in health and especially chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases.
My food ‘obsession’ does not stop when I get off work. I am the family’s cook, always trying to create interesting healthy and tasty new recipes to delight my wife and two teenage kids. It all happened by accident. My ‘obsession’ with food and health came about accidentally.
Up till as recent as a few years ago, my relationship with food was perhaps no different from that of most Singaporeans. I love food, and I enjoy hunting for good food in Singapore and in other countries that I visit for work or holiday.
Then a couple of years back, I accidentally became a full-time chef when the chef whom I hired for the restaurant that I started quit on me just two days before its opening. I had to stand in as the chef and had only expected the arrangement to last a couple of weeks – but the weeks soon became months.
Initially, I was very unhappy about being a chef full-time. But over time, I began to see that it offered me a unique platform through which I could encourage people about healthy eating, in ways that I was not able to do in my medical practice. As a result, I soon found myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen, testing new recipes, attempting to create new and interesting vegetables and wholegrain dishes to put on the restaurant’s menu in hopes of ‘enticing’ my customers to try them. I also found myself spending a lot of time speaking to my customers about healthy eating whilst serving them at the tables.
Through interactions with my customers, I realised that many amongst them were not just the health conscious, but many were people with diabetes brought to the restaurant by well-meaning friends or family specifically to try the wholegrain options on the menu such as the quinoa Yangzhou ‘fried rice’, hoping to ‘wean’ or win them over to choosing wholegrains instead of polished grains.
I also began to find that many of the customers at my restaurant were hungry for more than just tasty healthy food, but also for more practical knowledge about food and common chronic diseases such as diabetes. My restaurant soon became a mini classroom of sorts, where I would often be found engaging customers in conversations about food and health, educating and encouraging them to pay more attention to the power of food, not just to nourish but also to potentially harm our bodies should we not be careful about what we eat.
I was very encouraged, but also frustrated at the same time as a busy restaurant was not a particularly conducive environment for meaty discussions on food and health. I began to want to do more… Starting a school to teach food and health
After a period of time, I restarted my medical practice and also started a food and health school to conduct regular classes for people who wanted to learn more about the science of food and its relationship with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. I found that many of the students attending my classes were people with chronic conditions such as diabetes who were already convinced of the importance of food choices in the management of their conditions, but had gaps in their knowledge and wanted help in plugging them.
It dismayed me and yet at the same time drove me to conduct more classes, when I found that many people with diabetes who came for classes at The Food & Health School were ignorant of the many potential serious complications of diabetes and the importance of lifestyle, especially dietary modifications to reduce the risks. Attempting to change food habits is not easy People with chronic diseases face real challenges and struggles translating seemingly simple dietary advice into daily reality. Some had difficulty making changes with their diet because their family members were not prepared or willing to adopt a healthier diet together with them whilst others had challenges finding suitable healthier diabetes friendly food options at their workplaces. Many have the motivation to improve their diet to manage their conditions but need more than just ‘sound-bites’ or advice. They need medical guidance, support and practical help.
So before long, I ended up devoting my entire medical practice to focus on seeing patients who need support with lifestyle and dietary modification efforts to improve the management of their diabetes or other conditions where food plays a significant role. I even brought some on supermarket and eating-out tours to learn more about cooking and eating healthier, especially for people with diabetes. Volunteering to be a food soldier in the war against diabetes
The government has declared war against diabetes, and to me, food is one of the important weapons in the armoury we need to harness more in this war. But it will not be easy; making changes to one’s daily food choices is one of the ‘simplest’ and yet most difficult for most people. People who embark on journeys to change their daily food choices need education, encouragement, and most of all, practical help. With my ‘obsession’ with food as the primary weapon, I am volunteering myself as a food soldier in this war against diabetes. And with whatever you have in your arsenal, you can too! A not-for-profit magazine published 3 times a year by TOUCH Diabetes Support.
About Diabetes Lifestyle magazine - a publication by Touch Diabetes Support, itis circulated to TDS members, all major hospitals, polyclinics, certain private practices and to the ITE libraries. This is part of our effort to keep readers up to date about developments in the field of diabetes, and to create greater awareness of diabetes care and management.
- Waking people up to
The Power of Lifestyle to Heal & Destroy, helping them to maintain wellness & regain lost health through informed lifestyle & food choices
>> My Medical Practice where Lifestyle & Dietary modifications is the first go to medicine
>> My 'School' - Engines of Health - where I run workshops and programmes
>> My Restaurant - The Bento People - where I cook and try to entice people to eat healthy.
>> My Advocacy - The TV & print media where I have the priviledge to advocate the power of Lifestyle as Medicine
Why & What I Blog about
Blog's Top Posts
Lifestyle as Medicine - my journey, my passion, my pain
How & Why I became a Lifestyle Medicine Doctor, Trainer and Advocate
Doctor turned Accidental Chef turned Incidental Chef
Reflections of 'The Food Doctor'
How I lost weight 'accidentally'
Doctor turned Accidental Chef - How it all began
The birth of The Bento People
I made this Tom Yum Daikon-'noodles' because I was 'angry' with how the love for noodles was affecting one of my patients.
No wasted Journeys -
Why I Blog
Buay Chye, God & I. The day God sent me a cook.
Behind every adventurous man is a long-suffering wife
How I accidentally left a legacy as a 9 year old boy
The day blogger Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) came to visit
The accidental marathoner
- how I accidentally ran the marathon when I was 12
They call me a Maverick.
I say I am an Explorer.
Why & How 'Advocating Healthy Eating' became my purpose, mission & passion.
Sharing about the power of food on Diabetes Lifestyle magazine