Wellbeing: Four simple steps to tackle chronic illness
This week I want to tell you about The 4 Pillar Plan, a book that could radically improve your health. The subtitle explains the pillars: How to Eat, Sleep, Relax, Move Your Way to a Longer Healthier Life.
‘It’s a simple concept,’ explains the author Dr Rangan Chatterjee, from BBC One’s Doctor in the House, ‘but I really feel that it could help transform people’s lives.’ Having read it cover to cover, I do too; I’m giving it to at least six people.
Dr Chatterjee’s philosophy stems from recognising that ‘the human body is one big connected system’. Although he is ‘fiercely proud’ of his long training in conventional medicine, he believes that ‘modern medicine has lost its way. We’re trying to use the same treatment that’s successful with acute conditions and apply it to chronic illnesses. It’s not working because we’re looking for one cause to treat [mainly with pharmaceutical drugs] but chronic illnesses have multiple contributory factors.’
As an example, he cites depression. ‘The textbook diagnosis is a psychological condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which invariably leads to the sufferer being prescribed an antidepressant.’ (These are, incidentally, ineffective in the majority of patients.) What Dr Chatterjee has discovered, in his 17 years as a medical doctor, is that ‘depression, along with many other conditions, could just as easily be driven by poor diet, high stress levels, a lack of physical activity or, most likely, a combination of all three’.
By adopting this multi-pronged approach, he believes we can all keep ourselves well, prevent obesity, ill health and disease, and even reverse illness. ‘The health problems of the majority of patients I see – yes, the majority,’ he emphasises, ‘are driven entirely by the way they’re choosing to live.’ He identifies the lack of ‘switch-off time’ as one of the most pressing issues in modern society: ‘For your health it could hardly be more critical.’
He tells me of one 40-year-old female patient with Crohn’s (a painful bowel disease), who consulted
him after giving up on her specialist. Dietary changes helped at first but she quickly plateaued. Delving deeper, he found ‘she did nothing in her life for herself, everything was for her family’. To her surprise, this was Dr Chatterjee’s prescription:
• Two 15-minute periods of time for
you each day.
• A walk every morning.
• Find something to do at least twice a week that you love and do just for yourself.
Four weeks later, his patient reported that she walked every morning, ditched her phone and laptop and listened to music twice a day, and had joined a salsa class. A medical questionnaire revealed that her symptoms had reduced by 50 per cent. ‘This kind of reduction in a four-week time frame, for a condition as complex and serious as Crohn’s, is simply incredible,’ comments Dr Chatterjee.
Dr Chatterjee’s ambition is not confined to the lay public. With like-minded colleagues, this
passionate and dedicated doctor hopes to transform the nature of primary care by training 1,000 GPs
in how to tackle even complex conditions with this simple and effective, evidence-based approach. Yesterday, the first masterclass in Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine took place at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London. Hopefully, this heralds the start of a healthcare revolution. Meanwhile, we can all begin by following The Four Pillar Plan (Penguin Life, £16.99*), plus there is more video content on drchatterjee.com.
Pillar 1: Relax
Practise being still (meditation, mindfulness, just gazing at the sky)
for five minutes daily. Keep a gratitude journal.
Pillar 2: Eat
Consume five different vegetables daily and include protein at every meal. Eat all meals within a 12-hour period.
Pillar 3: Move
Walk 10,000 steps a day. Play tag with a friend: try to tap each other between the knee and hip while avoiding being touched.
Pillar 4: Sleep
Enjoy caffeine before noon. Switch off all devices 90 minutes before bed.
Warm your cockles with BOL’s new trio of plant-based soups. Our favourite is Smokey Tomato & Lentil Protein Boosting Super Soup, with quinoa, sweetcorn and turmeric. In generous-for-one 500g microwaveable jars, around £3, at Ocado, Tesco and Amazon Fresh.